Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

SXSW Day Two

The second day featured five different sessions on a wide-range of topics: Bram Cohen (BitTorrent), Hi-Fi Design with CSS, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Gillmor, and How to Build Your Brand with Blogs.

Bram Cohen was a smart guy who appeared out of his element. My assumption is that he would love to talk about code at midnight, but he didn't particularly enjoy being interviewed at 10am. Glenn Fleishman has an interesting take on the presentation. My highlights:

The new freedom in content creation is more of a threat to the copyright cartels than piracy.

If you don't make something available, your sales will be zero.

If you can't get people to try something for free, you're probably not going to get them to give you money for it.

Nearly 50% of all internet traffic is BitTorrent.

Hi-Fi Design with CSS had a fair number of good moments, but suffered from the panel format. Some people approach a panel as a chance for four individual 10-minute presentations, followed by audience questions. Often, there isn't even much effort to make the presentations related. I'd rather hear one of these talented people make a 50-minute presentation alone, with thorough examples and application, or listen to a full debate on one or two core topics, than a casual mish-mash.

The best presentation was from Douglas Bowman and is available online. The best tip was that every web designer should be using the Firefox Web Developer Plug-in.

Malcolm Gladwell was fantastic. He has a very calm, understated speaking style, which is tied to a powerful stage presence. He spoke for 45 minutes straight without a single note, podium, or pause. His love for his topic and ideas in general was evident, but his true passion is how his ideas can be applied to make a difference in people's lives. Of all the sessions I have been in, Malcom's was easily the quietest, with few people typing or browsing - all eyes were on him. I am very excited to read Blink.

Dan Gillmor spoke on citizen journalism, based on his book, We the Media. Unfortunately, Dan brought a rather traditional presentation, one that I'm sure he has given in one form or the other for multiple years. The content, tracing the rise of independent voices and blogs from the 2000 Presidential Election, through 9/11, Trent Lott, and Dan Rather is terribly old news for this audience. In fact, he didn't even touch on the one piece of news that was such a part of last year's SXSW, the use of the internet and blogs by the Howard Dean campaign.

Also disappointing was the complete lack of application. What does this mean? What should we do? What should newspapers do? What is the secretive project he left the Mercury News for? I'm 100% sure that Dan is a very smart man and a good guy, but this presentation did not show much respect for his audience. He personally lacked enthusiasm, the slides were very low quality, and the information was dated.

How to Build Your Brand with Blogs was the last session of the day. Robert Scoble and Jason Fried were on this panel, which did a much better job of provoking debate between the people on the stage.

Jason was as passionate as ever, imploring corporate bloggers to not run away from who they are.  "You want to find people who want to hire you for who you are." 37Signals does not avoid controversial topics or language on their corporate site, even if it costs them potential clients. The assumption is that those clients would not have been good matches for them anyway.

When the topic changed to listening to your users, Fried made the point that there's a big difference between listening and following. You don't have to do what they say, you only need to show your users respect.

When the subject of risk arose, Scoble compared corporate blogging to gold mining - you have to use dynamite to get the gold. An organization must be honest and authentic, and willing to take that risk. From his perspective, that risk is well worth the sense of community blogging brings to your customers, and the organizational improvements it brings to your employees.

Scoble also made that case that even though you are not speaking for your company, whenever you speak or write in public, you are representing your company.

The last question concerned whether or not to allow comments on branded sites. The consensus was that any negative is worth the additional trust from your users and customers, as well as the increased Google traffic. 37Signals specifically allowed comments when they announced an increase in the price of Basecamp and took the hit, and their users respected them more for it.