Results tagged “sxsw”

We Have To Make The Web We Want

March 14, 2012

On Sunday, I interviewed Nick Denton at SXSW about Gawker Media, commenting culture on the web, and a good bit of the history of professional blogging.

In advance of the conversation, I began a conversation with Elizabeth Spiers, Choire Sicha, Lockhart Steele, Jake Dobkin and Gina Trapani asking whether comments on the web have "failed", as the SXSW session's title proclaimed. Their responses, as expected, were both insightful and hilarious. Gawker naturally picked up the conversation and posed the same question to its commenters. I quite enjoyed the results!

Then to the main event. We had a terrific turnout within the room, and responses to the interview started almost immediately. Within the room, Andrew Federman was illustrating our conversation for Ogilvy's visual notes series:

Mat Honan also followed up almost immediately on Gizmodo, with a series of curated tweets that managed to capture a lot of the highlights of the conversation.

Tom Lee also started documenting the interview while it was still going on. And Owen Thomas summed up much of the spirit of the conversation while also watching us from the first row. Adweek offers up some straightforward coverage, as did Now Toronto, CNN manages to cover the interview without mentioning that I was doing the interviewing, Liz Gannes at All Things D focuses on comment moderation, and perhaps most interesting was Doree Shafrir's take at Buzzfeed, which was informed by her stint at Gawker:

I wouldn't say we exactly lived in fear of the commenters when I was at Gawker, but they were always there, looming, and no matter how many times we told ourselves not to look at them, it was impossible not to. The tone of a comment thread was set within 30 seconds of your post going up, and more often than not, what you wrote — particularly if it was personal — felt like an attack by a thousand spikes all piercing you at the same time. (That said, I think working at Gawker at the height of the obsessive Gawker commenter gave me a much thicker skin than most people who write online, so, thanks, everyone!)

The Gawker commenters had their own community, their own inside jokes. They knew each other by their handles. At yesterday's panel, a former Gawker commenter got up to ask a question, and informed the crowd that he had
once been named Commenter of the Year around the time I was there. (Former Jezebel editor Irin Carmon and I had simultaneous and similar responses, which were basically: Oh my god.)

But all the hand-wringing aside, and regardless of whether Gawker's new experiment in commenting succeeds, the thing that excites me here is that Nick is still experimenting, still trying new things. For too long, the fundamental assumptions and format of blogging have been stagnating, and the technology has barely been advancing. At the same time, there's been almost a casual acceptance of the shoddiness of conversations on and between blogs.

Worse, those who used to decry the incivility and snarkiness and, well, unproductive nature of much of what passes of comments on the web today are instead just participating in that culture themselves:

It's not enough for us to decry the worst things about the web. We have to actively work to change them. For my part, I think encouraging the conversation about these issues, getting those who have influence about them to publicly commit to making changes, and then working on promoting those experiments is the most productive thing I can do. Because if the web we have today isn't the one we always imagined we'd be working on, then we have to make the web we want.


Communities of Creators

October 5, 2009

Last week, I found this picture of a group dinner at Guero's restaurant in Austin, TX, taken during South by Southwest in 2002.

Guero's, March 10 2002

At the time, most of us at the table knew each other primarily through the web and through the then-nascent blogging community. But in the seven and a half years since then, many of us have gone on to become entrepreneurs or creators, launching dozens of companies and products. I'm still collecting names and companies in the comments on Flickr, but just a cursory glance shows founders from Blogger, Six Apart, Adaptive Path, Flickr, Gawker, Twitter and more.

I point this out not (just) to name drop — you can click through to the Flickr image to see notes about who was there, read what they've done, or add your own annotations. But I also wanted to highlight one of the most important resources that creative people need to truly succeed: A community of peers.

In the business world, and especially in the technology industry, we focus a lot on the functional requirements of raising money, or on the technical requirements of having certain features or technological capabilities. What I've found, though, is that being part of an active, ambitious, supportive and diverse community of peers is just as valuable, if not more so, than any of the more prosaic prerequisites for success. That's even true in this photo — some of the people whom I met in person for the first time that night or that weekend have gone on to become among my closest friends, the biggest supporters of my work, and have ventured their formidable social capital to support my career. An even more diverse community of others whom I met at similar dinners or other events have played a similar role as well. Yet, at the time this photo was taken, I don't think any of these people had ever taken venture capital money for any project they'd ever done — everyone here had bootstrapped their way to the table.

So, it's easy to focus on the money or the little technological accomplishments, but I am glad I found these old pictures as a nice reminder that we should set aside time for a great meal with smart friends every once in a while. If it's not enough enticement that you're just having a good time, you can also justify it as one of the most worthwhile investments you can make in your future success.

Video Makes It Real

March 13, 2008

After all of the fun with the Snoop Dogg video a little while back, I figured I'd include some videos that are a bit closer to home, both from this past weekend's SXSW interactive festival.

