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
                Refrigerator

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!

Are you a writer or a brand?

Are you a writer or are you a brand?

Earlier this week, I wrote about my absence from twitter this month, digging into the “why” of my sudden drop off, after having become a somewhat regular “tweeter.”

Similarly, I was looking at my writing production this month and how it appears to have dropped precipitously. Reflecting on it, as well as some other reading and listening I’ve done in recent weeks, triggers several observations.

It’s not that my total production has dropped off that much; it’s just that I’ve posted a bit more frequently to other blogs, some of which have been internal and/or private. So, for example, I posted in the 2.0 Adoption Community a couple of times, nGenera’s Wikinomics blog a couple of times, on my GovLoop blog, and my “FreshTech Friday” column in Austin Startup.

The reason I post in other blogs is partly because I tend to apply a different editorial focus for each, whether the blog requires it or not. It’s also because, in theory, it widens the audience of people with whom I’m in conversation. However, it’s also occurred to me that it has the potential to diminish one’s “personal brand,” if done without more thought.

I suppose at first blush, this would seem counterintuitive, because you would think that a wider audience from articles posted across multiple blogs and online publications would enhance your brand. But, in an era where the NY Times recently reported the trend where “nearly everyone will publish” eventually, one has to manage your published brand, if you desire a degree of reach and attention from your work.

Wired magazine suggested just how little the value of an undifferentiated writing is worth in this month’s issue, where they dissect at a high level the process of DemandMedia’s automated search/video advertising operation. The pay for headline and article writing is pennies – reflecting the dramatic effect of writer wages arbitrage, at least in one particular niche.

Now, look at the other extreme, illustrated in the same issue of Wired, in the “Mob Rules” article, where the inflection point for Twitter’s explosion in unique visitors aligns with the Ashton Kutcher versus CNN race to a million followers. Now, there’s the power of a personal brand, even when thumbed out in 140-character bursts of celebrity stream of consciousness.

The good news seems to be, if you manage your writing and your brand carefully, it’s worth increasingly more to those that want to leverage it. NPR started a series about information privacy this week, but dug into an interesting sidebar about information as currency. Alessandro Acquisti, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, says in the report that personal information is almost a kind of currency — something people spend. And, I would offer, accrue if you focus on the brand.

I explored this subject a bit in one of my posts on FreshTech Friday a year ago this time, called “Make ‘Em Pay.” And, I still think there is potential for people to better control their personal information and, even moreso, their opinions and observations – something like MyRealtimeMemoir.com or LiveTimeValue.me, if you will.

We’ll see. In the meantime, time for me to go re-read Sean’s and Alex’s “Brand Communities” research report, which came out earlier this summer. Go grab a copy of the digest, yourself, from nGenera’s website.