developerWorks on South by Southwest Interactive: Day 3.5

Scott Laningham, Todd Watson, and David Salinas cover South by Southwest Interactive 2009 in Austin. Up now: Kathy Sierra's three keys to sucking people into your presentations.

Scott Laningham (scottla@us.ibm.com), developerWorks Podcast Editor, IBM developerWorks

Scott LaninghamScott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.



16 March 2009

You can listen to this podcast HERE.

developerWorks: I'm Scott Laningham, this is a developerWorks podcast in South by Southwest Interactive 2009, day 3.5 here with Todd Turbo Watson and David Salinas.

Todd: Oh man, I've created a monster.

developerWorks: How has the day been going, guys?

Todd: I think I'm South by Southwested out.

developerWorks: Getting burned up?

Todd: Well, it's just a lot, you know. I was just sitting there in that last session and we'll end the day with Kathy Sierra, so why don't we start the day.

developerWorks: Yes. We were all three in there.

Todd: Yes, I'm actually going back to a session earlier this morning. First of all, I'll just say I'm a big fan of her talks. I'm a big fan of her talks at South by Southwest; I don't know a lot of her work outside of what I've seen here. But I do a lot of presentations at Big Blue -- in fact, that's about all I do at IBM anymore, so [LAUGHTER] I was really looking forward to learning something constructive. So it was interesting, they talked about our working memory where we can only hold three to four chunks of information at a time. So that's number one.

Number two was, we have to synchronize the two channels, the visual channel and the verbal channel. And third, we really have to guide people's attention instead of doing what we do in so many presentations which is to torture one another with way too much information. I've certainly been guilty of that in the past.

So those are lessons I'm going to try to walk away with. How many times had you seen somebody at IBM or beyond start a presentation by reading their charts and thinking oh, my God, life really is way too short for this.

Finally she pointed out that our brains are still a legacy brain as she called it. I thought that was kind of interesting. Legacy brain, often referred to as reptilian brain, that cares about things only that are novel or weird. And that's one way to get and hold somebody's attention. So the action out of this that I walked out of is to ask on every slide, does it have a pulse, have every slide beg for its life and be convinced it should be there, and if not, shoot that little reptilian brain and be done with it.

developerWorks: I like that -- have it beg for its life. That's excellent. David?

David: Well, I went to one this morning that was interesting. It's the invisible Web and the future of the Web surrounding us. And effectively the Web being air, right. Everywhere we go, the Web is there. It's in our refrigerator, it's in our credit card, everywhere. And possibly even in us, that we have a chip or something that identifies us uniquely in some way everywhere we go. And I mean, it posed a lot more questions than answers, obviously. They were trying to just present what some of the issues would be in such an environment that be down the road, right? One of the things that was very interesting was, today, I mean, if you have your cell phone on, you could turn it off. You could go off the grid, if you will. But in that world that we're talking about in the future, how do you go off grid? You know what I'm saying? Even if you aren't identifiable, everything you touch is leaving a fingerprint, a digital fingerprint. So someone can still follow you indirectly. So you really can't disappear.

And another thing that was quite interesting about it, they were talking about was, in such a world who controls the information? Who really controls it? And if we don't start defining who controls it now and we let the information be defined by others, then they will control that information and we'll just have to accept the system for what it becomes. So that's an interesting situation that sort of, whose domain really controls that data? Is it the individual? Is it government? Is it the corporations? Who? So I thought that was actually an interesting session.

developerWorks: A lot of big pondering.

Todd: So I didn't see that one. So this is, is this an identity, an authentication issue as well in terms of, there's going to be these purveyors of information and you as an individual are going to really lack the ability to control both the flow and distribution and access of that information? Is that essentially what you're saying with the....

David: Yes, and the example they kept on bringing up was Minority Report, right?

Todd: Okay, yes. The biometric ads followed you, immediately customized the billboard.

David: Exactly. But that was intrusive, right? He had to actually change his eyeballs in order.... But what happens if it's something a lot more subtle? How do you, how do you get away from that system?

And another example that we're talking about -- I thought this was extraordinarily interesting -- they said, think of it as, it's not virtual reality, but it's reality enhanced, it's digitally enhanced, right? So let's say you take a normal path to go to work every day. Right now you don't have a way to enhance it digitally, but in the future we could have the ability that because you are known at that location where you're walking, you could look up quickly to tags for that building that's right next to you and suddenly now there's this digital grafitti that's everywhere. It's very interesting.

Todd: I could have really used that recently. It was a really cold day in Prague and we were trying to find our way to the right IBM building [LAUGHTER] and we ended up about a half mile off, sorry, [Gita], so there you go. I could dig that.

developerWorks: Now, what else, what else do we ... as you rapidly move through the day, what were other highlights?

David: A really quick one. A really quick one was what we can learn from games. This, I was hoping this was going to add, cross-apply what we could take from games and apply it to Web communities. They didn't answer that question.

Todd: This is my take on that session: [MAKES BUZZER SOUND] eeeghhh!

