A Coda to 2010 Southby: Notable Vendors

It’s been over 2 weeks since the friendly tsunami that was SxSWi 2010 rolled over the Austin Convention Center and then back out of town. Among the pleasant surprises for me, that came with the bump in crowd size, was finding for the first time in the many years that I’ve attended that the tradeshow was actually worth the time to slow-walk my way through and visit with the vendors.

I mentioned three of these vendors from Austin (two actually demo’ing on the show floor and one lurking at the parties, due to day-job commitments) in my Austin Startup post last Friday: WhoLinkeToMe, EndlessBeauty, and Austin Center for Design. I encourage you to check them out.

I also tweeted about some of the other vendors and sites that caught my attention, as I was winding down the last of my involvement at the festival, a little over a week ago. Unfortunately, it appears that the Twitter API may have routed random tweets originating from TweetDeck to a black hole. Some of them are still discoverable on Twitter in my stream, but others disappeared – I know I sent them, because in a couple of cases they were RT’d by other users.

In any event, in case you missed them, here they are:

If there was a favorite or two that you ran across at SxSW, tell us about them. And, be sure to register early for your Platinum badge for next year.

SxSWi 2010 Wrap

It was an incredible show this past week in Austin at South-by-Southwest (SxSW). 

In addition to the Interactive Festival, which is rich in its diversity of people, companies, and technologies, there is the added dimension of cross-cultural networking with the Film and Music festival artists and attendees.  The members of the music act Gwar checking in at the registration booth for the festival, are just one proof point of the diversity. 

But, my focus was on Interactive, and to that end, I enjoyed the sessions and tradeshow immensely.  In fact, in case you missed it, my Friday twitter stream from last week highlighted some of the websites and companies that caught my attention from the tradeshow floor.  But, to wrap-up impressions from SxSWi 2010, here are some final thoughts from some of the more noteworthy sessions that I attended:

Embracing Virtual Worldskey takeaway: virtual worlds are definitely on a roll and IMVU remains a bellwether to watch. IMVU has been profitable since July 2009 and is at an approximate $3 million monthly revenue run-rate, finishing out at about $30 million in revenues for 2009.

Just to give you a sense of scale, besides advertising and sponsor income, much of revenue comes from member purchases, using IMVU’x currency, for which 1000 credits is roughly $1 USD. Members can purchase from a catalog of over 3 million unique items and hundreds of thousands of music tracks (with over 12 million hours of music listened to in group experiences so far).

Their demographic is approximately 70% female, 60% at age 18 or older, with 60% in the USA. They have a formidable fan base, with over 750,000 Facebook fans (versus approximately 40,000 in the current American Idol Facebook fan base, they cite by comparison). The success of their model has helped them attract high profile music and other creative interest, with a major partnership they announced at SxSWi with Pink Floyd to license their content through IMVU.

I first wrote about IMVU and other companies in the virtual worlds 2.0 phenomenon last year in my post “Talk to the (Digital) Hand.” 

Running a Digital Serieskey takeaway: SAG (screen actors guild) contracts are crucial, with many producers operating under the “industrial” classification. That said, everything is negotiable and it sounds like agencies and talent are both getting smarter with each new production.

The key culture change item for talent is to get them to understand that digital (or web) series are different than commercials or other product endorsement activities. So, they should not expect historical product endorsement contracts or royalties. Instead, it’s wages for the work and, potentially, residuals in other forms of content use.

Brave New World of Book Publishingkey takeaway: the ideal book customer remains a woman, about 35 years old, married with kids, up early in the morning at 5am, not getting to bed until 9pm, lots of activity and responsibility through the day, family and/or work. Ergo, anything that can make reading easier for her during those quiet, free moments during the day, is seen as goodness for the publishing industry. That’s what’s driving ebooks, the introduction of video content into books (so-called “vooks”), and other innovations in publishing.

Merchandise panelkey takeaway: if you use a print on-demand provider, make sure to (a) get access to the customer lists that buy your merchandise through their sites (providers like Cafepress, Zazzle, Spreadshirt, and Printfection) and (b) take advantage of any customer service capabilities (the more full-service, the better) they have to offer, because that can be a huge, costly time-suck.

In addition to these summary notes, I had some fun doing doing 17-word reviews (an adaptation of the 5-7-5 haiku form) after the Interactive sessions I attended.  If you found them a little hard to follow, I offer in apology this haiku from my son Ben, a mechnical engineering sophomore from Case Western (he allows it’s not an original):

                Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don’t make sense

In summary, having attended or spoken at the Interactive festival for many years, I’d say this was a triumphant year for the event. Great speakers, fantastic audience, and off-the-charts networking and relationship building opportunities parties and other gatherings made Interactive a smashing success this year. Mark it on your calendar for 2011 – you won’t want to miss it!

Socialism: the next ‘big thing’ for monetizing the interweb?

