developerWorks on South by Southwest Interactive: The wrap-up

Scott Laningham, Todd Watson, and David Salinas wrap-up their experience at South by Southwest Interactive 2009 in Austin.

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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.



21 March 2009

You can listen to thi spodcast HERE.

developerWorks: This is a developerWorks podcast. I'm Scott Laningham with IBMers Todd Watson and David Salinas. We just spent the last few days at South by Southwest Interactive 2009 in Austin having a great time, huh, guys?

Todd: Yes, I guess ... is this the gold cold version, since we had 2.5 and 3.5.

developerWorks: Yes, we had 3.5 and this is 4.2 maybe.

Todd: 4.done.

developerWorks: 4.done. Yes and we didn't do a close on the last day. We were all exhausted. We wanted to hear everything, we wanted to go home. But I thought it would be good to just kind of do a quick wrap-up on, you know, lasting expressions from the week, highlights, take-aways, that kind of thing. Why don't you kick us off, Todd?

Todd: Well, you know, I know we recapped the last day. I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I thought that the Kawasaki keynote, Guy Kawasaki's keynote interview with Chris Anderson, was fantabulous.

developerWorks: Yes.

Todd: And you know, definitely go back, if you're keeping an eye on what they put up on the South by ... Web site, go back and listen to that one. In fact, I may go listen to it again, because I thought that was pretty rich. But I think in terms of the overall thing, first of all, you know, I joked in my blog about, you know, it seemed like the whole conference was a bunch of social media buffalo in a herd heading towards the cliff, kind of just running towards the cliff and ready to drop off. And I didn't mean that in a disrespectful way; I just meant it that, first of all, that's what we talked about and what I heard a lot about through a number of the sessions. So that clearly was the kind of transcendental mean if you will, for the whole show, in my opinion.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing because when I flash back to 2000 and when Cluetrain Manifesto first came out and the theses were put online -- and I'm going to talk about those in a moment ... it was clear the line was being drawn by people who said that this network effect and the ability for people to talk one another without intermediation by third parties -- the mass media, other authority figures and politics and government and large institutions, large corporations, et cetera -- was a sea change. And I think here we are nine years later and it felt like people are starting to catch up to that idea.

On the other hand, I think people are afraid of change. And I think this evolution to social media was a particularly disruptive and threatening one and it's impacting virtually every industry.

Now, I come from more of a marketing and marketing communications and journalistic paradigm, so, I think it's certainly impacting some of those traditional disciplines. But also public relations, traditional marketing, et cetera. And I think as I look at that, I want to say, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet because while there's plenty of opportunity in a social media to use them in a way that is constructive and productive and all the wonderful things that they can provide, I think it doesn't mean we just completely dismiss out of hand some of the other things that we've been doing. In fact ...

developerWorks: Sure.

Todd: ... my particular recommendation is, get experience, first of all. I can't tell you how many people who come up to me or people I know and say, well, I want to do it, I just don't even know how to get started. And I'm like, well, why don't you go open a Facebook account? Or go get a Twitter account. It's not rocket science. And I think there's a fear of the unknown. Well, the only way to get over that fear is to, quoting Nike, just do it.

developerWorks: And there's a learning curve, though. I mean, some of it does take a little time to understand what to do with it, right?

Todd: Absolutely. But if you don't ... it would be the equivalent of, I'm going to go to a baseball game. I've never been to a baseball game. I've never read anything about baseball. I've never seen one so television. Nobody's ever told me what baseball is all about. And you drop me in the middle of Yankee Stadium and the Yankees and Braves are playing in the 7th game of the World Series. I mean, you have no context.

developerWorks: Right.

Todd: So you've got to establish that context. So if you're an institution, my recommendation is to start simple and pilot, especially if you're looking to use it for marketing purposes. I want to come back to that marketing ... well, actually, let's, I'd like to hear what David has to say about this, and then we'll come back to kind of the second key mean which talks about this illusion of control.

developerWorks: Yes, David?

