My Impressions of SXSW 2010 – Think Chatroulette IRL

Baratunde Thurston dancing at SXSW, photo by Anthony De Rosa

Ok, first of all, can I just say, I think that was my all time favorite conference. Ever.

Yes, I know it was overwhelmingly huge, and people are saying this and that cranky thing about it (I’m ignoring) – but to me, it was thousands of super interesting, innovative people in every nook and cranny and there was absolutely no way to go wrong if you’re open to meeting new people.

I inadvertently wandered around on day 1 “alone” – which turned out to be a blessing I tried to repeat every day thereafter. Think Chatroulette in real life and you get the picture of what my days were like.

I’d spent the plane ride carefully orchestrating a “schedule” on my iPhone – but somehow, it all fell apart when I arrived at the check-in. I short-circuited in the face of all the options and resorted to paper printouts of emails, much to the embarrassment of my friends. A few hours in, I ran into Baratunde and he told me to put the schedule away and just wander around. That turned out to be the best advice.

Below are my agenda-less impressions:

  • Douglas Rushkoff is AWESOME despite the fact that he said that books are over because the publishing process takes so long. He gave a talk called The 10 Commandments for a Digital Age and there were so many profound moments I’m not even going to try to sum it up. Just be sure to watch the video.
  • Everyone’s a “Content Strategist” at SXSW 2010. It’s like being named “Michael.”
  • Jeff Pulver’s 140 party was amazing – and not only because I got to meet (and be live streamed) by my internet crush, Leo Laporte. The place was beautiful and the vibe was great.
  • I saw Danah Boyd speak and am happy to report that she fully recovered from the Web 2.0 fiasco. Thank God. I think it was the dress.
  • Gowalla seemed to gain major traction. I heard a lot of people saying they like it better than Foursquare. Honestly, I never fully bonded with the whole “check in” concept, but I have to say, it was useful to know where people were, especially at night when you were done with dinner and wanted to know what was going on. I still can’t imagine “checking in” during my daily life (unless there’s a worthwhile prize – and a “badge” saying I’m the mayor does not motivate me) — but I get it.
  • Leah Jones is amazing. She put together her second annual dinner. It was a private room full of people who didn’t know each other and it still brings a smile to my face when I think about it. Highlight of the evening was realizing that the Stacey who was sitting two people away from me was “Stacey Monk” of #TwitterKids fame.
  • I just have to say it one more time, I ♥ SXSW.
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Enhanced Salsa

Have you seen this video yet? If you haven’t, click on over to Vimeo and watch (can’t embed, for good reason). If you have, I’m pretty sure you would click on over to watch it again, just for fun. I would. Heck, I will. Be right back.

Okay, so. Amazing, right? I was absolutely stunned when I watched that video the first time, and I didn’t even comprehend that it was a site takeover until I watched the entire page swirl back into the salsa jar at the end. I had to watch it again (and again, and again) to catch the genius animation that snuck onto the screen, from the vines that creep up from the bottom to the slicing up of the Vimeo logo when the girl steps out of the frame to dance around the background. It’s interesting how much I have to force my brain to see the subtle shifting of the video frame and background zoom-in, since it didn’t even register the first few times I watched. This was more than an advertisement…viewing this was an experience. And even though I don’t like tomatoes or site takeovers, dang it if I don’t want to crack open a jar of salsa right now.

But aside from making me really hungry, the video also made me think of how certain media is presented to allow for an experience, to make the technology behind it disappear. That oh-so-smooth transition from “video on a video hosting website” to “Salsa Show!” was clutch to making me view this as more than a 40-second clip about a vegetable I really couldn’t care less about and something I wanted to click away from. Movie theaters are certainly designed to be invisible, and I think physical books are as well, providing only the turn of a page as the sole interruption between the written word and the reader’s imagination. Even then, that interruption is the mark of a good book: a “page-turner.” With the boom of electronic reading devices, it’s important to keep this feature in mind; which device will allow you to have an experience with a book, to make you want that salsa and nothing else, and then give it to you?

In the ramp-up to the iPad announcement, the internet ate up every little rumor and spit out post upon post of speculation about the features, capabilities, and technical specifications of the mythical creature. Then both during and after the event, many found themselves underwhelmed by the lack of glitter (No flash! No camera! That name!). Adam Frucci over at Gizmodo listed 8+ things that suck about the iPad, considering the lack of multitasking to be “a backbreaker.” But Joanne McNeil argues for the lack of multitasking in both the iPad and other devices because it solidifies the reading experience. The New York Times’s David Carr, as well as Jon Gruber at Daring Fireball, also noted the iPhone and iPad’s ability to, as gadgets, disappear, leaving as little as a finger swipe (page turn) between the user and the content. Similarly, while the Kindle can’t do much else, it certainly lets you read. What others may consider faults in these devices, readers should appreciate as features for creating a reading experience.

