DAY 1: Friday, March 9, 2012
To begin with, March 9 is my birthday–which is traditionally an international holiday–but we had to forgo the festivities on account of me going to SxSWi. I woke up early that day and got a nice gift from my family, lots of hugs and kisses, and then they deposited me at the train station so I could take it downtown to the convention center and avoid traffic and parking.
Here I am, setting out on day one, and looking very tired already:
Yes, after peaking at 90 degrees in February, Austin decided to get dramatically cold and rainy during my birthday week. But I am not one to be deterred, so I landed at the Austin Convention Center by 9:00 am, procured a $5.00 latte (WTF?) and planted myself at an empty table waiting for someone else I knew to arrive.
Soon, my buddy and co-worker Martin Hodges (@mlkingh) showed up and joined me. Then Katherine Ruiz (@katdruiz) of YoMobi.com (one of our sponsors) came and sat with us and gave us business cards, wristbands, and other assorted paraphernalia that we would be distributing throughout the conference. Marla Erwin (@marlaerwin) Official Web Goddess at Whole Foods, and Omar Naseer (@youmobilized), co-founder of YoMobi.com also hung with us for a while until Martin and I decided to go hunt down some breakfast.
The only decent breakfast Martin and I could find in the vicinity which didn’t require that we slosh too far through the rain was the crepe place two blocks from the convention center. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea:
As we sat in the crepe place, the skies began to open up and we were witness to a torrential downpour the likes of which Austin hasn’t seen in many, many months:
We waited for a little while when we were done eating, hoping the rain would let up. But it didn’t. So we scuttled back to the convention center as fast as we could, dodging raindrops and puddles with only partial success. Incidentally, I had a freaking AWESOME crepe that had pears, brie, fresh creme and lemon. So I didn’t mind getting wet that much.
Our next stop was the Beacon Lounge, a room set up for people who are in the non-profit sector to gather and chill during the hustle and bustle outside. They took an empty meeting room and cozied it up with furniture, twinkle lights, faux candles, and rugs–and played music. It was a perfect place to hang out after running through the cold rain.
Before the panel we went to meet Martin’s friend, Shawn Williams (@shawnpwilliams), author of Blogging While Black. Shawn is an amazing guy and he was nice enough to give me a signed copy of his book the next day after I met him. I can’t wait to read it.
Finally, I was ready for my first panel at 2:00. I went to see “Social Change, Social Media & Social Filmmaking” featuring:
New media pioneer Dorothy Engelman, who specializes in creating content for non-profits & founder of Get Involved, a network for volunteers; Rob Dyer, founder of Skate4Cancer & star of multiple engaging online videos & short docs; & Sherien Barsoum, former social worker & documentarian behind ‘Colour Me’
The panelists all showed some examples of their work on the big screen and then touched on what makes social films compelling. There was a lot of talk about the Kony2012 film which had just exploded all over the internet the week before, and they all agreed that regardless of your views on the organization behind it, the film itself accomplished everything it set out to do. There was also a discussion about the difference between ROI (return on investment) and ROE (return on emotion); and a fascinating discussion about how to keep social films from becoming propaganda.
My next panel was one I just could not resist: ”Political Humor 2.0: Teh Internetz R Leaking”:
In an election year that is as divisive as any in recent memory, a snarky, slightly jaded and unflinching group of funny folk are taking action and making an impact on the political scene. Learn how the internet empowered comedians and comedy writers and how funny folk are wielding their online prowess to affect some real-world change. Join comedians and staff from The Daily Show, Huffington Post,and Wonkette in an in-depth discussion that may very well save the world!
One of the most interesting observations to come out of this panel was that extremism, and extremists (whether on the right or the left) tend to have less of a sense of humor. Humor–especially political humor–lies in the middle where people are less likely to take themselves seriously. I had to hold myself back from rushing the stage to tell Rory Albanese that I would give him both of my firstborn children for a job at The Daily Show.
