emergency weblog; or: epersonae; or: elaine nelson

in which I write about stuff

summary notes: day-by-day

(final version) my magnum opus on SxSWi 2008.

Categories: conference notes, Professional, sxsw 2008

I’m planning, additionally, an “executive summary” (which may just go to my boss), and additional posts on: mobile web, casual gaming (maybe), Kathy Sierra’s talk, and municipal/public wifi.

Thursday, March 6

Travel day. Up early, to bed early. Cold & rainy in Austin, too rainy to get the bike.

Friday, March 7

Session: Respect!

Top folks from Happy Cog, including Zeldman, plus Doug Bowman from Google. Mostly, this panel provided a lot of validation of common experiences amongst web folk.

The most interesting takeaway: using something “unobtrusively visible” to have (written) conversations among different parts of the team; everybody can “overhear” what everyone else is doing. They use Basecamp for that, but I imagine there’s lots of ways to handle it.

Also that day…

Picked up bike. Weather better, but still on the chilly side. Broke my camera (slammed into an escalator railing) and rode 4 miles each way to get it fixed.

In the evening, went to the Higher Ed Meetup with Andrea, mostly as a lark. There were no get-togethers of financial web folk that I could suss out, and I didn’t run into any other singletons, either. :( But it turned out to be interesting, both personally & professionally, and useful as well. Point for work: got a contact from Pat for a WordPress guy who might be able to give me some comparison options for CMS stuff v. Drupal. (That makes more sense to me than it does in writing. Honest.)

Saturday, March 8

Session: What Teens Want

A group of teenagers (13-17, IIRC) plus an adult moderator. Important caveat that these teens go to either a tech academy at a local high school, or a prep school; YMMV.

Fairly marketing-savvy: they know that ads pay for stuff, but they also hate ads. Pop-up ads came in for specific and repeated denunciation.

Almost all have myspace accounts, which they refer to as “my myspace”, otherwise favorite sites were based on other interests (gaming, fashion, etc). None use mobile web. (I have more thoughts about mobile web to write in a separate note.) Although “casual” games are fairly popular and of course texting is big. Pac-man, for some reason, is quite the thing.

Cost came up as a factor repeatedly in mobile phone discussion, regarding phone type and features used; almost all rely on parents to fund their phones/plans.

Session: The Contextual Web

Nick Finck on mobile web; I had hoped that this panel was about more contexts than that. He covered the general idea of context in re: the web, which was useful in its own way as a reminder. Raised a question of curiosity about the context of online banking, which mostly takes place during the work day, presumably at work. What are we missing about that context? Also, all of his examples used the iPhone. (See mobile web notes for more on that.)

Also that day…

Sunny, but chilly. Lunch (etc) with H.A., which was wonderful. More futzing with camera.

Sunday, March 9

Session: Wireframing in a 2.0 World

Two of the ClearLeft guys. This was the only panel where I really got into the meebo discussions; I had to quit because I couldn’t chat & take notes at the same time. But that discussion was interesting, and confirmed my own hunch about their process: namely, that it ends up with something that looks too pretty. Plain, yes, but “designy.”

But I did really appreciate learning the general outline of the technique. JavaScript libraries used to create simplistic prototypes. It might be helpful for future projects. (Jumping forward: it makes me wish the panel on JS libraries had been remotely useful.)

Session: Emotional Design

An interesting mixed panel that actually had a blended presentation that worked well together. I have to make special note of this; like the previous panel (in the same room; hmmm) they stood, passed the mic back & forth, and had a single set of slides. It was too dark to see them very well, but otherwise it was an excellent presentation style.

As far as the actual content: an excellent examination of emotion towards things (where software is included as a thing), with the exception of a few almost-sexist quips. Things to look into or ask about: what does it feel like when something fails in Online Banking? how can the website make the connection with positive associations with branch/people? what is the internal meaning that people attach to credit union membership? what is the first impression of the website (or anything else, for that matter)? what do we want it to be? Also (this comes up again later): you can’t really promote what you don’t love.

Session: Logos (are bad)

Didn’t get anything out of it; felt like an uninformed ramble. Left early. (I ended up talking to Christina Wodke at Fray Cafe that night, and managed to express my unhappiness with the experience without being mean. That’s all I’m going to say in re: the Facebook interview debacle, which oddly enough, I missed by being in this panel & the next one.)

