Craig Rowe

Techlead / Developer

14th March 2009

SXSW - Travel and First Day round up

After Car, Coach, Plane, Plane, Car we finally arrived in Austin (2 Hours ahead of Marcus and Paul - clearly we're connecting flight geniuses). A quick jaunt to the convention center to collect passes before the melee that was collecting them on Friday, followed by an excellent (if not slightly cliche texan?) chilli cheese burger meal with Paul and a multitude of people I've never met before (including Aral Balkan who did an excellent talk on Friday afternoon) pretty much rounded up the first day.

Day One

My day one visit list covered:

  1. User Generated Content: State of the Union
  2. The Essential Guide to Open Source Flash Development
  3. Oooh That's Clever
  4. Drinks with random people
  5. Passing out on the bed with laptop and phone in hand (cheers for documenting this dave!)


Along with pretty much the entire audience I sat and played with my iPhone throughout the first panel, although rather than twittering like the cool kids (Question 1: "What's the hash tag for this panel?") I was making notes... which was lucky as without them there probably wasn't too much memorable stuff to take away from this talk.

The discussion spanned a few key areas of UGC, mainly Monetization and Getting (+maintaining) good quality user content. On the monetization side there was discussion of ad revenue as the main model seen but also pointers to how companies like LinkedIn monetize by targeting different audiences (such as recruitment agencies etc) on top of their free user base.

Ways of getting good content were things such as setting an overall tone of positivity within your application (and even maybe yourself as the person behind the application - the example given being craigs list). And although it was noted by one of the panel that the killer app for the internet may well be 'bitching' there were pointers to the variety of ways to maintain good content. For example simple user flagging of inappropriate content, reputation based user permission schemes, user ratings, and even the different ways that social apps work i.e. twitter and facebook can be controlled by the user to be inclusive only of their own inner circle where their content is trusted anyway without the need for over powering control/censure of content.

The Questions explored these ideas further with a rather surreal back and forth about the name 'User Generated Content' being followed by ideas on how to gain that critical mass needed to make your UGC based application really take off. Ideas thrown around included rewards (that are not always financial), giving the user a way to self promote/express and even things like charging for use that leads only to more personal, rather than community content.

Having recently started using StackOverflow a lot of this rung true to their reputation and badge schemes in terms of generating a positive atmosphere and rewarding users for good quality content.

Open Source Flash

It was a quick dash to the opposite end of the conference centre to catch Aral's talk but in my opinion it was definitely worth it. Although brief (about 20minutes) it was insightful and funny and left me wanting to pick up his book as I moved on to the next Panel (back at the other end of the centre handily!). I would recommend Aral's talk to the many people who balk at use of Flash. Particularly in regard to his discussion of the amount of Open Source resources that are available and the idea that Usability is not inherently down to the platform but due to the particular implementation.

Oooh That's Clever

As with the rest of Headscape I showed some Clear Left love and went down to see Paul's talk. Overall, and in agreement with Marcus, this was a good example of what talks at SXSW should be like. It was entertaining and thought provoking with Paul relating the web side of his life to his interest in magic very smoothly. The key message I took from the talk reminded my of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Whereby a certain level of satisfaction is required to avoid dissatisfaction, but that once something causes satisfaction adding more of it (in Paul's example toilet paper) doesn't increase enjoyment. Something else is needed, and Paul related this well to hidden easter egg's you get on sites - such as Silverbacks parallax 3D effect vines.

These clever tricks and hidden bonuses create a feeling of inclusion and perhaps even smugness that you are 'in the know' somehow. It's the kind of things that make you send on a page link to a friend to point out what you've found. The difficulty, as highlighted and accepted during Q&A, is selling this kind of addition/viral marketing idea to clients. Which, with a majority of more 'serious' projects may be a very difficult task, especially as any possible metrics for ROI are difficult to create/measure.

Evening time

An evening that included Texan burgers and Pool can't be bad. A good number of people showed up to Paul's open invite for dinner at the Iron Cactus with a few then continuing over to Buffalo Billiards. Overall an excellent first day.

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