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New West Daily Roundup for Jan. 14, 2016

Today in New West news: the story of commonFont and Bozeman, Montana; Boulder, Colorado’s Center of the American West to host “Fracture” Book Release, and Old Town Creative + Interactive unveils Wandering App.

It’s been said before and it’ll be said again: Montana is becoming a tech hub. And Bozeman appears to be leading the way, in part. The city made news last fall with the announcement of a new fiber optics system aimed at wiring downtown with ultrafast Internet, a move that has existing and prospective business excited according to NBC Montana:

Technology businesses like commonFont, a company that helps clients set up software that enables them to collect feedback from their customers, are feeding the city’s reputation as a blooming tech bubble.

Located in the downtown Bozeman area, commonFont’s founders were once based in California’s Silicon Valley. They say they picked Bozeman as the place to start the company because they believed in the community here.

The city is trying to nurture that sentiment about Bozeman in the area of fiber optics. Many tech companies in Bozeman live and breathe on an Internet connection for their business. Quality speeds and affordability are key issues for companies like these.

The owners of commonFont pay about $100 a month for Internet, but that is going to change when they add more staff.

“We’re going to need to upgrade our Internet at some point this year, at which point it will cost drastically more than that,” said Abby Schlatter, the co-director of commonFont.

Schlatter says she estimates the cost to go up several thousand dollars more, just to set up the infrastructure for the upgrade.

The city wants to help reduce these kinds of costs, which could cripple a tech company that is just starting up.

“The city is installing multi-ducted conduit in these areas for telecommunications facilities and that way the private sector can come in and license these conduits from the city,” said David Fine, a city economic development specialist.

The city of Bozeman expects the line (linking downtown and midtown) to be installed this summer. It will cost an estimated $1 million, with tax diversions from each affected district covering the cost.

Down in Colorado, the Center of the American West (at the University of Colorado–Boulder) is planning a book release for mid-February, which will be helmed by some heavy hitters in the Western cultural scene. Entitled “Fracture,” the book brings together essays, poems, and stories about fracking; all told, over 50 writers contributed to “Fracture.” Selections from the book will be read by writer Pam Houston, “Fracture” editor Taylor Brorby, and the Center’s Faculty Director/Chair of the Board, historian Patty Limerick.

The “Fracture” event will be free to attend. It will take place February 18, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. in the Eaton Humanities building, room 1B50. Books will be available for sale—cash and check only. After the reading, there will be a reception and book signing.

Finally, back in the Treasure State, one Whitefish-based company is trying to get users to reimagine their journeying. Old Town Creative + Interactive announced earlier this week the Wandering App, a mobile app that lets people specify their location and have custom walks curated for them. For instance: you pull up the app and it shows you historical information, natural history facts, points out possible nature trails, ghost stories, etc. From an Old Town press release:

“The goal of the Wandering App is to empower people to get beyond the beaten path and inspire them to immerse themselves and spend more time in a community and landscape,” say John Frandsen, chief product officer for Whitefish-based Old Town Creative + Interactive. “There are thousands of amazing places and experiences just under the surface that we drive by everyday in Montana. The Wandering App helps to uncover those for visitors and locals alike.”

[…]

“Anybody can download the app for free, or even suggest new places for the app,” says Frandsen. “Our goal is to have many local Chambers of Commerce, Visitor Bureaus, Historical Societies and other interpretive organizations that benefit from engaging visitors to login and publish Wanderings,” says Frandsen. “This is a tool for them to tell the stories that lie just under the surface.”

The initial development of the app and platform was enabled through a Montana Office of Tourism technology grant, although Old Town Creative + Interactive has also invested significantly in the development of the platform. Revenue for the ongoing expansion of the platform and new features will come from annual subscription fees paid by the organizations that create and publish Wanderings. The platform also provides a way for organizations to offset those annual fees by tastefully incorporating local sponsors into their Wanderings.

Old Town Creative + Interactive works mainly in interactive mapping and has received numerous accolades, including a Best Travel Website in the U.S. Award from the U.S. Travel Association.

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