Session: Stories, Games & Your Brand

Something about panels right after lunch, I guess. This one felt too insular among the panelists, or maybe they’d already figured out that most of the audience was fairly familiar with the topic?

A few notable gems, though. To get to the elves thing, Office Max tried 20 different games the Xmas before; whatever you want to say about whether it helped them as marketing, it’s important to see the experimentation. Penguin Books uses a special “innovation budget” for some of its online writing experiments, rather than seeing them as marketing.

Plus a reminder about the huge casual gaming audience, which is usually described as middle-aged women, but cf. teen panel for other interested groups.

Session: Tools for Enchantment

I’d been curious about Kathy Sierra’s presentation style for a while, and I really enjoyed it; both the slides and her speaking style, plus the few audience participation bits. My one complaint is that she sometimes went a bit too fast, and skipped things under the assumption that we had seen a prior presentation. This session was dense with little bursts of ideas & food for thought. As in: I’m printing my notes right now so I can mark them up to make decent summary. [update: here’s my extended post]

Also that day…

DST = EPIC FAIL, according to Andrea. Or not. But wow it was dark in the morning.

MetaFilter meetup was very energizing at lunchtime; an interesting discussion of how people are online v offline, plus yes, Jessamyn & Gus do know each other. (So very small world. Gus, aka Jill, is someone I’ve known since junior high school. Mmmmm, band camp.) And silly things with photos/captions.

I hit the trade show for a while, which was more fun (and useful) than I would’ve expected. Connected with Dave O. at Raincity Studios, which might come in handy for Drupal stuff later, plus that was just a funny meeting. (Chit-chatting usual booth style, then he introduced himself, I went “oh, you’re Dave; I’m C’s wife.” “C with the big ideas?” “Yes, that would be the one.” Heh.)

The books at the Blurb booth were beautiful; I’d recommend them to anybody doing visual arts/photography. The Brain Machine at the Make/Craft booth was startlingly relaxing, and the booth itself was like being in the giftshop at the old museum. Checked out the Pro Drupal Development book at the Friends of Ed/Apress booth, but passed it up for the time being; I’m going to wait for one on Drupal 6. (Later this year?) Also had a very nice conversation about southeastern Arizona, where Grandma & Grandpa N lived, with the folks at the Film Tuscon booth, which comes back in a bit.

Most cool was hanging out at the O’Reilly booth. Catherine Nolan, who I worked with when I did tech review for Head First JavaScript, is hysterically awesome. Simon St. Laurent, the editor for Shelley’s book, came up and said hi too, was super-nice, introduced me to a guy (whose name I’ve forgotten!) working on a book about online communities, which sounds potentially quite interesting. (A side note about ’08 vs. ’06: I felt much less star-struck this time around, which overall was a good thing.)

Went to the Fray Cafe in the evening, which was as fun and funny and moving as Ralph led me to believe. Prompted by the conversation with the Film Tuscon folk, I told the story of my grandparents — an enormously long pause in the middle is all I remember, and then the MC getting people to applaud me into talking again. That led to the conversation with Christina Wodke, as mentioned earlier.

Then probably the best serendipitous moment of the entire trip, and one of my rare bursts of quasi-star-strucked-ness (?), running into Dori Smith in a parking lot, after midnight, and then talking for an hour. (Turns out she worked with credit union software, ages & ago. Good to know. We talked CU culture for a bit. So I guess that means that I did connect with someone CU-related. Hey!)

Monday, March 10

Session: The Web That Wasn’t

My notes, my fairly damn copious notes, seem to have vanished utterly. And I’ve already cleaned off and returned the borrowed laptop, so if they were in a text file, they’re still utterly vanished. This was one of the more interesting sessions, too. (expletive deleted)

What sticks after a week & the flu? “The Buffalo Public Library of 1983″ (an article from 1883, in which a librarian imagines something that sounds suspiciously like the Intarwebs); Paul Otlet’s crazy library/index-card thing in Belgium: apparently, you could telegraph them a question and get it answered for a small fee, like a verrrrry sloooow Google. Destroyed by the Nazis. Ted Nelson is kinda nutty.