Now, as for what content is necessary for an experience, I’m not sure. That’s a whole ‘nother ballpark, but I think Kassia Kroszer hits one over the fence with her “What Are Enhanced Ebooks?” post. Now that we have the technology that allows us to create such enhancements and focus on them when reading, we need to actually deliver good salsa.

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E-Readers Vs. Unicorns

I really enjoyed this video from Bonnier, a Swedish magazine publisher, demonstrating their vision for a magazine e-reader tablet. Bonnier’s design team at BERG concepted an interface that really compliments how we read both physical and digital material, choosing such elements like visual page markers that make you more aware of your position within the material and scrolling systems for navigation, made possible by a full touch screen. It looks promising for the next generation of e-readers, and I can’t imagine that the technology needed to materialize these ideas is far behind.

But Robert Andrews over at paidContent.org makes an excellent argument against e-readers, as enhanced as they will become:

“Personally, I’m not convinced any of these single-function gadgets – whether for books or magazines – will be particularly successful. iPhone has succeeded because it’s not a walled garden; ereaders need more than both books and magazines.

Apple and Microsoft are rumoured to be working on multi-functional devices – it’s here, if anywhere, that tablets may really come in to their own, as near-computers, not slabs that mimic individual olde worlde media.”

The problem with the dedicated e-reader is that it’s dedicated, and I personally can’t justify spending money on something that limited when an iPhone can do more for less. Engadget already reported that the Nook has been hacked to include a web browser and Pandora (as well as other apps) proving the desire for a device to be more than multiple books. The Apple tablet (or the Unicorn, as Kassia Krozser calls it) won’t save publishing, but it will convert many more people to e-books than e-readers can.

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Less Is More

Thomas L. Friedman (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)In “The Do-It-Yourself Economy” in yesterday’s New York Times, Tom Friedman wrote about how the “Great Recession” was forcing companies to take advantage of the “Great Inflection,” his name for “the mass diffusion of low-cost, high-powered innovation technologies,” giving a powerful example of a recently downsized marketing agency that had made a film for 20 percent less using online technology. There is a clear message for book publishers here as well, who have not only experienced a recent downturn in sales that led to layoffs across the industry, but also face a future in which e-book pricing will inevitably bring down revenues through traditional models in the years ahead. The “good news,” as Friedman calls it, is that technology has arrived that lets us move more quickly, with less cost and a smaller staff. We all need to find ways each day to embrace it–or be victims of the “Recession” without the “Inflection” that might save us.

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The Must-Have Hand Held Accessory of 2009

(via Guy Gonzales)

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Web 2.0 EXPO 2009 Hightlights

I love conferences — doesn’t matter if I’m attending, speaking, or mingling — I’ve never met a conference I didn’t like. Often times I don’t even fully realize all that I’ve learned until months later when the experience has had time to marinate.

Last week I attended the web 2.0 Expo in New York at the Javits Center. It was my second year attending, and it’s definitely high on my list of favorites. Almost all of the speakers I saw were inspiring, enlightening, and entertaining (one was hilarious). The vibe was great; no shortage of interesting people to mingle with. According to the program, the theme of the conference was “The Power of Less.” Think Google; think Twitter; think simple, clean, stripped down and lean.

I’m going to attempt to list the highlights below, for me, day by day:

Day 1Alistair Croll and Sean Power set the bar very high on day one for the rest of the conference with their full day workshop on “Communilytics.” I didn’t start out in their session, but after watching the twitter stream all morning, I jumped in there after lunch and they did not disappoint. Their slide show is chock full of useful info.

Day 2 – I saw a lot of great speakers day two, including Tara Hunt, Kevin Rose, Jay Adelson, and Chris Brogan. Best discovery that day was Caterina Fake’s new site, Hunch. Most profound hour spent was at the end of the day with Jeff Jarvis. He spoke about the world going BETA, why that’s a good thing, and what that means, industry by industry. The subject of his talk might develop into his next book, which I can’t wait to read. His weekly podcast, This Week In Google, is a bevy of good info and insight where he talks about a lot of the same themes and issues.

