XOXO 2018

Excerpts from a trip report published for my SmartNews colleagues

When: Thursday, Sept. 6 – Sunday, Sept. 9
Where: Portland, OR
Website: https://2018.xoxofest.com/

XOXO is an experimental festival for independent artists and creators who work on the internet

That is what it says on their website but it’s so much more. It’s a community of people that live their lives online coming together to meet each other face-to-face, share side projects and talk about ways to make the internet feel more human.

I highly recommend this conference to anyone with an interest in online culture, design, or gaming. Because this conference is by invitation-only, there is a bit of an exclusive feel to it but also it means that most people you meet are interesting and talented and excited to share. You will leave refreshed with new sense of optimism about the future.

The invitation to attend comes months in advance along with an invitation to join the XOXO Slack community so much of the fun at the conference is meeting face-to-face all the people you have been communicating with via Slack or Twitter. I arrived Friday afternoon so unfortunately missed some of the social events on Thursday evening at during the day on Friday but what follows are some notes of things I saw. Photos are discouraged so I do not have many photos to share.


Games I saw at the Arcade, an open space demoing indie video games:

Busy Work, an installation of four office cubicles where your team has to frantically answer inane customer service questions.

Kids, more interactive art than a game, it was on an iPad projected on a big screen and had the audience shouting commands to the person “playing” the game as we all tried to figure out how to “win”

Goose Game, where you play a naughty goose and cause havoc.

Cathode Mk1, a turn-by-turn game played across a series of tube televisions by the folks at [public games].

The Film & Animation section (which was held in a half of a huge indoor stadium). Here I saw:

Graham Annable spoke about his uniquely dark view of pets.

Film critic Lindsay Ellis took questions from the audience about how she built her audience and the challenges of delivering serious, academic research via YouTube. Here’s an exhaustive deconstruction of Disney’s depiction of indigenous female characters that got over 1M views.

Bill Wurtz is most famous for his History of Japan video (below) but he has a whole YouTube channel of nonsensical videos which he sampled for us. In Q&A we learned that attempted to do a History of the United States video initially but eventually had to give up because “he know too much” and could not summarize effectively. Japan (about which he knew nothing) was easier because his lack of knowledge gave him the distance to help him summarize it.

At the Art & Code session I missed Baratunde where he debuted his new app in which you are quizzed on headlines to determine if they are real or not as a way of alerting you to the problem of “over-policing.” He shared insights about why he built the app and the importance of data privacy in a Medium post.

Janelle Shane shared bits from her AI “research”

Nicole He gave a talk (Yelling at Computers) about the rich space between what technology can do today and what people think technology can do today and shared Twitch videos of people playing her new browser-based game, Enhance Computer.

Diana Smith showed us her amazing digital renderings done entirely in CSS and HTML and then shared how the art beautifully degraded when viewed in older browsers. She then shared how the Internet used [Inspect Element] to fork and remix her work so that each piece lives on and have taken on a life of their own. Try it yourself – it’s an amazing labor of love – you will not be disappointed!

Pure CSS Francine

Botnik Studios uses AI to write examples of movie reviews, Twilight Zone episodes, and Tinder profiles.


Andy Baio, co-founder of XOXO kicks off the official conference

Jennifer 8. Lee – Emoji Activist

Jennifer 8. Lee is a self-proclaimed emoji activist described her experience lobbying for (and getting accepted) the emoji for dumpling.

Matt Furie

Matt Furie, the guy who invented Pepe the Frog, spoke about what it was like to get your character co-opted by the alt-right and what he had to do to try and get it back.

Natalie Wynn spoke about gender identity on the internet and her experience as a transvestite character online. She runs the YouTube channel, ContraPoints.

In the evening the arcade and table-top game rooms were back.

On the main stage John Hodgman and Jean Grae held court and told stories based on topics submitted by the audience on a large, projected spinning wheel which randomly chose which topic to discuss.


Someone had printed out and put all the terms of service of several social networks side by side. The long yellow one is Snapchat.

There was an art exhibit where you could mail a postcard to yourself in a year’s time. My favorite one said, “Have you asked her yet?” I assume this person is getting ready to marry his (or her) girlfriend.

Because of some work stuff I was in and out of the Sunday sessions but I did get to see a couple.

I caught the closing credits of Demi Adejuyigbe’s talk.

I came back to see Adam Conover talk about the difficulty of presenting facts to people that don’t want to hear them. Adam has a TV show called, Adam Ruins Everything.

Other Resources






One response to “XOXO 2018”

  1. XOXO 2019 – everwas Avatar

    […] was my third XOXO (post on 2018). Each time I go, I gain a deeper appreciation for what Andy & Andy are building. I confess […]

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