[LAUGHTER]

David: The only thing that I thought was really interesting and it's why people are looking at this, is that games provide an engagement with the user where a user actually gets a real experience that they actually walk away with emotionally and personally with. Now, how can we cross-apply that on the Web? That's still a question that has to be answered, but games may provide some clues to that.

Todd: Well, I've actually been working on the periphery with somebody from IBM who has been focused on this space and they call it serious gaming. And it's an opportunity to take really hard concepts -- and I think Kathy Sierra spoke about this a bit, taking really hard concepts or work items that ... things that you need to learn and put it into a gaming context. And then feed it incrementally, like Kathy was saying, in certain situations as appropriate. And it makes it easier to learn and to consume really complex information. So think about something like a supply chain management system and maybe designing a service-oriented architecture that would better facilitate that.

There's a lot of serious concepts in there that require a lot of explanation, but if you could put that in the context of gaming, you could actually teach that information a lot better than just saying, here's a white paper.

developerWorks: Was that Phaedra Boinodiris or Clark Aldrich?

Todd: That's correct.

developerWorks: We did a cool podcast with both of those. People should look back in the archive. It's probably just off the front page. But we did a lengthy podcast with them on that topic.

David: But the danger is that it has to be purposefully driven from the beginning. I mean, it's like there's gaming that's happening on Web sites now. I mean, by creating views like the top 20 of X on a Web site, you're creating a game there, right? And you know, people are gaming the system to show up in that top view to get publicity. So you really have to, I mean, there has to be a lot of thought to it. It's definitely something that has to be solved.

developerWorks: Do you want to talk a little bit about the one we just heard, Kathy Sierra? I mean, she was exciting and had a great presentation, used, it's Mac, so it's not PowerPoint. [LAUGHTER] What's the presentation software on a Mac?

Todd: The Keynote. The keynote using Keynote. Well, look, I mean, Kathy Sierra is one of a kind I think in terms of her ability to kind of simplify some of what really should be obvious. So I think that's a lot of what we heard in the rules that she talked about today. I don't have specific notes from the session, but what I walked away from it was you've got to find a way to make it easier for your users, but you also have to learn how to be bold and be able to turn away from them to get to that next step beyond what is the thing that's just sitting in front of you ... because if you're going to create something like the iPod, for example, none of us knew that we needed an iPod until it came along and appeared in our hands as Steve Jobs told all of us that we needed one.

So I think simplicity, I think really thinking through the user experience. That, as a Web person, that's the one that stood out for most for me, if you guys remember the slide where she kind of took you through the action movie motif of what the user experiences. Whether it's a dishwasher or a Web site or a new car design or whatever, you've got to really put yourself ethnographically in what is that experience and show the hurdles that you're putting in front of them, take those, as many of those away as you can to get them to the elegance of the experience you're trying to create.

developerWorks: You know that slide, too, where she says, don't ask the users unless you want incremental steps; if you want breakthroughs, ask other people's users.

Todd: That was interesting.

David: And I thought she, when she talked about early on about the set game where you are a small little sphere and you see your competitor who is a bigger sphere and you're aiming towards your competitor, well that's just an incremental change. You should step away and look at the bigger picture. Maybe there's something more encompassing both of you and your competitor that's not out there that you should be aiming for for really dramatic change. And I think that's really what it got down to: Be brave, be a little fearless, and be willing to take away some perspective, right, and a look at the whole picture.

developerWorks: I love the statement ... I mean, this is another one of those presentations like so many here, of thinking outside the box. You know, I love that statement, this isn't a direct quote, but she said something like the surest way to nothing interesting is to assume you already know exactly how to do it. I thought that was pretty profound, too. You know, if you think you've got it all figured out, then there's not going to be any breakthroughs, right.

David: You know, and we're creatures of habit, and so the consequence of being creatures of habit is that we tend to go down the same paths ...

developerWorks: Patterns.

David: ... over and over again. And it's a hard battle. It's a hard battle.

developerWorks: Where are you all headed next?

Todd: I'm heading to what I think is one of the classic events that I don't know that really happened last year, but I'd seen it several years prior to that, and that's Bruce Sterling's keynote. He gives us a state of the information landscape, if you will, the interwebs, whatever you want to call it. And the last time he was here, he was ... the Bush Administration was in office and I think he had one view; it's going to be very interesting to me to see if it changed with this new administration, the Obama Administration.

developerWorks: I think I'll join you for that. Where are you headed?

David: I was going to the usability session, but there's no way I'm going to make it now, so I'm going to actually attend the same session with you guys. [LAUGHTER] Because I'm really, the session was going to be get to know your users through tools and use those tools to get better insight into your users when you cannot go and actually talk to your users. So inferring information through these tools by integrating them into your Web site. I would think that would be really helpful for developerWorks. But oh, well. Hopefully they'll record it on podcast and we'll be able to listen to it.

developerWorks: Well, let's all take good notes and we'll talk about that tomorrow when we check in. Thanks, guys.

Todd: Hasta la vista.

developerWorks: Todd Watson, David Salinas, Scott Laningham developerWorks at South by Southwest. Talk to you tomorrow.

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