Day 3 – There were many highlights Day 3. Loved the Launch Pad (startups pitched their ideas to the crowd); Gina Trapani explaining Google Wave was a must if you are as confused by Wave as I am. Session on Security, Identity & Liability in Social Media blew my mind with issues I had never even considered (and still don’t want to) But the highlight of all highlights was most definitely Baratunde Thurston. I’m not even going to attempt describe it. His talk, “There’s a #Hashtag for That,” is a must watch:

Day 4 – Most thought provoking speakers to me were Ching-Yung Lin talking about “What’s a Friend Worth?” and Genevieve Bell discussing what to do about people who aren’t on the internet (can you imagine?).

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The Magic of Twitter

Through the magic of Twitter I discovered @Leah_Albert and the amazing Stacy Monk and her inspiring organization Epic Change.

Stacy you make magic happen and inspire me every day.

Crush It! books at Shepherds Junior School

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Just Say Yes…or How I Ended Up Speaking In the Kodak Theatre #140conf in LA

My view from the Acadamy Awards stage at the Kodak Theater

My view from the Academy Awards stage at the Kodak Theatre

How many people can say that they spoke on the the stage where the Oscars are held?

I have a personal rule, which is that whenever someone asks me to do something, I always say yes without thinking about it. Jeff Pulver one time told me that he calls that putting yourself in luck’s way. Usually, it turns out to be a good idea. I’ve agreed to do many things that I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to do had I taken a moment to think about it. One such instance was the #140 Conference in LA, hosted by Jeff Pulver. It was in the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles (yes, where the Academy Awards are held). I’m sure had I stopped to think when Jeff asked me, I would have been way too terrified to get up on that stage. Thank goodness I’m more impulsive than fearful because it turned out to be such a great experience.

Reasons I’m grateful that I just said yes to the #140conf in LA:

  • Got to have lunch with some of my favorite book peeps on Twitter: @vromans @booksquare @kirkbiglione @thinkmaya @permanentpaper. I find it truly profound that I have these friends around the country who I can learn from and connect with every day — and then even in person every once in a while. It reminds me what a gift Twitter is. Just think, even 3 years ago I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know these wonderful people — and now I can connect with them nearly every day, know what they read, think about book publishing issues, etc. What a gift.
  • Got to meet @JessicaGottlieb. I’ve been following her on Twitter for a while now and always thought she seemed like a lot of fun. She’s really funny in person. When her talk is posted, be sure to watch it on blip.tv. It’s good for a smile.
  • Got to hang out with my friend @MarkTauber who’s the publisher of @HarperOne. Good friend who I don’t get to see often enough. Really smart; awesome panel moderator (I’ll post video when it’s up online). Helped turn around a day that started out not so great. (thank you Mark!)

ETA:

  • Left with an awesome Kodak video camera in my goodie bag. Thank you Kodak! You’re the best! What an amazing conference you sponsored. You are an inspiration. Be sure check out the Kodak speech in the opening remarks. I’m now a fan!
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We’re Mobile!

You know when you go to a website from your phone (Blackberry, iPhone, Razr, etc.) — it takes a really really long time to load, and then when you finally get to the site, it’s hard to read, and size it properly? It’s almost too much for me to bear.

Well I’ve discovered a company that let’s you build your site as a mobile site, and then redirect traffic to the mobile site when it sees it’s coming from a phone. It’s crazy easy (think Tumblr easy), and so reasonable it’s practically free. Check them out at www.mofuse.com. You even get analytics as part of the deal. Fascinating!

Ok, now go to your phone and try it…Type in www.theharperstudio.com and see how fast it loads and readable it is and pretty it looks…and then come back and tell me what you think :)

Mobile webpage for HarperStudioAnalytics for HarperStudio's mobile webpage

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5 Cool Features On The Crush It! Book Website

http://crushitbook.com/1) The Experience — I know others are doing it now…but I did see it here first…and it is my favorite of all that I’ve seen. All of the videos are worth the watch…but if you’re going to watch just one, my favorite is the 35 Book Video.

2) Special Offers — Gary is the master great partnerships.

3) The Street Team — It’s like a political campaign :)

4) Tour Dates — This isn’t just the killer tour…note the RSVP buttons that lead to Facebook Fan pages where people RSVP for the events…and then the Recap feature at the bottom. Love.

5) About The Book — Not just boring catalog copy. It’s fun and energetic…but scroll down…don’t miss the “Myths” and “Learn” at the end.

The book cover Twitter avatars are pretty cool too.

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