David: There's a couple of things I took away on this particular thread related to the conference and to dW and then the industry in general. One, I agree with you that people [LAUGHTER] it was amazing to sit in some of these panels and see the expression on people's faces because some people were interpreting what some of the parents were saying is that you've got to do all of this in order to do it correctly. And I don't think that's actually what the take-away should be. The take-away should be that one, some of the things that you're already probably doing now are community, like forums or blogs and so forth. So you may already be doing community without doing all the whiz and bang that you may see on Facebook and so forth. So that's one thing right off the bat.

And if you are doing some of those, like for example, forums, maybe the best strategy there is to extend on to forums to have like a richer profile experience around that. So I think the strategy should be, start simple and go in the direction that makes sense for your business and not necessarily try and do all these other things. I mean, I think there was one panel, one panel had some moderators from a very successful community Web site blogger and they said specifically, you know, we don't go and do X, Y, and IBM. We only do these things because it's what makes sense for us, right?

So I think that's a very important thing to note is that you don't have to do the full gamut to be in the community space and be successful. So you need to make sense for what you're doing and for your community participants.

developerWorks: Very good. Now, what's the second part, Todd?

Todd: The second part is I think the opportunities of social media are complicated and hampered by this continued illusion of control. When you look back at Cluetrain Manifesto, they observed some key concepts that I think still are relevant today, and I'll quote:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter and getting smarter faster than most companies.

And that was kind of one of the opening salvos that they wrote leading into the actual '95 theses. And if you look at those theses, they said, this paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies. And he said there are two ... or, they said, there are two conversations going on: One inside the company, one with the market. And in most cases either conversation is going very well. Almost invariably the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.

And I think building on what David said, many of these panels seem to suggest the opportunity was not only trying to be comprehensive, but it was also still a one-way street. You know, the arrow was only pointing one way, and the people are using the social media as a megaphone to talk to the marketplace as opposed to a headset to listen and talk. And unless institutions learn to listen better, their own messages are going to continue to fall on collective deaf ears.

David: I one hundred percent agree. And I think one of the key take-aways from a psychological standpoint, and I forgot which panel it was that was talking about, maybe it was "The Future of Social Networks," that was talking about that people feel more inclined to invest when they feel that decisions are made collectively with people's input rather than the other way around. And I think what we're seeing is that, well, first, I mean, it's always true with businesses that you either adopt or die. So I mean, let's not let anyone that's listening to this conversation negate the fact that to some degree some of these technologies and some of these methods are going to have to be adopted by companies going into future. It's just, there's no way to avoid it.

With that said, though, the key part on when you do decide to go forward is to understand that you are giving up control to a large degree. And that's the only way to be successful in this space because the transparency and authenticity and being genuine with the users is absolutely required.

And another take-away that I heard from another panel -- and I thought it was a great idea -- was that if you're struggling with how to apply these methods and these solutions when talking to the marketplace, why not deploy them internally first and figure out what makes sense and how it should work and get comfortable with it and then use those experiences and apply them to deploy them on the Web site to interface with the marketplace? I thought that was a great solution for practical way to move forward.

developerWorks: Two sessions stand out in listening to what you guys are talking about that I saw as well, and one of them we podcasted with him. It was David Meerman Scott talking about his book, World Wide Rave. And his six points real quickly were real interesting along these lines. And he's talking about getting other people to do your PR. But he said, they are ... nobody cares about your products except you. No coercion required. Lose control. Put down roots. Create triggers that encourage people to share. And point the world to your virtual doorstep. I think those are interesting to think about in the context of what you guys are talking about.

And the other one was this woman named Traci Fenton who has an organization called WorldBlu. And on the very last day at five o'clock, near the last session slot, she did a well-attended session on the idea of democracy in the workplace. And there was a lot of really interesting discussion that went on, examples of it happening and how that connects with this larger discussion you guys are talking about with the Web and social networking and the impact it can have for business. And there were those that also stood up and talked about things that weren't working. And the one that stuck out to me was a gentleman that stood up in the middle of it all with great inspiration and said, holy cow, can you imagine this ever happening at IBM?

And I thought, you know, that's a good question. IBM is trying hard to do some of these things, but it's dang hard for a company that is especially multinational and the size and age of one like ours to make that kind of transition, isn't it?

