SXSW Day 3: People Rock

I am so tired! I hung out with JWynia at the hotel waiting for my ride, and ended up just taking a cab with his posse. We had a great conversation about forming our own networks (we were both at the Zeldman “Roll Your Own Web Conference” session yesterday). Also had a good time at the Avalonstar Bowling Extravaganza (our team got 2nd place). Great job Bryan! While waiting to bowl, I witnessed an epic 1-on-1 foosball match between Mike Rundle and Patrick Haney…man, those guys can play. They have “the touch”.

Quick panel review:

  • Cluetrain: 7 Years Later — Doc Searls, Heather Armstrong, Henry Copeland, and Brian Clark gave a little background history about the Cluetrain Manifesto, followed by discussion of how much progress had been made since it first appeared. I was very impressed by Doc Searls and Brian Clark’s passion and depth of insight. Wow. And I got to see Heather Armstrong! She has kind of a drawl in her speech, which is quite charming.

  • Web Standards and SEO — I took a chance on this one; Eric Meyer was on the panel, and others had told me that he was really down-to-earth and engaging. And this was very true. The general takeaway was that if you make your website standards compliant and use semantic markup, this automatically leads to an improvement in SEO. So this is one potential sell for use of web standards: automatic improvement in search engine results. Section 508 compliance also makes it easier for search engines to index your content. A surprisingly interesting panel.

  • Craig Newmark Keynote — Craig Newmark of Craig’s List, as interviewed by Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia. I had to sit in the overflow room, but discussion was quite interesting. I can’t remember what exactly, but I remember being impressed by the level of thoughtfulness and candor present in the conversation, and in general marvelling at the overall quality of individual presenting at SXSW.

  • Zero Advertising Brands — I’d only heard of skinnycorp and threadless a few hours before at the Cluetrain panel, and this one featured the dudes who started it up. I was really, really impressed by their philosophy and their actions. You know, in the game industry there’s a mentality that I’d describe as don’t suck, and until this morning I thought that was the adequate defining mantra that made it “better” than more “traditional” corporate environments. That I’m realizing is just stage 1: taking a stand. Stage 2 is what skinnycorp is doing: make stuff that rocks. Now, every game company will say that’s what they do, but where does the energy come from, and is it positive or negative? It’s a subtle shift in where you put your explicit emphasis. If you identify yourself by how you don’t suck, that’s actually pretty negative. If you identify yourself by rockin’, then that’s way cooler dude! What was awesome about skinnycorp was that these are the guys in charge because they’ve taken charge, and the attitude they set from the very top throughout their entire community, to the extent that their business model is dependent on pleasing them. Imagine that, basing the success of your company on your customer base’s loyalty… it seems so obviously right, but very insane from a risk/safety/control perspective. I wouldn’t even say that it’s a sign of courage that they do this. It’s their acceptance that if they aren’t pleasing their customers, that just means “it’s time to go” that I find so awe inspiring. They’re shipping a million shirts a year, and their business has grown so much that they’ve moved every year for the past four years.

  • Design Eye for the List Guy — Keith Robinson, Cameron Moll, Ryan Sims, Paul Nixon, and Andrei Harasimchuck redesign Craigslist. I originally was going to go somewhere else, but decided that I should enjoy some of the cheesy spectacle. And I am certainly glad I did, because I got to watch four world-class creative professionals pitch a concept with such smoothness and confidence that I didn’t realize how cool this was until halfway through. And now, I have a model for how to do it better. Awesome!