SXSW Day ThreeMarch 14, 2005
The third day of SXSW was filled with five more excellent sessions: A Whole New Mind with Daniel Pink, How to Inform Design, Wonkette: Ana Marie Cox, Flash vs. HTML, and Homestar Runner.
The day began with a great breakfast with Scoble and other geeks staying at our hotel. We had an interesting discussion about whether a certain amount of honesty on a blog can actually harm an organization. For instance, if leaders of a business were to blog openly about their uniformly red state political beliefs, causing blue state customers to choose another company.
Scoble made a convincing case that this is still a good thing. First, perhaps the process will wake up the company to its lack of opinion diversity. Second, customers or users will discover this eventually anyway. Third, only a small percentage of people are going to avoid a product or service because of the religious or political views of the leadership. He gave the example of In-N-Out Burger, which includes Bible verses on its product, to no obvious negative effect.
At the end of our breakfast, Scoble posted a hilarious thing my wife had said when she found out I was sharing my room.
I have to stop here and sing the praises of the Downtown Austin Hampton Inn, which opened in 2003. If you need to attend an Austin conference, or just want to stay downtown, this is the place to be. Fantastic service, great rooms, free internet in the rooms, free wireless in the lounge and first floor, excellent customer service, decent pricing, and a location that can't be beat: 2 blocks from the convention center, 3 bocks to 6th street, and The Real World and PF Chang's across the street. We've had two meals at PF Chang's so far, including the lunch with Scoble and Craig Newmark of Craig's List.
Daniel Pink has a new book coming out, A Whole New Mind, which he was kind enough to give to each attendee of his session. I've written about his views before and the session only confirmed my enthusiasm. Daniel is an excellent speaker and kept everyone engaged throughout, though I'm sure the promise of a free book at the end helped! The most surprising moment of the session came when he made a convincing case that in the last election, Bush was the creative, empathetic, story-telling, right-brain candidate, whereas Kerry was the structured, linear, left-brain candidate.
How to Inform Design was a panel discussion on determining the purpose of your website and how to measure its success. Three takeaways:
1. Understand who your audience is and why they use your site. Build your site to accomplish those goals and nothing else. Visit Hay Net for a supreme example of simplistic site design.
2. The number of design alternatives goes down substantially as you get close to launch, and the cost to change goes substantially up! In other words, focus your energy on options at the beginning of the process and get it right as early as possible.
3. An afternoon spent talking to users is worth a whole weekend of looking at statistics.
Political gossip columnist Ana Marie Cox of Wonkette was highly entertaining. She was far less enamored with blogging than I think the audience expected, pointing out that as bloggers get more and more arrogant over recent "successes", they only become more like the mainstream media. The most interesting tidbit was that her contract with Gawker Media requires her to post 12 times each day on Wonkette.
Flash vs. HTML was a clever competition between three Flash designers and three HTML designers. The teams created functional redesigns of prominent sites beforehand (JetBlue, GMail) in their tool of choice and then the audience voted on which was better. The end result was essentially a tie, but both teams produced impressive stuff. The audience was clearly pulling for the HTML/CSS/XHTML gurus, but the Flash team has a major fact going for them: once someone has Flash installed (which over 75% do) the designer can guarantee the user experience from that point forward. Compared to the endless battles with browser compatibility and standards support, Flash comes across as an oasis.
My takeaway from this session is that we have a very talented, young designer living in Dallas who could be a major help to us. I hope to contact Eris in the near future about some contract opportunities.
And finally, what better way to end the day than by spending an hour with the people behind Homestar Runner? These guys are absolutely hilarious, very creative, and more focused on enjoying life than many people I've seen. They seem almost oblivious to money, ambition or the business opportunities they may be missing. In their minds they are living nearly perfect lives: they work with family and best friends, have complete flexibility, have a bowling alley next door, and get paid to make outrageously funny cartoons. What exactly is missing?