Vancouver Site Profile: Urbantastic

March 12th, 2009 @ 9:00am (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

I’ve been known for profiling dozens of local bloggers on my site however sometimes I offer up the option to new websites in town as well. The following is what I’ve been able to learn about Urbantastic from its Co-Founders Benjamin Johnson and Heath Johns.

urbantasticHow did Urbantastic come to be?
We met at Royal Roads University in 2005, and back in September 2008 decided to do something about how disconnected urban life can feel sometimes. Since then Urbantastic has been through a number of big changes, each time getting closer to our goal of finding ways to connect urbanites in real ways.

Ben is a CMA candidate, so he does all the accounting. Heath has a background in coding, so he does the website. Everything else is done by whoever loses the rock-paper-scissors contest that day.

How long has Urbantastic been around?
We started working together in September, but we incorporated as a non-profit on December 17th and the current iteration of the site was launched in the middle of January 2009.

What is it, what is it all about?
Our site is for anyone who wants to get involved with non-profits and other organizations that do good – anything from simply developing an awareness to actively helping out.

There’s two key lessons that we’ve learned since we’ve started:
1) The best way to make a real connection with your city is to work together with other people to make it a better, cooler, more interesting place.

2) The best way to get involved with these people has been invented already, but hasn’t been used very well in this space yet. The kind of creativity and involvement that Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube have going for them doesn’t need to be stuck on some server down in Silicon Valley – we can make our city better using the same kind of site.

How would people use your site?
Right now we’re adding features like madmen, but here’s what it will look like soon:

The first thing someone sees is the news feed. Think of it as a Facebook feed for all the non-profits and other organizations that do good in your city. If an organization makes a peep on the web, it shows up here: blog post, tweet, e-newsletter, etc. You can also comment and join discussions about what you read there.

From there you can start getting involved in small ways. You can join an organization’s posse (a little way to let them know that you support them), you can answer questions that they have (sometimes it just takes one person in the know to save an hour’s worth of research), and you can take on a micro-volunteering task.

Micro-volunteering is just what it sounds like: a bite-size way to help out a cause you believe in. It could be correcting the English in a document, or flexing your awesome photoshop skills, or using your van to drive a couch to the new office.

What is the ultimate goal for your site, how would you like to see it grow?
We’re a non-profit, so how we know we’re succeeding isn’t hitting ad-revenue target; it’s seeing people’s lives change for the better. It’s not going to be unrecognizable – you’re just going to know a few more awesome people, be able to point to more cool things that you’ve done, and have a slow steady stream of the little endorphin buzzes that you get from doing good.

First we’re going to make this happen for Vancouverites and Victorians, but we’re planning on quickly opening up to other large Canadian cities. From there, who knows? We might go for smaller cities in Canada, or go international.

What can people see, read, and do when visiting your site?
The main way to get involved in a non-profit right now is through traditional volunteering. This usually involves a volunteer resume, an interview, training, and a commitment of at least three months. It works okay but for a lot of busy people it’s too much.

Urbantastic breaks it down into a lot of little steps. First, you find out what’s happening at the organization – find out if it’s really something you feel passionate about. Then through small interactions like commenting or answering a question you meet who’s involved already – see if they’re your kind of people. By the time you’re ready to devote more time to a cause, you know who they are, they know who you are, and everyone knows what’s going on.

It’s a great way to get involved step-by-step. No muss, no fuss, no commitment until you’re ready.

How can people find out more
The whitepaper is a good place to start, and of course you can drop either of us a line, our contact info is on our about page.

Urbantastic can also be found on Twitter @Urbantastic.

Disclosure: This was not a paid profile

Thursday Morning Link Fest: Guru Edition

March 12th, 2009 @ 7:30am (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

This afternoon while doing a curious search on Craigslist (that originated with furniture… we have a table to get rid of) I came across pages and pages of results for “social media” — from consultants to communicators and strategists. It’s in honor of this, and everyday banter on Twitter, that I have this hodge-podge link fest.