My final panel of the day was inspirational. It was by Saman Arbabi of the hilarious Iranian-based political satire television show Parazit:
Saman Arbabi will use his signature wit to relate how the satirical TV program challenges the oppressive Iranian regime all the while influencing the direction of the country’s political landscape. The program, “Parazit,” has become a runaway hit in Iran despite the gov’s strict censorship practices. The program uses alternate channels of distribution to reach their audience which has driven the program further underground and contributed to its outlaw status and popularity. The show has so completely seeped into the Iranian psyche that the president and his supporters have launched a counter-Parazit program. Saman will give insight into their innovative methods of growing an audience that was previously all but unreachable. At SXSW, he will unveil his latest: “Weapons of Mouse Destruction,” the largest global art project against government Internet censorship. Raina Kumra BBG Director of Innovation will open the session with an overview of closed media environments around the world.
They also gave the audience members this awesome, awesome T-shirt with this design:
DAY 2: Saturday, March 10, 2012
On Saturday morning I headed downtown on the train and before I could even get there Martin called and told me to meet him at the Samsung booth in the lobby. He had discovered the new Samsung tablet which is coming out later this year, and the Samsung people had a caricature artist there doing pictures of people using the product:
Here’s how my caricature came out:
And here is Martin getting his done:
Incidentally, while Martin was getting his caricature drawn, I saw two jackasses in sumo suits wrestling in the middle of a huge crowd in the lobby. Because, you know, when space is at a premium, the best way to represent your brand is to dress up in a fat suit and throw your bodies around wildly. UGH.
After we were done with all that noise, we traversed the crowd and headed back up to the Beacon Lounge. On the way I ran in to this guy:
He was kind enough to give me a whole bunch of fake mustaches, so the first thing I did when I got to the lounge was put one on and take a photo:
At the Beacon Lounge we met up with our friend Ehren Foss (@ehrenfoss) of HelpAttack! Ehren used to live in Austin and moved up to Boston recently. But he’s still working hard to develop creative ways for non-profit organizations to raise money and increase engagement using social media.
We had a Mobile Meetup to attend, but before we did that we had to stop by the Americans Elect lounge. This, lounge reminded me of my own home. There were large TV’s showing clips from The Colbert Report, various tables had games on them, and there were chips and salsa sitting out for me to eat.
AmericansElect.com has an interesting proposition: Choose a President, Not a Party. I confess, I love the idea of taking the circus aspect out of the political process…and choosing candidates based on their individual merits.
Martin and I headed over to meet Katherine Ruiz and Omar Naseef at the Mobile Meetup. Since YoMobi.com is a new platform for building mobile websites, we thought it might be cool to see who else was there in the same space. We found quite a few people who are actually mobile website developers. They didn’t care much for our product because…well…it lets people make a mobile website for FREE which sort of puts a damper on the whole ‘charge-someone-for-the-same-service’ thing. But whatevs. We talked to some other cool folks who were developing and managing apps, AND the YoMobi team got to talk to a VC who gave them some great encouragement.
After our meetup we headed down to see Tamara Hodges (@PrincessTAH a/k/a Martin’s wife) who is an event planner. She was responsible for managing an exclusive Food Truck Court. Katherine was keen to hand out some cards there to the food truck owners (since YoMobi is geared toward helping small businesses create mobile sites). On the way to the Food Trucks we stopped to see what the hubbub was over the Nokia Lab:
There was no snow.
Finally I got myself a taco from the One Taco food truck. Actually I got TWO Tacos at One Taco. So yeah. I was happy then.
DAY 3: Sunday, March 11, 2012
I woke up on Sunday morning with a SPECTACULAR headache. I literally felt hungover, which sucks for someone who doesn’t actually drink. I think it was because I hadn’t had enough water the day before and got dehydrated. So I took Advil and gingerly took myself downtown. Upon arriving to the convention center I was immediately presented with this:
At that point I got a text from my online friend Amy Vernon (@AmyVernon) who I was FINALLY going to get to meet after knowing each other on the internets for almost two years. When I met her on the corner of 2nd and San Jancinto, she looked like she was going to fall over from lack of caffeine. After a few moments of wandering around bleary eyed (she un-caffinated and me still headachy) we found a FedEx tent offering free coffee. Once Amy was fueled up we decided the best strategy for finding breakfast (now almost lunch) was to wander around until someone offered us free food.
