Posts Tagged ‘SXSW 2008


SXSW 2008 Highlights

Post SXSW, I’ve thought about some of the inconsistencies highlighted by the event:

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. By now few people haven’t heard about the Zuckerberg/Lacy keynote. For those unfamiliar with the details, Jeff Jarvis does a fair write up. At its core, the crowd’s reaction wasn’t about actively joining a conversation, but about disruption. I didn’t realize that heckling the person on stage was acceptable until I started attending tech conferences.

I totally understand why the audience was frustrated with Lacy’s interview, but please explain me to how yelling at her from the audience accomplished anything. Rachel Happe perfectly captures the disconnect between the positives we normally associate with social media versus what happened in the keynote:

I’m not disturbed that there was a great deal of criticism of the interview – that is completely fair. What I am very disturbed by is that the audience aggressively heckled Sarah during her interview….based on the social validation they got through Twitter to do so. Ironically in this case, social media is enabling people to be extremely disrespectful and anti-social. If people didn’t like the interview, why didn’t they quietly leave?

Sometimes revolutions are called for…over the lack of civil liberties, economic freedoms, fair wages. But not over a poor interview. We all need to remember that what makes for good social experiences is a little respect —for everyone. (link)

The best things didn’t always happen in panels. Unlike my first year at SXSW where I went to a panel 95% of the time, I only made it to panels about 50% of the conference this year. I did have some client work that demanded attention, but the rest of my time was spent talking to people. While SXSW probably offers one of the most diverse and talented panel options, I found that creating my own mini-panels was as, if not more, rewarding.

Part of this experience was enhanced by the Bloghaus, a meeting room set up with wi-fi, plug-ins, food, and great people. My very good friend Chris Brogan, who spent even less time than me in panels, twittered, “The BlogHaus is worth $500 to me. You?” (link) The tweets in response were generally positive. I’ve decided that while panel options are important for determining which conferences to attend, the other attendees are just as important.

Technology doesn’t always provide the answer. I suspect most everyone knows this fact. However, given how excited we get by the latest gadget or gizmo, I think we sometimes forgot how often humans solve the problem. For example, the previously mentioned Chris had his site crash during SXSW, right after he and Julien Smith published a Change This manifesto, Trust Economies.

After fighting with customer service reps who kept saying everything would be fixed in an hour, we ran into Scott Beale of Laughing Squid in my hotel lobby. During our conversation, the website issue came up, and Scott offered some options not previously suggested by Chris’s many interactions with customer service. While the advice didn’t correct all the hosting issues, the relief that Scott had some helpful advice made a huge difference to Chris.

For all the power of groups, sometimes one on one matters more. I spent most of my lunches having great conversations with Dave Seah. We met last year at SXSW and became friends when I gathered up the courage to approach him after recognizing him from his blog. While we’ve communicated frequently throughout the year, there was something extra special about spending time together in person, sharing ideas and talking about current projects.

I also had time this year to reconnect with Rachel Clarke, the person responsible for getting me to SXSW in the first place. Then, I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Quigley (she blogs here and here), a classy lady who took the time to share her insight of the industry. These quiet conversations were absolute bliss after the sometimes loud and chaotic interactions that can happen at SXSW. All told, as much as I enjoy the varied and interesting back and forth within a group, sometimes, one on one matters more.

I think that’s what drives SXSW success: each attendee ultimately determines their conference experience. The inconsistencies I’ve noted don’t take away from the experience, except, perhaps, for the first one. The first inconsistency focuses on something necessary to make conferences work: respect.


If panelists believe that they’ll be yelled at by the audience because they aren’t “delivering,” how long until people say, “no thanks?” If attendees didn’t feel confident that they could approach each other without being blown off, how long until they stop registering? (BTW, hypothetical @SXSW. I haven’t seen or had this happen).

Each of the things I like most about SXSW hinge on respect, respect for the individual, respect for his or her work, etc. Perhaps the people who heckled during the Zuckerberg keynote believe that they were in the right or that they wouldn’t mind if someone did the same to them. However, I think the other things we take so much pleasure in are put at risk when we forget the basics. I think the old but true saying still applies, do unto others as you would have them do unto. I sometimes wonder why this community appears to forget it.


Postscript: During the next two weeks, I’m in the process of moving into a new house. Between my business and painting, posting might be a little light, so please be patient. I’ll post pictures of the finished project.


Finding Ideas in the Noise

While the main topic of this blog is the use of words, underlying the words are ideas. It’s one of the main reasons I come to conferences like SXSW and attend presentations like the one by Jason Fried of 37signals. I want exposure to ideas that differ from my daily routine. So I intentionally look for people who know more than I do or present an opinion different from the one I already hold.

In this instance, I know some people are less than impressed by Fried & Co. Regardless of your opinion, I think their ideas are worth considering, if for nothing else than how clearly and intelligently they present them. Yes, you may not agree, but you won’t be the worse for having been open to the possibility of their ideas adding value.