Photo credit: hubspot on Flickr (via @MonicaHamburg)
  • Companies are starting to realize having a ‘social media strategy’ to compliment their marketing plans is a very valuable tool; as such, they are looking for experienced individuals to help them out. I recently came across “8 Questions to Ask your Social Media Expert“, which I find them amusing, and pretty much spot on. You can read the entire list on the original post but here are some gems:

    2. How do you go about pitching bloggers?
    If you hear the words “blind copy,” “news release” or “email blast,” look elsewhere.

    6. How do you measure results?
    No, “website hits” don’t count as a metric. Ever.
    (see this post by Darren Barefoot for more on this topic)

    8. Can you just pretend to be me online?
    No. Just no.

  • How do you track links on Twitter? Linda has a great post up on the GetElastic blog including a wide variety of recommended tools.
  • When it comes to various forms of using Twitter, I’m a fan of the discussion on Kate’s post: To Live Tweet or Not to Live Tweet.
  • The Wired Women Society is hosting a fashion show and networking event on April 2, 2009.
  • Rebecca Coleman has a series of blog posts examining traditional media practices including: How Businesses are using New Media for Publicity, and Losing Mainstream Media.
  • I received a mystery bag of unmarked Doritos in the mail a few weeks ago as a part of the Doritos Guru campaign. You may notice similar product on store shelves as the goal is to get the consumer to identify the flavour in the bag, share their thoughts, create their own commercial, and they could win.


    After March 18th five finalists will be chosen and you can vote for your favourite until May 1, 2009. The Doritos Guru will take home $25,000 in cash, will receive 1% of the net sales of their flavour for the life of the product, and have their commercial aired on national television.

    Adam Lawson and his partner Maria are two people in the running to be the next Doritos Guru with these videos.

  • However speaking of campaigns, just a friendly reminder about Helen‘s Weekend to End Breast Cancer initiative and Candice‘s Team Diabetes fundraiser pub night.
  • And if you’re in the Surrey area and want to know some blogging basics, I’ll be speaking at the Surrey Museum in Cloverdale on March 26th. I will also be speaking at the IABC luncheon this Monday, March 16th. I believe tickets are still available online if you’d like to come and learn a bit of what I know about using Twitter for business.

    The New iPod Shuffle Minimalism at a Whole New Level

    March 11th, 2009 @ 12:30pm (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

    Scanning through Twitter this morning I noticed a trending topic was “New iPod Shuffle” and having given my mother a shuffle last Christmas (and after receiving one as a conference swag item last year at Convergence) I was curious to see the updates to the device.

    It’s the smallest iPod ever and is about the size of a USB thumbdrive with 4GB of storage (about 1,000 songs worth). It also has voice over which is an option that tells you what song is playing and who’s performing it.

    However, the CNET article sums it up perfectly, “The only problem is I–and a lot of other people–simple can’t use or don’t like the earbuds that ship with iPods. We want to use our own headphones, particularly if we’re using the Shuffle as an “active” MP3 player. The fact is the Apple buds just don’t stay in your ears when you’re running with the Shuffle (and yes, the new smaller form factor should appeal to runners).”

    I know I was put off when my first generation iPhone couldn’t use any other ear buds (the connectors didn’t fit without an adapter) so having proprietary headphones for this new Shuffle could definitely be a deterrent.

    I’m all for the newest improvements and innovations in technology, and I am definitely and Apple Fan Girl, but do we really need a new iPod each year?

    Will you be upgrading your iPod?

    View Results

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    Vancouver History Tidbits: Abbott to Tatlow and Gabriola

    March 11th, 2009 @ 8:00am (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

    I recently received a new comment on my John Henry Cambie post from last May and I was inspired to look up a few more names, particularly those who have streets named after them.

    Photo credit: takashi on Flickr

    Abbott I used to work on Abbott street, which runs from the waters edge in Gastown straight through to where GM Place meets False Creek. As with many founders, developers and namesakes, Henry Braithwaite Abbott was an executive with the CPR. He was also present in Craigellachie BC when the last spike was laid. and he was on the first train from Montreal to Port Moody with Lord Strathcona. [read more on] A house he built in 1889 still stands today at 720 Jervis.

