This was my first year at SWSX. It was an inspiring rush of creative energy and geek fun. Here are some highlights:
Put More Xbox in Your UX:
Josh Knowles from Gilt Groupe and many other well know projects talked about rewarding and empowering users through challenges, accolades, and the structure of rules. His example was the game of soccer, a simple game of kicking a ball around made infinitely more interesting by rules and rewards. This dovetailed nicely and emerged as a theme. From comment systems to wikis, empowering people creates deep engagement.
Technology for Results Not Profit
Bobby Gruenewald and Terry Storch run a UX team at Lifechurch.tv, a wide reaching ministry based in Austin. They created an iPhone app for the bible with 14 million downloads and 3 million active users. This was one of SXSW "Core Conversations" and there were a good number of non-profit organizations represented there.
Another theme at SXSW emerged which was sustainability and it was seen here. Not sustainability from an environmental standpoint, but from a professional standpoint. How do we, as creatives, stay engaged and passionate about what we do? Working on projects that we are passionate about creates sustainability. Nonprofits have the ability to get top talent to work on their projects. The key is to empower them and make them a part of the team, not just a gun for hire.
Another theme in the nonprofit community was the need for analytics. Nonprofits are not immune to the need for ROI. Showing results, to donors, investors, and grant-giving agencies, is becoming the standard.
Narrating the Crowd with Sanjay and Suneel Gupta
"The way we remember them, is the way we will be remembered"
The Gupta brothers told the story of the Kahanimovement.com, their storytelling project based on the work of Studs Terkel. We all have common stories. As a culture, we need them to understand where we come from and where we are going. Ordinary people have extraordinary stories. They just need to be asked to share. In this world of Twitter and Facebook and the amazing technology we take for granted, we are all storytellers.
Content in 100 Languages
This panel discussion was one of my favorites. Leonard Chien from Global Voices, June Cohen from TEDx, and Seth Binder from Mozilla represented translation on a global scale. Firefox is translated in to 96 languages with every release, TEDx is charged with conveying not only the words but the also the essence of the speakers they feature, and Global Voices is just that... global voices.
They translate it all with volunteer translators. Moreover, they have found that many of the pitfalls of professional and machine translation are avoided because of their highly motivated user translators.
Mozilla uses pairs of translators that check each other's work. It isn't a wiki but a tool developed to allow users to edit the strings in the Firefox UI. People are motivated by the need to preserve their own language and the honor or having their name on a product like Firefox or TEDx. Other rewards like conference sponsorship and cooperative competition create a driven community of translators who are committed to quality.
June from TEDx told the story of their beta release. They had seeded some of the translations with professional services. On the day of the launch they received frantic emails from their volunteers saying that some of the translations were off and in fact, were done by machine. They worked through the night and translated them correctly. For TEDx, the essence of the speech is extremely important and cannot be captured by a computer translation.
I see great potential for this to be applied at Webtrends. If we can provide tools to our users we can empower them to help us with making Webtrends products available all around the world. Not just translated, but tailored for the language and culture of the user.
Seth Binder summed it up. His vision is that when first time web users launch their browser, they get a web they can understand. Imagine using IE6 to browse the web for the first time in Bulgaria. It isn't in your language, you get a dozen pop ups, maybe a virus and a blue screen of death. You aren't coming back.
Keynote: Valerie Casey from the Designer's Accord
Valerie began her talk with a bold statement. She talked about the work that is being done by print and industrial design to solve world problems and that the interactive design community has been absent to the point of complicity. A bold statement, indeed. It made me bristle a bit and you could tell it turned off a lot of the crowd. But it was true.
Beyond "making the website for the movement" the interactive community has not yet focused our full might upon the pressing issues of our time. Many of the world's problems could be solved using technology readily available but the solution is a human one not a technological one. Visualizing the impact we have on the world and the result of our efforts to save it is something powerful we can do. Social technology of the web has the power to change behavior and to bring knowledge to those who don't have it. It's high time we used our creativity and technology to make a difference.
She also talked about a fatigue syndrome that happens with movements. When you see a movement gain momentum and mass you get the impression that "someone else is looking after it" and you disengage. The Designer's Accord is experiencing this same phenomenon.