Early on, Fried highlighted words that they try to keep out of 37signals’ conversations because of the negative feelings they generate: need, can’t, easy, only, and fast (e.g., “I need this feature to go to market.”; “That’s easy to do, right?”). Consider this idea for a moment: words have power, so imagine the impact of identifying words within your network that get in the way of getting things done. However, I’m not a total fan girl.

I was struck when he said that words are the cheapest and the easiest thing to fix versus, for example, doing a complete redesign of a website. I can see why initially, one might agree with this advice. Unfortunately, unless you suddenly uncover the secret sauce for how to write about you and what your company may do, the words aren’t cheap or easy. I also found it funny that after putting “easy” on his list of words they avoid, he described words as being easy to fix. Although, he did say later that we don’t pay enough attention to the words and too much to the pixels.

To me, the concept that the words are the easiest solution makes the assumption that the original idea is accurate. If the new words are still describing a fallacy, they haven’t addressed the issue that drove the need for new words. Instead, the new words create an illusion that the problem is solved. I think before you can determine if new words solve the problem, you have to determine if the original idea is worthy of them.

I’ve seen many clients struggle with this problem. They want content—brochures, websites, white papers—that defines their brand, but often aren’t 100% sure of what that brand represents, which makes finding the right words a challenge. If you don’t have a goal of increasing the value of the conversation, you’re potentially distracting the very people your trying to reach. When you choose words with care, I believe that your attention to detail will show. You may not appeal to everyone, but you will appeal to the people who are best suited to you, which takes me to the other highlight of Fried’s presentation.

Fried walked through why 37signals takes the approach that they’d rather have customers grow out of their products versus attempting to grow into them. What a novel idea. Haven’t we reached the point where the notion of cradle to grave business stopped being realistic, or desirable for that matter? I’m surprised at how frequently I run into people that buy into the notion that competitiveness and success requires being all things to all people, ultimately not really appealing to anyone.

What if you took the approach that you either want people to love you or hate you, totally skipping over indifference? I think this attitude makes pursuing one’s ideas, one’s passions, a simpler feat, not necessarily easy, but more straightforward. Your ideas and words become focused on creating an experience that attracts people with similar goals. However, the trick remains to stay open and accessible, even to the ideas you disagree with and to the people that hate you.

For me, keeping these ideas in mind does make choosing the right words easier. I suspect you’ll also find that pulling out useful ideas from the noise becomes easier as your focus settles on what matters most to you.



Making Compromises

This morning, I’m sitting in the Denver airport, waiting for my flight to Austin and SXSW. Sitting here, I’m reminded of how relatively easy we find it to come and go. I’m also reminded that there’s a potential price for all the coming and going. For example, I’m not a morning person, both mentally and physically. Events that require me awake and going before 7 or 8 in the morning, like catching a plane for SXSW, leave me drained and sometimes make me ill. For these same reasons I prefer to to work or to exercise in the afternoon or evening versus first thing in the morning. If you’re wondering where I’m going with this train of thought, hold on for just a second longer.

To be a part of the coming and going, we make compromises and choose options that we might not otherwise select. Perhaps the commonality of these compromises has made us immune to wondering if we really need to make them. In my case, I know that flying early in the morning has physical repercussions for me, but in my desire to get to Austin as early as possible, I made a compromise. There are later flights at times that would better fit my body clock, but I chose misery for several hours to get in several hours earlier. I’m still debating if it’s worth it.

In a recent edition of The Atlantic, I saw an article about the issues associated with multi-tasking. Multi-tasking requires several compromises that, again, we often give little thought to. On the one hand, we’re told we can do it all, particularly with the help of technology, and on the other, we don’t realize we’re about to be hit by the truck until it happens:

We all remember the promises. The slogans. They were all about freedom, liberation. Supposedly we were in handcuffs and wanted out of them. The key that dangled in front of us was a microchip.

“Where do you want to go today?” asked Microsoft in a mid-1990s ad campaign. The suggestion was that there were endless destinations—some geographic, some social, some intellectual—that you could reach in milliseconds by loading the right devices with the right software. It was further insinuated that where you went was purely up to you, not your spouse, your boss, your kids, or your government. Autonomy through automation.

This was the embryonic fallacy that grew up into the monster of multitasking.

Human freedom, as classically defined (to think and act and choose with minimal interference by outside powers), was not a product that firms like Microsoft could offer, but they recast it as something they could provide. A product for which they could raise the demand by refining its features, upping its speed, restyling its appearance, and linking it up with all the other products that promised freedom, too, but had replaced it with three inferior substitutes that they could market in its name:

Efficiency, convenience, and mobility.

For proof that these bundled minor virtues don’t amount to freedom but are, instead, a formula for a period of mounting frenzy climaxing with a lapse into fatigue, consider that “Where do you want to go today?” was really manipulative advice, not an open question. “Go somewhere now,” it strongly recommended, then go somewhere else tomorrow, but always go, go, go—and with our help. But did any rebel reply, “Nowhere. I like it fine right here”? Did anyone boldly ask, “What business is it of yours?” Was anyone brave enough to say, “Frankly, I want to go back to bed”?

What compromises do you make to keep going? Even more intriguing have you found a place where you’re content to be, regardless of the people telling you that you should always be going?


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