    Dunbar Charles Trott Dunbar was a pioneer and real estate who arrived in town and helped with develop what was dubbed the Dunbar Heights area. He planned a logging railway in 1909 and in 1910 he was able to incorporate the Port Moody, Indian Arm & Northern Railway. [read more on] However, some argue that the Dunbar area was not named for Charles, rather for the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.

    Edmonds You may know it as a SkyTrain station or a street near the Burnaby/New Westminster border but Henry Valentine Edmonds was actually the founder (and first developer) of Mount Pleasant in Vancouver. He was a sherriff in New Westminster in 1880 and then mayor of the City in 1883. He also founded Howe Sound Silver Mining and the Fraser River Beet Sugar company. He supported the Interurban project which ran between Vancouver and New Westminster and lost all of his wealth when it went bankrupt [read more on]

    Tatlow John and I often take the Tatlow trail in Stanley Park and you may have also driven down Tatlow in North Vancouver or visited Tatlow Park. All of these are named after Robert Garnett Tatlow who was very successful in real estate and actually married Henry John Cambie’s eldest daughter. He was also a founder of BC Tel and died in a peculiar accident – by falling off a carriage when a car frightened his horse [read more on]

    Photo credit: jessica @ flickr on Flickr

    As a side note, while reading up on Blue Blood Alley (the nickname for the lavish community of mansions in the West End), I discovered that the manor on Nicola at Davie known to many as the home of the Macaroni Grill is called “Gabriola” [source: City of Vancouver].

    It was built in 1900-1901 for Benjamin Tingley Rogers (of BC Sugar) and its stones were quarried on Gabriola Island. The mansion also had a series of tunnels used for rum running and to connect it to the manor over on Bidwell, known in the last decade as Balthazar night club. It recently returned to the name “Maxine’s” which is a throw back to Maxine’s College of Beauty Culture in the 1930′s and 40′s (when it used to be a bordello) [source: see the west end].

    Gabriola has been re-purposed for over the last few decades as well and recently I noticed that the Macaroni Grill had moved out. If anyone has an update on Gabriola it would be greatly appreciated.

    Dining Out for Life 2009

    March 10th, 2009 @ 10:28pm (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

    Every year in Vancouver the Dining Out for Life event encourages everyone in the region to head out for a delicious dinner at the participating restaurant of their choice and it’s all for a great cause: A Loving Spoonful and Friends for Life.

    On Thursday, March 12, 2009 thousands will fill their plates to fight AIDS. Over 200 restaurants from Whistler to White Rock and into the Valley will join the fight against AIDS by donating 25 percent of their food revenue from meals sold during this important event.

  • A Loving Spoonful provides free, nutritious meals to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Greater Vancouver and the surrounding areas.
  • Friends For Life supports people living with life-threatening illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, their families and their caregivers. Find out more
  • I first learned about A Loving Spoonful two years ago when our pal Raul joined me and dozens of others for Blogathon 2007 and I’m glad to have become more familiar with their generous work since.

    This year one of the winners of my Best of 604 awards, Eagranie Yuh of The Well-Tempered Chocolatier, is involved with DOFL and will be ‘holding down the fort’ from the Cascade Room (2616 Main Street).

    Eagranie informed me that Sumac Ridge Estate Winery will donate $1 from every bottle purchased at BC restaurants (as well as liquor stores) throughout the month of March and Stella Artois will donate $1 from every sale during the Dining Out for Life campaign (through March 12th). She’s also got a Facebook event for the Cascade Room experience.

    Via Raul’s post, I found out that Karen of TinyBites will be at Tomato during the event as well.

    You can check out the entire list of participating pubs and restaurants on the Dining Out for Life directory and be sure to make your reservations today.

    Uptown GiftBox Company Delivers for the Juno Awards

    March 10th, 2009 @ 2:58pm (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

    Canada’s annual music awards, the Junos, will be hosted in Vancouver at the end of the month and with the event comes satellite parties, concerts, a celebrity and alumni hockey game, and plenty of stars. One thing I know about awards ceremonies is that gift bags filled with a plethora of high-end goodies and gadgets are handed to special guests, and thanks to one company that reached out to me on Twitter, I have the inside scoop about what this year’s Juno VIPs will be receiving courtesy of the Uptown GiftBox Company.