The most useful part of the session was the author bringing together common themes of visions of web-like things: two-way links, meaningful links, annotation, persistent identity/trails. In conversation with C later, it occurred to me that many of these are made unlikely by spam; their visions were (of necessity?) of smaller self-contained non-commercial systems. Also, (and this just hit me) perhaps they have something useful to add to an intranet?

On the bright side, re: notes: I did add some of his suggested items to delicious, all in the post of March 10/11.

Session: keynote with Frank Warren of Postsecret

My notes are nothing, really; just things I typed somewhat randomly while being deeply intensely moved. Something about Postsecret just hits me right in the freaking gut. It’s also a good reminder that as the personal use of the web spreads, more and more people are going to have bits of themselves, “non-professional” bits, out there, and not be willing to erase them for corporate life. (Had a conversation later on a similar topic over drinks. Obviously, and as long-time readers will know, this is something I’ve been thinking about for a Really. Long. Time.)

Session: Video Games & Corporate Training

One of two “core conversations” that I tried out. An interesting experiment; worth the effort in general, altho this one was a bust for me. (My notes have my thoughts on the format.) The casual gaming thing came up again, this time around training on specific topics. Casual gaming, like mobile web, may deserve its own post.

Session: Target Lawsuit Update

Most of the technical issues are so familiar to me at this point as to be not worth repeating. OTOH, it was helpful to see the list of types of “public accommodations” which I hadn’t seen before, as well as a number of particular notes about the legal issues that had previously escaped my attention. “a service related to a public accommodation” seems to be a key phrase.

There are things I need to check up on; right now the thing that probably requires most work is probably the least important: adding captions/transcripts to the TV & radio ads on our site. Also, it sounds like this whole thing is something to keep an eye on.

Also that day…

This was the day of truly insane rain. I missed the first session hoping that it would let up enough to bike in; ended up walking instead. Somebody told me that Austin & Seattle actually get a similar amount of rain; it’s just that they get in 10 minutes what we get in 2 weeks.

I think this may have been the day I finally got my camera really working, better than before even. (Smacking it while the lens was still open. Don’t ask.)

Lunch with Andrea. Really good lunch with Andrea. Reminder to her: when you have time, watch The Venture Brothers; the thing that your idea reminded me of was in the Brisbyland episode in Season 1. And I think I realized that what I want out of my (long-abandoned) Media Diet idea is something fairly semantic-web-like. Maybe an actual reason to learn RDF?

Another trip to the trade show, with more time at O’Reilly. (Minor ego-boo: Catherine introducing me to (?) as “one of our tech editors” (or something to that effect).) And bought the newest Postsecret book — signed — as a surprise present for Elizabeth, which she got in the mail yesterday.

That was also the night that I attempted to go out and didn’t end up having a whole lot of fun. Wanted to go to SXNW party, since it’s peeps from this part of the world, but I just can’t stay up that late, and the thing I went to before that to pass the time was immensely boring, plus I got cold. (Yeah, I’m kind of an old lady.) But some lovely random person left a lei of silk flowers on my parked bike, which made me smile.

Tuesday, March 11

Session: CMS Roundup

I was honestly not expecting this to be as good as it was. I missed the beginning because of a really interesting conversation that I’ll get back to shortly. IMHO, there is no reason to spend big bucks on a CMS. (I was going to add a caveat, but let’s just assume that every blanket statement has a caveat. Even that one.)

Going with open source means paying for knowledge (consultants, staff time, etc), but that seems to be true for any CMS being implemented in a commercial setting. Drupal is powering some pretty damn good (and good-looking) commercial sites. With the color picker, it’s possible to do micro-sites with one-off skins, similar to how sites on our intranet work now. It can handle external data being passed through without disturbing the original source. (Or something. I’m not entirely sure I understand how that worked.) But it has a hard time with singletons & edge cases in general.

Expression Engine is also looking good, and seems to have a lot built in; along with the WordPress conversation I had with Pat, that might give me several comparisons to make. (Should talk to Andrea about that too; isn’t HSU using EE?) Also, Jeff Eaton from Lullabot has a nice turn of phrase; the notes include my favorite bits.

About that conversation: I’d forgotten my mini-schedule, so I was asking around at the Lego pit for room info. I ended up talking to a Yahoo person, initially about CMSes. If I got it correctly, they have a few units using Drupal for intranet stuff, which was very interesting to hear. Plenty of pros & cons.

