SXSW Saturday: Owning My Solitude!

[I’m going to back-annotate this post with links later…]

I awoke on Saturday morning with an odd feeling of dread mixed with elation, as I looked forward to another day of meeting in groups with random people and wondering what to say! When I’m faced with a situation like this, I have a choice: rush into it and be brave, or question the assumption that Ineed to know what to say. I decided that today, I would just mellow out and not worry about it so much. I would own my solitude.

The morning walk from the Radisson to the convention center takes under 10 minutes, and I joined a small trickle of SXSWers as we made our way down Cesar Chavez St. This was a nice way to settle into the day.

It turned out that this year’s Interactive sessions were split between two locations within the convention center. The first session of the morning I attended, World Domination Via Collaboration, was in room 10AB which was accessible through a pair of 12-person max elevators from the 4th floor on the unknown third floor between the lobby and the top of the main escalator. I heard someone make a crack about Being John Malkovich…yeah, it was kind of surreal like that. Anyway, here’s my panel brain dump. There is so much stuff going on every day that if I don’t process the memories right away, something very bad might happen.

World Domination Via Collaboration

I have always had a soft spot for mad scientists and their plans for world domination. I guess it’s because I appreciate anyone with a grand scheme, strong ideals, and the will to push forward. The panelists were Betsy Aoki, Jory Des Jardins (moderator), Jessica Hardwick, Lisa Stone, and Jenna Woodul.

I like the way that BlogHer runs their panels: they immediately open the panel to questions from anyone at anytime, which makes for a brisk and lively session without that lecture feeling. It’s an open dialogue. Jory set the topic right away to get the ball rolling. The basic idea is that there’s really a growing movement in business toward community. Sometimes the business itself is the community, and the community is the business. So how do you create the kind of community that becomes a powerhouse to drive increased use of your products, develops loyalty, and provides that feedback that marketing has been unable to find? And how do you keep the whole community from blowing up in yrou face? A very good panel, one of my favorites so far because it resonated strongly with the kind of ideals that I’m considering in forming some kind of real corporate entity. The values and methods they described that work really well with communities might be transferable to company culture; the challenge is to not only create the right environment that creates the positive behaviors we want to see, but also defends itself against principle rot by proactively putting the right vibe out there. And not tolerating behavior that directly violates those principles.

On the way downstairs I ran into Nathan Smith and (I think) Jared Christiansen, who were looking for the mystery room I had just come from. I proceeded to then not remember who Jared was, and only discovered some 9 hours later that he’s a fellow 9rules member along with Nathan. I think I just need to ask people what their website is, because I can never remember.

The Influence of Art and Design

I went to see buddy Erik Sagen, aka Kartooner, do his first-ever SXSW panel. It was an interesting one, moderated by Daniel Rubin with panelists Glenda Sims, Dave Shea, Anton Peck, and Patrick Haney. This panel, in contrast to the previous one I was at, was more of a straight presentation with Q&A at the end. I was very impressed by Glenda, who is a museum technologist. The way she described how she wanted the interactive experience to be was exactly right: in the best cases, it should be a transformative, perspective changing experience. And again, this isn’t about just having cool gadgets, but creating an enhancing experience, not a distracting one. Dave Shea talked about the history of photography and its acceptance as fine art. Eric Sagen talked about some of his favorite pop art heroes and tips for jogging one’s self creatively by using DVDs and museums. Anton Peck used his “Voodoo Design Lounge” logo design as a personal illustration of the Michaelangelo quote, “I saw the Angel in the marble, and carved until I set him free.” Photoshop is Anton’s medium; he maniulated a digital photo of some kind of dead bird into something quite unique…conceptually quite similar to freeing the Angel. Dan Rubin made the observation that music has a profound effect on our perception of the world, with some examples of how period artwork tends to go with period music (this I actually thought was rather subjective), but that through music choice (even music we hate) our creative muses are stirred in new ways. Lastly, Patrick Haney talked about inspiration, from the Web, from quotes, from one’s old work, and through favorite works. He said that he had a large print of Van Gogh’s Starry Night over his bed, and that it helped put him in the mood to design. That’s awesome.

I think it was at this panel that I say Stuart Coul, Shawn Grimes, and Carl Camera.