Todd: Well, it is. And boy, I could just go off on a whole different direction here. But I would say that IBM I think is making a grand go of it and I think we're doing it in some cases in spite of our individual selves because I think the organization from the very top has encouraged this and in fact, has articulated it through the social computing guidelines, the encouragement of bloggers and podcasters like ourselves and other things, to provide that authentic voice. But I think sometimes we have inherently in the middle of the organization and certainly country by country either a cultural framework or almost a regulatory framework internally that has prevented some of that participation. So I do think that that will change over time.

Coming back to this authenticity and transparency. This was one another of the key mains I walked away with that I wanted to reenforce here. You know, this isn't when "Harry met Sally": You can't fake it, especially in public. [LAUGHTER] You know, transparency isn't something that you can buy from your direct marketing or public relations or marketing agency. Back to your point on culture and the point of IBM, if your culture is not willing to embrace that openness, it's very difficult for you as an individual or as a team, a collective, to go out and participate in the kinds of venues that lend themselves to that more open conversational marketing.

So I think that before you just try to dive headlong into the deep end, you need to take a really close look at your culture and start to understand where is it today that you can step into this social media paradigm and be comfortable and then work your way towards the deep end? Don't just try to jump right off because what could happen is a backlash within your organization that actually prevents you from progressing because somebody at the top or the middle is not comfortable with that, that steps, those steps that you've taken. And really starts to pull back and almost go like a turtle back into his or her shell. And obviously that's not good for your organization or your participation in that larger market conversation. So be transparent, but do so in a way that's comfortable with your culture.

developerWorks: Right.

David: I think we had said this the previous day where there's this changing of the Web. It's going from just purely being an information store where data was up there and was really no interaction to, more interaction and moving away from being transactional based to being more of a relationship based medium. And that's really what we're starting to see. And that's starting to emerge. And so one of the things that ... and I think this set this year more than last year really sort of hit home, and it was that you need to start thinking about these things away from just purely a technological base but more to a psychology base and sort of, the good rules of thumb that any relationship would need to have, right?

And then the consequence of that is that a lot of relationships don't work if it's a one-way street, especially if you're trying to build that relationship with people where there's always going to be a level of skepticism. So, being authentic, being genuine with the users is very important.

And I also think -- and you mentioned this earlier, Todd, and I think this is one area where developerWorks is I know really wanting to make major changes, is feedback. It is allowing the community to provide you feedback and responding to that feedback.

I heard this over and over again, was the key part that people really want to be listened to and want to be respected, and that if you do that everything else will solve itself. You won't have to worry about the rest. And that's how you build those genuine ties to people and get them to be fans to then go and do all the, quote-unquote legwork for you: sell your brand or sell your products for you.

So, I think like for example the Rational RFE community site I think is a real genuine effort in that direction, to have that kind of relationship between IBM and its products -- Rational in that case -- with the user base.

developerWorks: Shall we go to Number 4, Todd? Number 4 means?

Todd: The last one -- and I thought this was an appropriate one to close on because I think it really -- it reflects so much of the conversation that was going on both on the surface and below that.

But let's do one more thing before we get to that, because I did want to mention and I know David wanted to comment on coming back to the rise in power of social networks. I just saw a story come out of WebGuild, an email that comes out of Silicon Valley, suggesting from one analyst that Facebook was going to start stealing share from Google. And the reason that that was is that people are increasingly turning to other people for wisdom and information and not simply turning to the algorithm that crawls all the other knowledge bases out there -- i.e., all the Web sites of the world.

developerWorks: Right.

Todd: That may or may not be the case. However, I do think the point remains that the power and reach of social networks is becoming increasingly self-evident. And I just watched how many people commented recently about the changed face, the home page of Facebook, people that two or three years ago didn't even know what social media was, didn't know what Facebook was, and now they're personally vested to the point that they've become informational architectural experts, right?

developerWorks: Right.