But also, the person was allowed to say, but not allowed to write themselves, that a bunch of stuff (code? it was morning, and I’ve had the flu since then) is going to be released open source this summer. Call that my scoop of the week. :)

My source was really excited about some of the things going on at Yahoo, but really frustrated with PR folk for not being able to say more sooner; feels like that’s what makes it look like they’re “me too” with Google: they’ve been working on X for however many months, Google announces super-experimental-beta of X, then later when Yahoo announces their version of X, it gets called copy-cat. An interesting perspective. I continue to hope that they fend off the approaches of MSFT.

Session: Core Conversation: Specialization v Doing It All.

My notes are about 3 lines of not-notes, which is sort of sad because it was a really interesting discussion. HUGE group, 4 or 5 rows deep, but really engaged (and getting the last row to stand up made it possible to hear).

My odd realization was that becoming a web generalist was actually a form of specialization: before Pierce, my jobs included (mixed together): event management, database design, print production, admin support, grantwriting, teaching, managing other admin staff, and other stuff I’m forgetting at the moment. My faux title at the museum was Random Chaos Girl, after all. :)

The question of which was “better” seemed to come down to organization size and personal temperament. For specialists (and for all of us, really), it’s important to be aware of the needs & skills of other specialists; for generalists (and I suppose people in general), to know enough to know the limits of what’s knowable for you, and when to call in the specialist.

Also, the moderator is part of a design/dev group that’s an un-company, which sounds very very interesting. Self-organizing groups & all that. Something to think about for myself for later?

Session: Secrets of JavaScript Libraries

I had really high hopes for this one; as did a lot of other people, apparently, because it was packed to the gills. But I was sorely disappointed. This ties with post-lunch on Sunday for the session low point.

Too large of a room, and I was in the last row, so I could neither hear nor see properly. The code samples in particular were entirely unreadable. There was no discernible structure to the presentation, and the panelists didn’t have a good flow amongst themselves. Might’ve gotten more by hanging out longer at lunch, alas.

Session: Municipal WiFi

I ended the sessions (more about that later) on something of a personal note, as well as on way too much caffeine. (Spilled my mocha on the carpet, even, in my excitability.) Like the Kathy Sierra presentation, this has too many interesting bits to summarize without a marked-up printout.

But it energized me enough to think seriously about how to do something locally, plus I have contacts I want to make. C & I had a pretty good chat about it on the way home from the airport, too, which once we are both healthy we’ll need to get back to.

Session: Futurists’ Sandbox

Ran into Glenda & Andrea (and masses of other people) outside of this one; it was the only one that really interested me, and was so full that we were sitting on the floor. But it was too weird, honestly, to stick with. A faux funeral/eulogy? I couldn’t get into it, not sitting on the floor anyway.

So we 3 all bailed together, and to good effect, I think. Ended up at the Hampton, for excellent conversations over drinks. Particularly enjoyed chat with Andrea, Tom & Jeff of Blue Flavor, and Paul Boag about self-branding, blogging/flickr boundaries, etc.; my long-standing rules of blogging. And before that, about driving/walking/biking in Seattle, etc.

Also that day…

Finally the weather got nice. (grr)

Had lunch with a nice fellow from Belgium named Hans. With that & Drupal, I think Tuesday may have been Belgian Day. ;) Always interesting to meet new people, learn what else is out there in the world. We talked CMS for a bit, and he suggested looking at Django; so yet another thing to go on the list!

Tuesday was my one and only “party night” at a conference that seems to have acquired quite the reputation. But I am a mild partier, so nothing particularly wild to report. (As if I would.) More fantastic conversations, including an incredibly thoughtful (if shouted) one about politics, with people I had not met until right then. On the walk to the hotel, got to put in my 2 cents about the importance of CCs in training of web people to someone where it might actually make a difference. That’s always a nice feeling.

Wednesday, March 12

Another glorious day; had immense fun biking to the post office with Elizabeth’s gift and then to Whole Foods, although getting from Whole Foods to the bike shop was a frustrating puzzle, even tho they are on the same road. Dropped off the bike, checked out of the hotel, hung out at the Hideout (reminder to self: name of the place where I had best. mocha. ever.), and then to the airport. Kept running into SXSW people, which was nice/weird/melancholy. Then airplane, then home, then…well, flu.

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