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2014 in Philly Tech: Consumer start-ups, Open Data movement, and Comcast marries Time Warner

How good is Philly’s startup scene? This video from Popular Mechanics makes a pretty good case for for tech biz in the city.

And as a way to look back on the Year that Was, Billy Penn provides these seven examples — the moments in Philly tech that stand out in 2014. Here goes:

The Most Undercovered Trend

Consumer-facing startups are a thing! That’s from someone who oughta know — Juliana Reyes, lead reporter for local technology news site Technical.ly Philly. (A necessary disclosure: For two years through May 2014, I was Juliana Reyes’ colleague at Technical.ly Baltimore.) That’s a relatively new development — after all, when people think Silicon Valley, they think “startups” because of things like Facebook and Google. “We’ve traditionally been a business-to-business town,” says Reyes. “All the big startups—Curalate, Monetate, RJMetrics—they’re all business-to-business.” But more apps for people to use are popping up, like messaging app WeHUB and mobile payments app Nooch. “Maybe the tide is turning [in Philly] because the tech scene has grown,” Reyes says. “People are thinking there’s more happening here so they can start a startup like that, just because they see other startups succeeding.”

The Most Epic Event

Playing monumental games of Tetris on the Cira Centre takes it. At Philly Tech Week in the spring, Drexel University’s Frank Lee — cofounder of the school’s game design program–debuted his massive, LED-light-enabled version of Tetris on the facade of the 29-story building. “I did it because I just wanted to do it,” Lee told Billy Penn. “I saw the Cira Centre. I saw the lights. I thought it would be cool to make a game out of that.” The timing of the large-scale Tetris game couldn’t have been more perfect: 2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the game’s release, and Tetris Company cofounder Henk Rogers was in Philadelphia to watch Lee’s creation.

Best Growth Hacking

Hand it to Uber: It’s a company that really knows how to make an entrance. After the San Francisco-based ridesharing juggernaut was rebuffed numerous times by the Philadelphia Parking Authority on whether it could launch its cheaper uberX offering within Philly city limits, Uber just went ahead and did it. (Remember: Uber’s traditional service, which does operate legally in Philly, uses licensed livery drivers; uberX, the ridesharing service that’s still not technically legal in Philly, employs pretty much anyone.) Horses became involved in the impounding of uberX drivers’ cars. Instagram photos were taken. And in a corporate elbow-throwing maneuver, Uber started advertising its ridesharing service on SEPTA buses.

Coolest Civic Hack

CyclePhilly gets our nod here, and for good reason: Philadelphia ranks 10th when it comes to the largest U.S. cities with the largest share of commuting cyclists. So why not give transportation planners actual data on the routes cyclists travel in Philadelphia, to plan a better bike route? (That’s how the team behind the smartphone app’s development explained CyclePhilly’s main purpose at a November meeting of the local good-government hacking collective Code for Philly.) Its ingenious in its simplicity: A cyclist boots up the app before biking, and smartphone GPS tracks the cyclist’s route. At their final destination, the cyclist shuts off the app, then the route gets uploaded. In turn, that route info is shared with planners.

Greatest Goodbye

Philly bid farewell to Mark Headd this year. Headd, as the first-ever chief digital officer for the City of Philadelphia, worked inside municipal government on the promulgation of open data–government data, on things like crime and bike thefts, suddenly made “open” by virtue of its being uploaded to a website for all a city’s residents to see. The main idea: What interesting civic hacks (something like a CyclePhilly) could be assembled with previously-locked government data that could make the city better? An intra-governmental spat apparently made Headd quit. But Headd’s work cleared the way for new chief data officer Tim Wisniewski, who released a far-reaching strategic plan in October for the continuation of open data efforts. As Headd wrote in a blog post in March announcing his resignation: “Philadelphia has grown into a national leader on open data and civic technology.”

Startup Shakeout

Conshohocken-based e-commerce company Monetate announced layoffs earlier this fall. While people losing their jobs inevitably makes news, layoffs at a successful company illustrate some of the growing pains that occur as a startup transforms from a small operation into a corporate force. Direction changes. Focus is reshaped. Boilerplate ensues as resources are realigned. But, as Technical.ly Philly reported, Monetate’s revenues are up 33 percent this year, and the layoffs were required to build up the company’s operations in Europe.

Best Merger

If the prospect of Comcast joining forces with Time Warner doesn’t have you donning your best double-breasted suit in your luxury penthouse while pouring yourself a glass of That Fancy Scotch you only keep sitting out to impress your friends–we actually forgot where we were going with this. But it looks like the merger that would’ve made for an impressive 2014 isn’t going to happen in time. The Federal Communications Commission is still studying whether merging two Goliaths of the cable television industry would be to our benefit. That process has been delayed until January, as it appears Time Warner “withheld more than 7,000 documents” government regulators had asked for, according to Reuters.

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