Todd: Of course they know what they like and what they don't like and part of what they don't like is too much change at once, by the way, if you're doing Web sites. But in any case, I think that the point that Charlene Li was making about social networks is that there's this: All these different sources of data that are coming through these online networking experiences that increasingly can be integrated not just in and of their own selves, but if you look at things like Facebook Connect you can share that information out to other realms. And I think that between them and what's happening with Google and Open Social and probably some others that I'm not even completely familiar with, we're either headed for a nuclear collision on the one hand unless everybody gets together to sing Kumbaya or, we're heading toward a vulcanization of social networking that could be, I guess from an oligarchical standpoint, could be quite powerful or beneficial to those who participate. On the other hand, it could create islands of participation.

And I wonder if, you know, David walked away with any technological insight that could help us start to collectively think how do we push these networks so I don't have to go and for example fill out a frickin' identity form, if you will, or all of my habits and preferences, et cetera, on every single property that sprouts up.

David: You know, one ... there was a great panel and they'd had, actually this was presented as an update panel because the original panel was two years ago, on a standard that's out there called microformats. And the update panel this year -- mind you, it's been like three years now since the very first panel on microformats -- was talk ... was showing how you can go to, there was this great example that was enabled where you could go to a Web site, fill in your profile and you provide just one URL. And as you're filling out, rather than filling out a whole form, you just fill out your name and then a URL to where you have your profile based somewhere else. And what would happen is it would then pull from that and go and use microformats, the "well equals me" tag to indicate which of the information on there is yours as far as your first name, last name, address, phone number, whatever little profiles you have elsewhere, and then aggregate from all of those URLs, from where you have profiles in multiple places to pull out your image and so forth so you wouldn't have to provide any of that information as long as those other Web sites are using the microformats and can pull all this together.

And additionally, it was even very smart that it would go and poll those other Web sites at some set interval to find out and make sure that that it maintained the latest information from those.

developerWorks: Hallelujah.

David: So I think this is the ... I think the solutions are being developed to do this because, you know, geeks tend to be, like myself, tend to not want to waste our time and so we'll go and build solutions that will solve these problems. I think more time needs to be allowed to have these solutions cure more and more Web sites need to enable. I would love to see, dW start using this with a rollout of solution that we're going to have in April. And hopefully maybe we'll do that.

But I think ultimately it comes down to the understanding that in the future the Web is going to have more interactions not between people and Web sites but between things and things, right? You know, that if you have a profile here and you go to a Web site, the Web site is going to go to these other Web sites where you have profiles, pull all that information together. And that's where most of the transactions, if you will, and interactions on the Web sites are going to occur. So it's very important for us to build those solutions that are going to enable for us to not have to keep on providing the same information or maintaining the same information in multiple places.

Todd: All right. Well, once again, David provides a perfect segue to the last chapter. This is one, I don't want to suggest I'm contradicting myself here. I brought up the other one purposely before this because now I want to say, be careful what you ask for.

People are underestimating I believe the long-term impact of living their lives in public with very short-term decision making, particularly our younger people, including those of you with teenagers and tweens. It's not just about you and what you think, and I'm talking about those kids, and it's not just what you and what you think as a parent. It's about the laws of unintended consequences. For example, the people who have not gotten hired at a job or not gotten into Harvard because of that way, way back beer bong picture from high school understand this. You know, you need to think before you lay yourself naked and bare to the world because in 10 years you might never have thought of doing such a thing, but by then it's going to be too late.

And that law of unintended consequences means information that you put out there for one reason could be completely misappropriated and mashed up for another reason beyond your control or ability to alter it and potentially the consequences of that could be devastating.

So I say that not to scare people away from participation; I say that to warn them to think about the information they're putting out into the social media sphere, what layers of protection they're putting around the control and distribution and dissemination of that information, and particularly for those of you who are parents.

You need to watch and educate your own children because they don't necessarily know how that information might be used, you can already start to think through some of those scenarios. And I've just laid out a couple that are pretty innocuous but still have really world consequences.

developerWorks: Isn't that becoming increasingly obvious, don't you think, that being on the Web in this manner is paramount to driving around with a bullhorn on top of your car and you've just got to think about what you're saying, right?