In my last post, I highlighted some of the more memorable excerpts of Jaron Lanier’s latest book, “You are Not a Gadget.” Here are three more that especially caught my attention:

How to use a crowd well (pp. 56-58) – “Collectives can be just as stupid as any individual – and, in important cases, stupider…Signal processing is a bag of tricks engineers use to tweak flows of information…Wikipedia had to slap a crude low-pass [signal processing] filter on the jitteriest entries, such as ‘President George W. Bush’…What is crucial about modernity is that structure and constraints were part of what sped up the process of technological developments, not just pure openness and concessions to the collective.”

An ideology of violation (pp. 65-67) – “The internet has come to be saturated with an ideology of violation…The ideology of violation does not radiate from the lowest depths of trolldom, but from the highest heights of academia…A summary of the ideology goes like this: All those nontechnical, ignorant, innocent people out there are going about their lives thinking that they are safe, when in actuality they are terribly vulnerable to those who are smarter than they are. Therefore, we smartest technical people ought to invent ways to attack the innocents, and publicize our results, so that everyone is alerted to the dangers of our superior powers. After all, a clever evil person might come along.”

Pick your poison, aka, the case for scarcity (pp. 102-103) – “It is a common assertion that if you copy a digital music file, you haven’t destroyed the original, so nothing was stolen. The same thing could be said if you hacked into a bank and just added money to your online account…The problem in each case is not that you stole from a specific person but that you undermined the artificial scarcities that allow the economy to function. In the same way, creative expression on the internet will benefit from a social contract that imposes a modest degree of artificial scarcity on information.”

The very next section of the book addresses socialism, describing it as a potential, legitimate (although risky) alternative to a universal scarcity model of digital content. Interesting that in his annual Southby rant-fest, Bruce Sterling also addressed the topic of socialism, remarking that he was surprised that there haven’t been more online “socialist” start-ups like Good Neighbors or a viable venture based on “creative commons communism.”

With the wrap of the Interactive portion of SxSW yesterday and transition into high-gear of the Music portion festival today, I’ll be really interested to hear what the business people from the music industry have to say this year about the future of new artists, especially in light of this “pick your poison” argument Lanier makes about society’s obligation to pay for creativity.

Always eager to hear the readers’ thoughts, so jump in if you have something to say.

The Monday Keynote SxSW Should Have Had

I was reading the actual print newspaper (I like the user experience) this morning and catching a sense of the audience’s bad karma from Twitter’s Evan Williams’s keynote yesterday at Southby.

Personally, I didn’t catch it because (a) I’ve heard Jack Dorsey speak a couple of times and feel like I’ve gotten the scoop already and (b) that was the only block of time that I could find to swing through the SxSW tradeshow and check out all of the groovy new social media whatsits and whoosits being displayed.

From what I gather, the hive complained (once again) about the softball questions and lack of news in the remarks. Had I been there, I wouldn’t have minded that part one bit. After all, a founder’s gotta do what a founder’s gotta do, which is to get the message out, talk about the strategy, try to freeze (or deflect) the competition, etc. Instead, if there is anything I object to, it is the lack of Q&A of any kind.

I mean, come on…guys like Evan have had to pitch and defend their deals many, many times from much tougher customers than the Southby audience. You get so much more cred from being one of the people by taking audience questions, I just can’t imagine why any speaker – keynote or otherwise – would ever allow themselves to be put on stage without having a Q&A component.

Which brings me to a suggestion about the speaker that Interactive really should have had this year: Jaron Lanier. If you’ve been around for a few years, you may have run across Jaron first in a major public way via deep involvement with and advocacy of virtual reality. He is now widely as the father of the movement. I just finished his latest book “You are Not a Gadget” and I’ll have to say that it is a mildly provocative counterweight to much of the pell-mell social media, web 2.x monetization froth has been whipping up the past week here at the conference.

Here are just a few passages I’d like to highlight that caught my attention (NOTE: page numbers are from the print, hard back edition):

  • The preface (pp. ix) – “It’s early in the twenty-first century, and that means these words will mostly be read by nonpersons – automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals. The words will be minced into atomized search-engine keywords within industrial cloud computing facilities located in remote, often secret locations around the world. They will be copied millions of times by algorithms designed to send an advertisement to some person somewhere who happens to resonate with some fragment of what I say. They will be scanned, rehashed, and misrepresented by crowds of quick and sloppy readers into wikis and automatically aggregated wireless text message streams…”
  • The deep meaning of personhood is being reduced by illusions of bits (pp. 21) – “I can propose such a list [of ‘save-the-world’ suggestions] to the problems I’m talking about:
    • Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger
    • Post a video once in a while that took you one hundred times more time to create than it takes to view
    • Write a blog that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out…”

Interested yet? I’ll add a few more passages and some closing comments tomorrow, but the thing to remember is that Jaron isn’t a Luddite…and neither am I. In fact, among the more comprehensive solutions he proposes in the book are some that would be quite grand and sophisticated – and do-able.

If you haven’t picked up “You are Not a Gadget” yet, I suggest you do so from the local library, bookstore, or whatever digital stream you prefer.