    CEO of Uptown, Gabrielle Durning, is thrilled. “When I first launched the company, I said, ‘One day, we’ll do the gifts for The Junos!‘ So, for us, it feels like a real personal milestone to have the opportunity to create a custom gift design for this year’s Awards.”

    The company has taken the term hyper-local to a whole new level with the gifts they have prepared for the Awards this year. “Over the last few years, we have been really inspired by the ’100-mile-diet’ philosophy of living locally. There are so many innovative and unique artisans in BC alone that it is very easy for us to create gorgeous, locally made gifts.”

    So what exactly will be served up in these special compilations? “From the layered shortbread blended with edible petals grown on their own farms at Langford Foods, to the wild salmon pate from Seachange Savouries on Saltspring Island to the BC cedar box handcrafted by Woodpak Inc., our Juno GiftBox is a real highlight of some of BC’s Best.” They will also contain Raincoast Crisps, a delectable cracker that I know my husband can’t get enough of (especially the rosemary variety).


    But as Durning explains, it’s not 100% about what goes in the packages as the boxes themselves have their own story. “Like all our gifts, we like to tell a story, to create gifts with meaning. For example, the Coast Salish artist, Maynard Johnny Jr. who created the original design that we silkscreened on the boxes, produced an image titled “Juneau”. The ‘twist’ on the name is in reference to Pierre Juneau who was the namesake for the Juno Awards. He was the founder of both the CRTC and the Canadian Content Regulations. Of course, the beautiful symbolism Maynard produced, is striking and represents the spirit of collaboration, found in so many of today’s successful artists.”

    The boxes are indeed beautiful and lovely representation of the talented and valuable small businesses, craftsmen and artists in our region. They also symbolize the fact that a small gesture can go a long way. “In these challenging economic times, we feel our services are even more relevant than before,” noted Durning. “Remember when Michelle Obama presented Laura Bush with a simple, elegant gift on the day of the inauguration? She created a new tradition, while honouring simple etiquette and grace.”

    You can view more works by artist Maynard Johnny Jr on several gallery sites and many of the gift box items can be found in local grocery and specialty stores.

    Earth Hour Canada – Vancouver Contest

    March 10th, 2009 @ 7:21am (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

    While peering out the window of the Commodore Ballroom, I saw the glowing fuchsia marquee of the Granville Cinemas go dim and like a row of dominoes, lights across town were switched off in sequence. Gracie’s Necklace is extinguished each year and even my friend Duane shut down his blog for a full 60 minutes last year in order to participate in the global event, Earth Hour.

    Crime Pays Fundraiser for the Federation of BC Writers

    March 9th, 2009 @ 5:41pm (PT) by Rebecca Bollwitt

    On Monday March 16th the Federation of BC Writers along with the Shebeen Club are hosting the Crime Pays fundraiser at the Vancouver Police Museum.

    Photo credit: omoo on Flickr

    Come help the Fed celebrate 32 years of getting away with murder. Whether infiltrating schools, divvying up swag, or distributing subversive publications, the Federation of BC Writers has been operating unchecked in our province for decades.

    Do you enjoy the vicarious thrill of rubbing shoulder pads with the Lost Literati of the Wild West, surrounded by instruments of murder and mayhem in the cozy confines of the police museum? Do you have what it takes to make your bones as a Fed member? There’s only one way to find out! Come out to the party and make us an offer we can’t refuse. [Raincoaster]

    When: Monday, March 16th, 6:00pm – 9:00pm
    Where: The Vancouver Police Museum, 240 East Cordova Street, Vancouver
    Info: Tickets are $20, there will be refreshments, and prizes galore.

    One of the best parts is the recommended dress code: “Trenchcoat and fedora, deerstalker and cape, jailhouse stripes, uniforms, Bond Villain suits or femme fatale slinkwear all optional but encouraged. Attitude absolutely mandatory“.

    Sponsorship and other inquiries can be conducted through Lorraine over at Raincoaster.