Day 2: Rolling Start

It was a rather good day. I started the day out by eating a meat-laden buffet breakfast so I could go with a light lunch. I ended up skipping it entirely, saving myself some money, but this was made up with a nice dinner at a French restaurant later. I ate a snail! But more on that later. Let me recap the panels.

Expression Engine 2.0 Sneak Peek

The new Expression Engine 2.0 is built on top of Code Igniter, Ellis Lab’s open source PHP framework. This is very exciting, because this means Ellis Labs can essentially pay people to develop Code Igniter, and Expression Engine 2.0 developers can take advantage of Code Igniter features. Likewise, Code Igniter developers can take advantage of all of Expression Engine 2.0’s features. There’s a new control panel too, designed by Veerle Pieters, and it’s very nice. It’s loaded with nifty effects. The one thing I wanted, a more compact publish page, doesn’t seem to be in evidence, but customizing the page will apparently not require modifying the core code.

Ellis Labs also mentioned a very interesting shift in their company philosophy:

  • Code Igniter expands Expression Engine’s capabilities.
  • Expression Engine expands Code Igniter’s reach.

I thought it was a rather nifty way of framing a self-sustaining symbiotic relationship. The Expression Engine crew seemed very cool and friendly too, though I did not actually talk to any of them. I should get involved with the community one of these days. Oh, Expression Engine 2.0 will be available “when it’s ready”, and no hint was given as to when this would be. Darn. I ran into SXSW buds Wade Winnington and Jeff Leombruno, and spent some time catching up on my own Expression Engine experiences.

Core Conversation: GTD for Startups; Getting Things Done in the Real World

New at SXSW this year was a room full of tables and chairs, running 5 or 6 simultaneous seminars. Each table features one or two discussion leaders. The idea, I think, was to provide a more intimate discussion environment with niche topics. Great idea, but there were a LOT more people crowded around each table, which made it difficult for me to hear.

An interesting idea I picked up was using IMAP to create common folders that are accessible by all company employees. This has me reconsidering IMAP; I am back to POP3 because the Outlook IMAP support frankly sucked. Or the Courier IMAP system running on my server is itself really slow. A few interesting services were mentioned; they’re listed I believe at the [presentation page]gizmo on the moderator’s company page.

After a lengthy discussion of IMAP ensued, I grew restless and started to check out the other conversations in the room.

Core Conversation: Flat World – Collaboration Strategies

I had run into Catherine Crago just before the Core Conversations session, and found out she was running one of them. I’d first met Catherine on the smoking balcony at SXSW 2006, when she offered to take a picture of me after observing my attempts to enact a self-portrait. We had a brief but delightful conversation, and we ran into each other again at SXSW 2007 at another session and got briefly caught up. She is super nice, and I had no idea that her background was so interesting as a global collaboration consultant. Awesome! After wandering away from the GTD for Startups session, I stopped by Catherine’s table to try to figure out what the topic was about. It was a VERY INTERESTING discussion of cultural beliefs and expectations of teamwork, peppered with fascinating anecdotes. The topic generally revolved around the notion that here in the US, we teds to have low frequency, high duration meetings. The underlying expectation we have toward meetings is that we need to confirm that everyone is doing what they are supposed to and are “on the same page.” In other countries, the meetings are high frequency and low duration, and this is due to the tendency for managers to only discuss what is not going to plan. Everyone is assumed to have the plan in their head already, doing what is expected to them. I am not doing the conversation justice, so I hope the notes are made available soon. I ran into Catherine again at the end of the day and hung out with some of the other people from her session, and had a great time.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the core conversations will be podcast. The room was very noisy and I found it difficult to hear anything being said, which makes it unlikely that I will attend additional sessions of this type.

Lunch

I tracked down Britt Raybould, who I first met at SXSW 2007, and we caught up with our respective business endeavors. One of the highlight conversations of the day. I’d like to have more of these in-depth conversations with people in a quiet environment.

Opening Remarks: Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson

Henry Jenkins really impresses me with his insight into the consumption of media and his passion for the communities that form around media properties. Steven Johnson I wasn’t familiar with. I’ll definitely need to check out more of their writing. A few things that stuck:

  • “People are not idiots”: if you push hard enough, you will find a reason, and it’s often quite interesting. This is something I believe myself, having phrased it as a mismatch in logic. When people do something that seems stupid to us, keep in mind that it made sense to them for some reason.
  • The Harry Potter cliche is that “more children are reading thanks to the books”. However, it is far more interesting to note that Harry Potter has also created more writers. There are thouands of works of fan art, some quite notable. Harry Potter groups also rally action around issues that are important to children; note that the Harry Potter character in the later books is an empowering-albeit-reluctant leader. Kids see this as a role model.
  • A personal thought: giving up control of one’s content is hard, but it could have tremendous community benefits. I had to think about this.

The podcast will be worth checking out, though because it is an interview the narrative thread may not seem particularly focused. I could listen to Henry Jenkins talk for hours, though…he’s one of my new heroes. I am inspired to start laying out my thoughts in a more rigorous fashion. I must check out his blog.

High Tech Crafts

The High Tech Craft panel featured four women with impressive backgrounds in the application of technology to fashion. Moderated by Craft editor Natalie Zee Drieu, the panel addressed a number of issues related to the experiences of Diana Eng (who appeared on Project Runway), Syuzi Pakhchyan (an interactive designer), Alison Lewis (who I found notable for her relentless cheer), and Mouna Andraos (who impressed me with her demeanor). Not only are these women doing cool things with craft and technology, they are also disseminating information and enthusiastically teaching what they know. The combination of craft and empowerment is sweet indeed.

A few interesting tidbits:

  • There are “trend forecasters” who figure out what will be popular in the next two years. All the fashion designers use them, so to some extent they are all working toward the same trend. How can people forecast that far ahead, I wonder? Perhaps they know how long it takes for people to get bored, and what will come back in vogue based on a keen understanding of the psychology behind trendsetting and boredom.
  • There is a perception that the fashion industry is closed and non-collaborative. In actuality, it’s quite a small community that is geographically contained in 4 blocks in (I presume) New York City. This is not accessible to the Internet, which gives it the perception of being isolated.
  • Lewis said something pretty wonderful about how craft tells a story. Apparently she also had the world’s coolest grandma too. I am going to have to listen to the podcast when it becomes available; it’s a really heartwarming tale.
  • Some sources for cool DIY electronics: lilypad and sparkfun.com

Wrapping Up the Day

I skipped out on the last panels, and explored the Screenburn Game Arcade, a large room filled with video game-related activities. I saw the Frag Dolls, an all-girl competive gaming league, crush many men in some first-person shooter on the XBOX 360. I also dropped by a BBQ and Beer thing nearby, but the sponsor had run out of food after only an hour. I was lucky to get a few sausage links an some BBQ. Afterwards, I hung out in the hall with my OLPC XO and chilled out. Several people came up to me to see the XO, which I happily obliged. I haven’t seen anyone else with an XO at the festival yet; I’m hoping that someone here has one. I’d like to check out the mesh networking feature, and maybe find out more about what people are doing with these things.

Afterwards, I ran into Catherine again and met a bunch of the other people from her conversational panel. Had a great time, meeting Chris and William from Flatsourcing, and we had a great conversation about the nuances of branding with our respective businesses. They’re quite passionate about the quality of their outsourcing team. I also ran into several blog readers, but I’ve left their cards upstairs in my room and I am fading fast. I’ll back-annotate this post tomorrow. I’ve got to get some shuteye.