Monday, August 04, 2008

Social Media Camp, Austin, Texas, July 30, 2008

The Social Media Camp was modeled after BarCamp (or perhaps I should say it was a kind of a BarCamp). The campers occupied Cafe Thistle, which was partitioned into two areas; plus there was a lounge where a smaller group of people were aving discussions.

Michelle Greer

Michelle Greer. More pictures from the Social Media Camp are in my photo gallery.

"Media" was a key word determining what this camp was about; a lot of people in it seemed to approach social web from a marketer's/entrepreneur's, not geek's perspective. Unlike at a BarCamp I attended a year ago, there weren't many people here to chat about mind mapping via emacs shortcuts :-) But looking at how the web enhances or changes the lives of non-technical people can be more interesting than looking at it from a developer's nitty-gritty perspective.

What data portability means to non-geeks

At times, though, it was apparent we didn't speak the same language. For example, Michelle Greer started her session on data portability by asking the audience to define the concept. Somebody piped up "it's when you make a friend on Flickr and transfer him/her to your Linkedin contacts". Or speaking more generally, it means your contacts are portable across all of your social networking sites. Now that's quite a bit narrower meaning than the one used in computer science. Anyway, according to Michelle, data portability "saves you time so you're not a big loser, sitting at the computer all day, updating your contacts; so that you could live your life! So that you could use social media as a tool." And if that will be attained, she said, it will be through semantic web. Which is, to use another loose definition suggested by the audience, "embedding meaning in what you find on the web. It's data about data."

Actually, who's the geek here? :-)

I would have thought that people who go to conferences like this already know what semantic web is, but I guess many of them really were nontechnical. Michelle, for example, proudly declared herself a nongeek (having been an athlete in high school, she supplied this fact as an incontrovertible anti-geek credential :-)) I don't know about that -- a person who spends some thought on information architecture is a geek in my eyes, but I mean it in the best possible sense, as in "a person who uses technology to solve problems". Anyway, she assured everybody she only needs data portability to make her off-line life more efficient. Then she asked the audience to unleash their pet peeves regarding social web applications -- what do they currently not like about them, and what improvements they would like to see, at least where data portability is concerned.

What people miss in social web applications

Addie Broyles

Addie Broyles. More pictures from the Social Media Camp are in my photo gallery.

Addie Broyles' complaint was of a general kind: "it takes a lot of time to stay on top of all accounts", even though she considers herself a light user of social media.

Another person said she wanted to manage all her contacts on my own site, "not have to chase what's the cool site to go to next. Because inevitably we know that those sites will grow cold after a while." I guess she meant she didn't want to have to create an account and grow another network on friends on the next hot social networking site, when Facebook falls out of fashion. I can certainly get behind this wish.

Another woman said she wanted to maintain a separation between her identity a state employee, and her "social" profiles on Twitter, etc. So how do you have data portability while keeping those things separate? she asked. For some people it's desirable to be able to "port" their friends from one social network to another, but others need to maintain a brick wall between their work and social identities. In that way, she said, her situation was the opposite than that of JMac and Ricardo from Dell, who gave an earlier presentation on how Dell builds communities; they said Dell requires its employees to self-identify as working for Dell when participating in the social web. Other companies, however, have strong policies against that, up to taking sanctions on their employess they catch in online forums. So how do you meet the needs of both kinds of users? I find it a very interesting question too.

Michelle attempted to partially answer it by pointing out that when you are on social sites such as Twitter, and it lets you invite all the friends in your contacts, it gives you a choice which friends to invite. So don't invite your work contacts. Unfortunately, that does not even begin to address the problem of keeping work and social online identities separate.

How old media uses new media

Addie Broyles

Addie Broyles, Rob Quigley, Kristi Kingston and Omar Gallaga. More pictures from the Social Media Camp are in my photo gallery.

Overall I can't say I learned something very deep or unexpected about social media; the presentation topics stuck to the basics; however, it was interesting to listen to how other people use social web applications. And the Half-Baked game was quite eye-opening. (More about that later.) There was a number of industry representatives at the camp, from both "traditional" and Web 2.0 companies. Representatives of the "old industry" shed light on how their companies use social media to communicate with their users and to build their company's image in the community. For example, four journalists from Austin American Statesman -- Addie Broyles, Robert Quigley, Kristi Kingston and Omar Gallaga -- professed to be very much into Twitter; Addie Broyles (@broyles), the AAS food writer, tweets her readers all the time, passing back and forth tips on what's on sale at which HEB, and where to find certain products, and such. Readers have also suggested stories to AAS. Somebody from the audience asked them whether AAS was able to monetize their Twitter efforts, or is it an "editorial initiative" (thus confirming my suspicion that most people here were media people, not techies; as a software developer, I wouldn't know what an "editorial initiative" is if it hit me on the head). An AAS guy replied they've been kind of, sort of able to monetize it is by increasing traffic to their website. A lot of visitors to Austin American Statesman website that come from Twitter don't normally go to AAS website directly.

One thing was definitely worth, though, and that's the Half-Baked game. It's like having a ringside seat to an internet bubble. Here is a separate post about it.

Pictures are available in my photo gallery.

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