Curating the Web
Another theme that reoccured often was "curating the web." The idea that the web is a database of millions of entries, images, words, video, etc. Curating that content is the task we have before us.
Wired Magazine's Digital Rebirth (or not)
We left this session literally pissed off. I love Wired magazine. It is one of the most insightful, well designed, and innovative magazines printed today. It is obvious that Wired's creative director, Scott Dadich doesn't know what digital means. Along with a product manager from Adobe, Scott dismissed interactive design, siting typography and the inability to do pull-quotes as the reason they chose to build their own Air app to publish Wired on tablet devices. At one point, in defense of the current crappy Wired.com site, he said that it just isn't feasible to have a full-time design team dedicated to a web site. Absurd.
In the end, there is no doubt products like the iPad will revolutionize magazines. Wired missed a chance to reinvent the magazine and instead chose to focus on realistic page turning and duplicating content from their printed magazine with animated gifs and video. However, other magazines will push the envelope and create experiences we have never imagined. It just would have been nice if Wired had done it.
My Personal Favorite: Gary Vaynerchuk
This was my favorite session Gary lit it up. His session was like no other and it should have been a keynote. He spent 10 minutes talking about some points in his book and then opened it up for the most honest and open Q & A of the conference. His honest attitude was infectious and inspiring. He didn't pull any punches. He told people they were full of shit if they were and he embraced (sometimes literally) the people who really got it.
His main point was that we all have an audience. We expect the same level of care and service from a large company, celebrity, or athlete that we do from a a friend, small business, or local official. This "Thank You Economy" is changing the way we communicate.
One of his main points was that you can't scale caring. It's not authentic. This really resonated with me and was controversial with some of the social media companies and community managers in the audience. Some people totally got it, some didn't at all.
One of the most interesting things he said, actually two things, was that, "He thinks real-time data is f***ing sexy," but he "hates analytics." I thought this dichotomy was very intriguing. He used real-time feedback and metrics to tweak his videos on uStream but saw no value whatsoever in analytics. Jim Coudal echoed this sentiment later in his session with Jon Gruber of Daringfireball.net.
I tend to agree with him. A case in point would be the nature of his session. The energy of that session, inspired by Gary's attitude, built upon itself. The effect was intoxicating and powerful. We've all been a part of something like it. Concerts, parties, games, and live events have a powerful energy that we have yet to capture on the web. Real-time data is like the roar of the crowds. It changes a one sided conversation, a glorified commercial, in to a dialog. It made me question what we are really doing here and it's a question I think we need to answer in order to really be successful.
The session closed with an impromptu Q&A Rap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spbu7NV7JEw&feature=related&fmt=22
I Hugged Ze Frank
I really did. He was hanging out in front of the hall and I couldn't think of anything to say that would some up my feelings for his show and all the other amazing projects he has done on the web. So I just hugged him. I felt kind of bad afterward because he was desperately trying to remember where he knew me from. I tried to explain but I think I just made it worse.
His session was very cool. It was very interesting to find out that he had very little idea of what he was going to do next and that he wrestled with many of the same questions about creativity that we all do.
The Gmail panel was incredible. Justin talks about it in his post as well. Empowered engineering teams drove innovation. They worked in very similar ways to us, actually which was very reaffirming. They also have the same kind of frustrating arguments that we do. The next time I am debating the difference between one text field treatment and another, I will feel better knowing that somewhere in the Valley a Googler is doing the same thing.
This is my second trip to Austin and the first during SXSW. I can't say I saw much of a difference between the two trips. There is always something going on in this town. The Gym Class Heroes at the uStream party kicked ass, the live band karaoke at the I Can Has Cheezburger party was epic, and Leo Laporte crowd surfing (while livestreaming) was amazing.
Good beer was as usual, very hard to find. It was just easier to order a Shiner than to try to explain the subtle differences between a Pale Ale and an IPA ("IP... what?" over techno never ends well). Among delicious BBQ, breakfast tacos, bacon-waffle cone taquitos, and some surprisingly good French was Frank. We ate there three times. The friendly staff, some of the most wicked and inventive sausages covered in bacon and cornmeal flapjacks, and long beer list made Frank a great spot.
The design of their signage and web site rock too! I'll be back.