The Kathy Sierra Keynote

I camped out early for this one after having a quick lunch with Andrew, who I met on the bus on the first day I got into town. We got a good seat in the main room up front. I didn’t take notes during this keynote, intent on watching and listening. The general theme: Being Human, and how that’s really important. She opened with the question, “How many people are live blogging this talk”? and when a few people raised their hands, she commented, “So the rest of you don’t really need to be here” because we could easily have followed this online. In fact, the majority of people in the room were creating wonderful Web 2.0 applications that made this kind of in-person meeting unnecessary. And yet…we are here. That’s because we get something different from this experience, and it’s part of being human. We’re social critters, dammit, and face to face counts! In terms of software design, what are some things we ought to be doing? The Passionate Users creedo is to help people rock, and before they can rock out they’ve got to get past feeling like they suck. Kathy showed the “suck / rock threshold versus time” graph several times, and commented that the company that can move their customers the quickest from suck to rock is the one that wins.

The keynote shifted into an extended example about help, and what that really meant. To put in in a drab, unfunky way, one has to understand the psychology of the moment for a user. There was a great comparison between how authors of HELP and FAQs have a mental image of their reader being something like Pretty Smiling 90s Guy [insert slide], collar upturned and smiling warmly at the prospect of being helped. The reality of the situation, though, is more like Caffeine-Addled Post-Crash Stressed-Out Angry 00s guy [insert slide], so astonished by the sequence of UI-induced insults that his OWN COMPUTER has thrown in his face that he resorts to obscene hand gesture. If only the computer could recognize that emotion. Facial expression tell us a lot, and that’s important context that the helpful UI designer should take to heart.

This was the second time I’d seen Kathy Sierra present, and I really like her sense of timing and sequencing. I need to spend more time deconstructing it later, but the first thought that comes to mind is that she does something that’s like storytelling except it’s not. It seems to have the FLOW of a great story, but it’s a different kind of narrative.

I also struck up a conversation with the lady sitting next to me, someone named Anne who was is a Texas native. It turned out that Anne, Andrew, and myself were all moleskine notebook fans, and this created a fun moment paper geekness cameraderie.

Turning Blog into Books

This was a very interesting look at how these two guys, John Hargrave of zug.com and Tucker Max of tuckermax.com, turned their successful blogs into book deals. Some interesting notes:

  • A standard book deal for a new author is $7500 advance against royalties. A first-time author needs to sell about 5000 books to break even on the advance.

  • Tucker Max had a fanbase that was driving 300-400K uniques per month, with over a million pageviews, and enough fans bought the book to make the NYT Best Seller list for a couple weeks, which helped drive more media interest to his book. Because of his website, his book sales curves was very atypical, with a few thousand books sold every month for a year, with a big jump just before Christmas. The result was that he sold more than 200K books, which are great numbers. This got his second book deal, and the advance for that was $300K.

  • How to get a book deal — First, you need to have good content. There isn’t enough out there…the industry is starving for good content. The problem isn’t finding people to buy your good content; it’s just that it’s hard to GET it. And to get that to happen, you need to network and link your ass off to make relationships with people, in the right markets. Ask people you know who have sold books (and Tucker runs a business that develops blogs into books too) for a referral to a good agent.

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p>This was a surprisingly good panel, very to-the-point and low bullshit.

Artist Entrepreneurship in Technology

This was more of a lecture, which had the interesting premise that to be an entrepreneurial creative was like following The Hero’s Journey, as described by Joseph Campbell. The presenter provided a link to his lecture notes, which are very much worth reading.

Boss Lady

I attended this panel because my sister is a fan of Jenny Hart, and I’m really glad I attended because this was a kick-ass panel. This was a panel about business, with successful businesswomen sharing their experiences. It addressed a lot of what I’ve been experiencing and thinking over the past few years. I took a lot of notes during this one; tonally, this was probably one of my favorite panels to now. I also got to meet LeaLea, who recognized my nametag outside the room. She’s a really inspiring and enterprising graphic designer whose site I’ve visited several times in the past. And after the session, I met a really nice person who I’ll just call B because she is protective of her privacy. She reads the blog via RSS. Wow! We had a great conversation…she said she approached me because she had read yesterday that I have difficulty approaching people, so she’s totally more brave than me :-) I’ll have to follow her example today and say hi to someone I admire too. Thanks B!

Oops, I’m late out of the hotel…I better fly.

Ack, I need to run to the convention center