SXSW, Day Three Monday

It poured last night but had the good fortune to tag along with with Dan Theurer out to the Austin City Limits studio to catch Voxtrot. It was so nice to be away from the mad rush of conference posers and chill out to a some great music with people that were there for the music and not just the scene.

It took a little while to get a cab back but I actually went to bed at a reasonable hour and woke up fairly rested.

Getting Unstuck: Moving from 1.0 to 2.0

Always a pleasure to hear Chris Messina talk and he did not disappoint. This session covered strategies that get you out of a rut and onto the next level in product design. Chris’ advice to put it out in the open was spot on. Ideas that stay in the dark fester and die. The process of communicating your idea to others and bouncing it around for advice not only helps you formulate the idea and how best to explain it, it also gives you an opportunity to stress test it against reality and shore up its weaknesses. “Explore the blind spots, the negative spaces.” Once you make something a conversation piece, then you know it’s strong enough to stand on its own.

Along these lines, another panelist (sorry, I was in the back of the room and couldn’t read their names) said that one shouldn’t underestimate the power of reducing your idea into an easy to remember “sound bite” that can be internalized by your team so they can help spread the word. This is very much like Guy Kawasaki’s advice to kick off projects with a mantra and write it on a t-shirt. If you can fit your team’s rallying cry on the back of a t-shirt, you’re well on your way.

“Listen and build what their users need, not something that fits into your companies process.” A process  is about your company, not the people or its customers. Too many companies get wrapped up in process and loose focus on their ultimate goal which is shipping products to their clients. A simple timeline with deliverables will do. The process is no more complicated than “Explore, think, create, act.”

The Future of the Online Magazine

A lively session that featured editors from Salon.com, Media Bistro, The Onion, and College Humor. Moderated by Rufus Griscom of Nerve.com which has a great new site for, “urban parents”

  • Media Bistro – 27 total staff, 3 full time editors, 14 bloggers
  • Salon.com – 64 total staff, 28 in editorial
  • College Humor – 40 total staff, 9 in editorial
  • The Onion – 13 writers, 20 for their entertainment section, AV Club.
  • Nerve/Babble – 25 writers

The Onion gets 80% of its revenue from advertising. Much of it’s traffic comes via direct links to it’s stories.

75% of traffic to Salon.com comes directly, not via links.

Media Bistro, much of their traffic heads straight for their job boards.

Question in the audience from editor of smithmag.net, a participatory storytelling site, about the value of turning over the creation of content to your readers. Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com says that the editor is important because they can smooth out the volatility of the public’s interest. If you see a story about Africa on the front page, you know that Salon is taking a hit to their traffic but (and this is my example) much like green beans, they are part of a healthy and balanced media diet.

Salon.com on how to moderate comments and discourage trolls. They have a “red star” system which editors award red stars to comments that they like to highlight. Readers can filter out and read only comments awarded a star so the community aspires to write comments that get awarded a star.

Salon.com pleased that their story on Walter Reed (which they broke two months ago) is finally being covered.

Interesting (and revealing) debate over the value of letting your writers have their own blogs. Rufus of Nerve encourages it because it allows them to explore topics that he may not necessarily carry on his site. A nice side benefit is that these writers often point back to their work on his site anyway which broadens the audience (and allows his readers to find out more about the author’s interests). Laurel Touby from Media Bistro didn’t get it. She didn’t want any of her author’s output going anywhere outside her site.

I think I’d rather write for Rufus. Smile

Dan Rather Keynote

It was great to see such a seasoned veteran address a room full of bloggers and share his perspective of the future. The quote of the day was, “What American journalism needs is a spine transplant,” which a quick search shows is not such a new line after all.

Most of his talk was about dangers of journalists becoming too chummy with their sources. The old saying is a journalist is only as good as his source. In the old days, a journalist would nurture a multitude of sources but perhaps there is now too much dependence on just a handful of sources which puts pressure on the journalist to bend their stories to curry favor and maintain access.

“Investigative journalism” a redundant phrase to Dan Rather.

On Corporatization of news. The news operations of the large media divisions are such a small part of the overall business of the parent companies (NBC owned by GE who also makes nuclear reactors) that the CEO is too focused on profits and stockholder value to care too deeply about news operations. There is not enough competition in the major markets which waters down coverage and alternative viewpoints. It’s all too formulaic. Here’s what the governer said > here’s what his critics said > here’s the governer’s response > next story.

On the rules of the game. There were several layers of disclosure that were well understood in his day but are increasingly ignored today.

  1. On the record – attributable and can be used
  2. On background – the source cannot be directly identified, i.e. “a Senior White House official”
  3. On deep background – you cannot even point to the source’s organization
  4. Off the record – this conversation didn’t even happen, even if it means going to jail

People respected reporters like Dan because they took him for his word. He mentioned that there are things that he was told in the past that he would never tell anyone, even today. I really go the sense from him that he meant it.

Dan’s talk was liveblogged by Pat McCarthy on Conversation Rater.

When Communities Attack

Chris Tolles of Topix.net (soon to become Topix.com) gave a great talk about how best to moderate online communities based on his experience managing the comments on the Topix site.

  1. Anonominity enables certain bad behavior.
  2. If members identify themselves, opponent fights break out and often devolve into attacks on the other’s behavoir. Moderating these types of cat fights is much like the being the playground guard.
  3. There are people that manage multiple accounts so they can use their multiple logins to give the illusion of popular support. These schemes are easily discovered because they often use the same IP address.
  4. Sometimes mob fights follow each other from site to site.

In each case, there are three possible responses:

  • Shut the site down – you can take down a blog but you can’t take down the blogosphere.
  • Abdicate – this is kind of the MySpace approach, “hey man, it’s not our problem.” If you set out this way, it’ll be near impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.
  • Moderate – encourage good behaviors and try and get the community to moderate itself.

If you moderate, besides things such as Captcha registration, profanity and semantic filters, the recent activity log which shows per post, per user, and per IP address/domain activity is the most powerful tool you have to manage volume. Community flagging, voting, (dig/bury) are tools you can use to get the community involved.

The Ni-chan paradox. Registration keeps out most good posters from your forums. Only the trolls have the time and energy to register. The Ni-chan forums in Japan had absolutely no registration but managed to keep its forums clean with a minimum of effort. The Ni-chan paradox is covered in detail on the topix blog and on the Shiichan BBS. More interesting perspectives from Clay Shirky in his talk, The Group is its own worst enemy.

I would have loved to have caught Jay Allen’s talk on the Invisible Blogosphere and Justin Hall and Joi Ito on gaming but various conference calls and work things pulled me away. Joi especially is a mind-blower. In a chat we had about World of Warcraft on Saturday while waiting to checkout Dorkbot (he was wearing his guild’s logo on a t-shirt) he mentioned that he’d like to engineer it so that he could Twitter others from within the game so when he needed, say, a level 60 priest, he could put out the call to help.

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