Todd: Well, it's not just the bullhorn on the top of the car, it's the fact that this great big tape recording machine in the sky called the Google can replay it at any time, anywhere, into the future. So I mean, you think right now that college admissions recruiters aren't going out and Googling those kids? Absolutely they are. You think that people who are hiring especially in this economy aren't out there looking at your digital dossier? Absolutely they are. And that picture could be the one thing that prevents you from getting the job because maybe somebody else had the intelligence and foresight that they, oh, maybe I don't want to have the beer bong picture on Facebook forever, right?

developerWorks: Yes. I think we could have another conversation about, if this trend is gradually changing the overall morality of society in another way as well because you wonder, when this becomes a critical mass if people are more accepting of some of the things that two decades ago would have just been beyond shocking. I mean, there's obviously some of that going on.

Todd: Absolutely.

developerWorks: But still, the wisdom of what you're talking about, you would hope that it's creeping rapidly upon all of us. What about you, David? Wrap up thoughts on that or anything else?

David: I was just going to say two things. One, you know, I think when you put power in the hands of the people that is both a good and bad thing. It's like anything else, there's going to be good and bad to it. And I think ultimately it's buyer beware. You have to understand what the dangers are and use it accordingly understanding that.

The other thing that I personally am a little fearful of, but I think ultimately that good will come out of all of this is that wondering if we're only sort of incentivising people to be more narcissistic and more short term in their thinking; and that's sort of forgetting about the fact that you need to also keep a perspective on that you can't really do that many things at the same time and still focus really on a task at hand to learn. And that if you're going to sit, you know, if you're going to really want to absorb something or really because of the way of how our brains think and really absorb something, you have to sort of come to realization that I can't do 500 things at the same time, I'm going to have to....

Todd: David, I totally agree. I was sitting there, this is a great close. I was sitting in this Dell social media panel discussion that I was invited to by a friend of mine at Intel and I went, I'm sitting in the audience, it's at this [INAUDIBLE] Boston hotel downtown and everybody in the audience it looked like they weren't listening to the panel. I'm sure some were. But everybody was looking down at their iPhone or their crackberry typing away. And I was like, what happened to coming together in a physical space and actually listening and talking to somebody? Isn't that....

developerWorks: They're all Twittering about it, right? I mean....

Todd: Well, yes, but if everybody is Twittering, that means probably nobody is listening, so.

developerWorks: Well, one thing for sure I learned a lot more about Twitter at this conference, about TweetDeck, about TweetScoop, about TweetFleet. I mean, I was growing feathers by the end of this thing. And now I'm following Willy Nelson on Twitter. I wonder if it's really Willy. What do you think?

Todd: I doubt it. But it might be. [LAUGHTER] Can Willy type? Maybe. I don't know.

developerWorks: In a way I found it very uplifting. I mean, not to get all sappy or anything, but turning away from all the general news and all the doom and gloom, to spend four days with so many entrepreneurs and people, forward thinkers, and coming from a lot of directions but around this common theme of a greater discussion and evolution of thought around economic models, business models, social models, I really came away from it pumped. And you know, from that standpoint I'm grateful I went and I can't wait to come again. David Salinas and Todd Turbo Watson, guys, thanks for a fun week. It was cool. We definitely have got to do it again next year.

Todd: It was great to actually see you humans. [LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: I love the one guy at the very end when we recorded that last day 3.5 podcast -- or next to the last podcast -- there was a man around the corner after you guys left, he had his iPhone taped to the end of a golf club shooting a video podcast of himself. [LAUGHTER] It was like man, are we living in great times? This is cool.

Todd: If you ever see me with a golf club combined with some kind of video recording device I just want you to grab it and knock me over the head okay? Just be done with it. [LAUGHTER] I should be using it out on the golf course.

developerWorks: This has been a developerWorks podcast, IBM's premier technical resource for software developers, the tools, code and education on IBM products and open standards technology. You guys have got to help me come up with a better close than that. We're wearing that one out.

Todd: It sounded pretty cool.

[LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: I'm Scott Laningham with David Salinas and Todd Turbo Watson. Talk to you next time.

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