We went only two blocks before we saw a sign that said “Taco Tent” and marched up to it. We were presented with tickets for free tacos (the very best kind, of course) and proceeded to stuff our faces all the while swapping stories about our kids and discussing the fact that we are Gen X’ers and by default, angsty.
I had to run at 12:30 because I didn’t want to miss Mona Eltahawy’s (@monaeltahawy) presentation: ”Optimism: The Ultimate Revolutionary Act” -
It takes optimism to launch revolutions, to believe that you can end decades of dictatorship and that you deserve freedom and dignity. Why are the people of the Middle East and North Africa – all too aware of the challenges they face in rising up to despots – more optimistic about their revolutions and uprisings than those outside the region – who all too often take for granted their own freedoms?
However, I had to stop briefly on the way there at the Microsoft Lounge because they were handing out Microsoft cupcakes:
Mona’s presentation was inspiring (as I knew it would be). She talked about the sacrifices that women (and men) in Egypt and other Arab nations are making to forge democratic societies–and how vitally important their optimism is to fulfilling their collective vision. In a society like the U.S. that celebrates cynicism it’s a good lesson to remind us of the role our attitudes play in creating change when it is needed.
As I was headed up to give her a hug, I was stopped by none other than the TRULY FABULOUS Anna Gonzalez (@webanna) who is the web producer for HLN. Anna used to live in Austin before she moved to Atlanta almost two years ago. She is one of the most amazing, generous, and talented people I know and it was just brilliant that I bumped into her there after Mona’s talk. The two of us decided to cruise around and look for food. We went to the CNN Grill but couldn’t get seated, although I did have her take a photo of me there:
After Anna and I spent an hour talking about News, Broadcast Media, Social Media, Internet memes (and how to harnass their power) and Politics we had to go our separate ways. One day I plan to go to Atlanta and visit her so I can experience firsthand the exciting world of being a badass.
Next, I was on my way to meet Michael Tomlinson (@MykleT) who was driving up to the AT&T Conference Center for a panel discussion called “Election 2012: Campaigns, Coverage & the Internet”:
From smear campaigns on Twitter to owning a domain before the opposition does to constituent hangouts on Google+, social media and the web have changed the election process for good. Candidates rely on social media to get their message out on their terms, journalists report and react to the story as it happens, and social platforms help to galvanize public opinion, support volunteers and solicit donations. With viewpoints from journalists, scholars, and campaign practitioners, this panel will reflect on the 2012 presidential campaign and how new media has made its mark. Specifically, the panel will look at which online platforms are performing the best in the 2012 election, the convergence of new and traditional mediums on the campaign trail, and analyze how campaigns are using these tools to promote their issue platforms and candidates, successfully or not.
DAY 4: Monday, March 12, 2012
Monday morning I woke up feeling slightly more refreshed and without a headache. As I headed downtown I texted my pal Chris Barger (@cbarger) who has some kind of important job at Voce Communications. The two of us breakfasted at the Hilton while being intermittently joined by various other luminaries from the world of social media, including Daniel Agee, Shelly DeMotte Kramer, and Tonia Ries. We talked about important things like how much we love Pinterest, the real value of infographics, and whether or not Facebook will really take off.
After I was done with breakfast (Barger paid for my pancake by the way. Very kind of him.) I ran up to the Beacon Lounge where Martin was hanging out with the adorable Sara Peralta (@sarafperalta). Sara is the communications director at AGE and a student at Southwest Texas University. Her enthusiasm for non-profit work and for new media is infectious–we had a very exciting conversation with her about our work at Mobile Loaves & Fishes and what she hopes to accomplish in her organization.
Then. It was time. For the Trade Show.
I went into the trade show at around 12:30 and before I knew it, I looked at my phone and it was 4:30. It was like a vortex of nifty stuff, free t-shirts, and things I haven’t seen before. Like a geek carnival or something. I saw a LOT of stuff. But here are some of my favorite things from among the hundreds of vendors:
EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990—well before the Internet was on most people’s radar—and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights.