First, Rocketboom captured the Battledecks competition, where I was thrilled to have shared the stage with a number of really funny people in trying to improvise a presentation in front of slides we'd never seen before.

Then, the following day, Mike Pusateri recorded a time lapse of the kickball game.

I especially love the taco break there in the middle, when everyone runs to go eat breakfast tacos. Yum!

Back on the Road Again

March 10, 2008

Blogging's been light because this part of March is the heart of the conference season for me, usually stretching for a few exhausting weeks on the road. My new goal this year was to take it a little easier, pace myself better, get more sleep and exercise, and then try to make the things I do participate in get enough focus that they're done well.

That seems to be working out, especially as I come back to SXSW for the first time in years. Some nice mentions in Wired talking about my Battledecks presentation (see also a video clip which captures most of the presentation), both Valleywag and CNet talking about this year's amazingly-successful kickball game, and a really amusing bunch of conversations on Twitter that show just how much people like a pithy soundbite when participating in a panel. It's been fun seeing everybody in person, but I can't say I'm not ready to go home.

Kick Me

February 22, 2008

How often do you get to meet someone who's outstanding in this field while they're out, standing in this field? Well, good news: KICK! is back.

KICK! KICK! is the kickball game I started as a meet-and-greet for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, back in 2002. Over the years, it grew into a pretty substantial (and extremely fun!) annual tradition, peaking somewhere between 150 and 200 attendees.

Then, when I stopped going to SXSW after 2005, I let the game languish. But I'm going back to Austin this year, and the game is coming back with me, bigger and better than ever. I talk about it more on the site, and go into some depth on the About page, but one of my fondest memories of KICK! is that I got the chance to meet so many people who've been inspirations to me in my work, and since then many of the folks who've shown up for the game have become friends, partners, even coworkers.

I'd stopped attending some events like SXSW because I felt, as the conferences grew and changed, the amount of new things I could learn from an event was diminishing. Given the fact that I travel almost constantly, the idea of spending time and money to get to an event where I wasn't going to learn a lot of new ideas seemed especially wearying.

But I've decided that there are some parts of the web community that I don't want to give up on, and that the best way I can contribute is to make the things that I'd want to see. A chance to have a fun game (as always, nobody gets picked last!) while also consorting with the best in the business seems to fit the bill. Michael Lopp, who's moderating a panel that I'm appearing on, articulated this well:

It's big and becoming notorious for the fact that while everyone goes, many skip the panels because the panel structure provides less content and more rambling conversation where there is no guarantee that a rock star set of panelists are going to say anything useful. ...

Yes, it's a panel and I just ripped panels, but my commitment is this: we'll stay on topic, say something bright, and we'll be available for yelling at a local bar shortly after the panel.

That sounds like a good mandate. Best of all, the topic of our panel is called Designing for Freedom. You'll be hearing about designing for freedom instead of attending the likely-to-be-100%-content-free presentation at the same time by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. I think that's a fair step towards making the things we want to see, too. Kick it with us. And if you're going to the game, pass the link along to everybody who should join us at the game.

The Internet Is Where The Truth Is

March 15, 2007

The exact thing you are looking for is out there on the Internet, if you just know where to look. So here are some hints.

  • The Wall Street Journal alludes to Google's biggest weakness -- the lack of transparency around the AdWords/AdSense/PageRank market. It works like this: Sites can't predict how they'll rank in search results, but some sites depend on that traffic for their business to grow. To scale up a business requires managing risk and volatility, and having a key factor to growth be largely opaque increases risk greatly, limiting investment and confidence and making it impossible to plan. So sites that aren't can't reach scale without relying on search traffic have a limit on the maximum growth they can achieve in a PageRank-based economy.
  • Todd Levin acerbically points out what's wrong with SXSW. He alludes to many of the reasons I didn't go this year, but I am pretty conflicted about getting easy laughs by tearing down something that other people enjoy. Would be a lot more impressive to get laughs by praising the conference for what it does well.
  • Susan Rogers was getting her PhD to understand "whether the human mind is specialized for music [and] how musical training shapes your auditory memory and cognitive abilities". But I just love her for being Prince's long-suffering engineer during the best and most productive years of his career. I kind of have an affinity for her because her story stuck with me during a much more emo period in my life.

KICKless in Austin

March 10, 2006

In the same week I missed Etech for the first time in years, I should also mention that I'm not going to be in Austin for South by Southwest for the first time this millennium. My apologies to everyone who I'd hoped to see, but the combination of having been fighting off a persistent cold and being pretty busy at work means that I can't make it to Texas this year. And yeah, that means no KICK!

Sorry to everyone who's disappointed, and have fun at the panels and parties. Make sure to enjoy the Boiling Pot on my behalf.