Blending the expertise of lawyers, policy analysts, activists, and technologists, EFF achieves significant victories on behalf of consumers and the general public. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations.
ACLU.org & ReckoningWithTorture.org
We talked about the very exciting film project called “Reckoning With Torture” that she is helping director Doug Liman (Bourne Identity) promote. They are looking for people to submit homemade videos of themselves reading from official government documents that have been released regarding interrogation techniques by the U.S. since 9/11.
Look for mine, soon!
enchant.js is a game development engine that you can use to learn to use coding. It’s easy, fun, and the PERFECT project for you and your kids! Read all about it here.
Thinglink is sweet. You can make custom Facebook pages–or pretty much any kind of HTML page–with interactive ‘spots’ embedded into photos or graphics. You generate them on the site, copy the code and paste it into your HTML editor and VOILA! I love this thing! (Check out this cool example – Alan Partridge’s FB Welcome Page)
For $2000 you can buy a 3D printer. Don’t laugh. I can literally think of a million and one uses for this thing. The guy at the booth told me he once needed a doorstop and just printed one out for himself. He also made a skull. Because really, why not? I found him to be DELIGHTFULLY geeky and took a video of him:
VIRB lets people who don’t know how to make websites, make websites. There are a lot of sites that do this but I like this one for a couple reasons: 1. Editing happens on the actual site in ‘edit mode’; 2. They host it for you; and 3. They have an EXCELLENT ecommerce platform included. So, yeah. I’m going to recommend this to everyone I know who wants a website and doesn’t want to pay me to make it for them. Heh.
Tune Up is perfect for anal retentive people who hate it when their music library is less than pristine. This service will find missing cover art, remove duplicate files, and basically keep you from spending hours combing through your music files and obsessing over getting everything perfect. (Not that I would ever do such a thing).
I actually didn’t see this at the tradeshow–I bumped into this guy in one of the lounges, but I’m including it here. As you may already know, I really enjoy live tweeting to my favorite TV show. This service lets you aggregate the live tweets that happen during a specific show or event, watch the tweet stream IN TIME with the replay, and it removes anything spammy or irrelevant from the stream. Neato.
I love WordPress. I love Jackie Dana (@jadana17). I went to their booth and gushed to her about it. I also got a t-shirt which is going into heavy rotation in my wardrobe.
DAY 5: Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Tuesday Morning I hung out in the Samsung Lounge and I have to give Samsung a shout out. As much as I enjoyed the Beacon Lounge, Samsung’s was by far the best. Especially in the morning. Fresh coffee, low lighting, lots of nice TV’s and righteous tunes. Martin showed up around 10 and we sat at a table talking to some pretty cool people for almost an hour. I had planned to go see my friend Amy Vernon’s panel at 12:30 so Martin and I went back down to the trade show and killed some time checking out whatever we’d missed the day before.
Here are some of the things we saw…
Remote Control Ball:
We took off for the Sheraton which I claimed was only a couple blocks away. I soon realized it was several blocks away. But whatever, I need to exercise more. On the way I took a couple of videos:
Walking to the Sheraton:
We saw Amy Vernon’s panel called “Branded Content: We’re All Publishers Now”:
The Internet has made everyone a publisher. Even brands are now doing what used to solely be the domain of media companies: creating compelling content. Great content is being used to gain fans, inform customers and increase exposure on the Internet. This panel will discuss the principles of successful viral content – whether articles, infographics or videos and how companies can apply these to branded content. And we’re talking about more than just slapping your logo on a pie chart. We’ll discuss how to get started, measure results and set goals, as well as the importance of a consistent strategy. You’ve heard the phrase “content is king” over and over again; this panel will show how and why.
When we were done with lunch, we headed over to the Hilton to watch a documentary called Twittamentary in the air conditioning. On the way to watch the film though, Zainab went all fangirl crazy because she spied Robert Scoble on the street. I informed him that they’d come all the way from England just to meet him but he didn’t seem to buy that. Nevertheless, it was a photo op for all, and I think Zainab’s day had been made.
After the Twittamentary, it was time for me to head home. And my SxSWi adventure was over. But I will leave you with one last photo of me in full conference regalia: