Results tagged “conferences”

XOXO and Reckoning With Nice

September 27, 2013

This year's XOXO festival exceeded its predecessor in every way. It was bigger, smarter, more challenging, more engaging and easily among the best conferences or events I've ever participated in.

There were highlights throughout the two days I was there. Others will document them better, but the emotional resonance began right from the first talk. Max Temkin's opener somehow wove videos of Aaron Swartz and a few wedding proposals and David Foster Wallace into a gripping examination of the power of living our values, while also being a narrative of how to make a best-selling card game. Usually I'm very conflicted about seeing a room full of smart people applaud someone when their story is "Here's how I got rich!" but to my surprise, this felt pretty natural at XOXO.

Max's talk was bookended near the end of the festival by Cabel Sasser's brave, heartfelt, truly moving reckoning with the challenges of success. In describing the creation of the sequel to Coda, one of their flagship apps, Cabel revealed that Panic isn't just the name of his company. A candid description of how depression and anxiety and obligation can undermine creative endeavor really starkly highlighted how different a venue this was; Regular business conferences don't feature multiple speakers standing on stage describing their talks as self therapy.

The narrative highlight for me was the series of three speakers on the second day, where Jay Smooth, Christina Xu and Mike Rugnetta went back-to-back, each challenging the audience to reckon with the costs of homogeneity and monoculture, though a series of powerful examples of the rewards of inclusion. They were funny and soulful and resonant in a way that echoed exactly what I hope to see in every event I attend.

XOlandia

And yet, my impulse for wanting to be self-critical was triggered almost immediately at XOXO. Part of this is my proximity to XOXO; Andy Baio is a good friend and was actually my coworker when he started gestating the first XOXO conference, so I've gotten a front row seat to its creation. Second, I had at least an online connection with the vast majority of attendees and many of the speakers. Third, there was an orthodoxy around the positive nature of Kickstarter and a narrowly-defined indie aesthetic that I found to be troubling even though I share much of those values.

Now, I don't just go looking for things to criticize for the sake of criticism; I'm a big believer in sincere enthusiasm. But if XOXO's best trait was a willingness for speakers to be humble and self-critical, then one of its most glaring omissions was its unwillingness to be critical of the orthodoxy of the community overall. Put more simply, it's a lot easier to get a room full of digital hipsters like me to feel bad about our lack of racial and economic diversity in the room than to challenge us on our lack of political or aesthetic diversity.

This jumped out to me in a few ways during the event. The most striking example was the dramatic contrast between Molly Crabapple's polemic about the inequity of how social networks reward their contributors and the plaintive nature of Ev Williams' examination of how the social web's tendency to reward convenience could lead to the complete triumph of factory farmed content online.

Now, there's no inherent contradiction between the different focuses of Molly and Ev's talks, but an argument about today's social network founders following some of the patterns of Industrial Age robber barons being followed by a rumination from one of those founders is a pretty remarkable thing. The juxtaposition is a testament to XOXO's (and Andy's) intellectual rigor. But what was missing, and in fact what perhaps best exemplifies what I'd like to see from XOXO in the future, would be a respectful but firm highlighting of that tension.

How should we decide the ways that people are rewarded for being on social networks? What is the fair exchange of value between Internet companies and the individuals who contribute to their networks? What does it mean if Ev's company Medium pays Molly to contribute, but Ev's company Twitter doesn't? These are questions that could only be answered by a public dialogue, and given that XOXO is the only place that enough of these people trust to be able to host such a dialogue, isn't it then an obligation to do so?

Similarly, I really (sincerely, for those who wonder if I'm being sarcastic, given our past history) liked Marco Arment's talk about how being an indie creator means that we have to look at the places we participate as not being zero-sum games. If a band can create music in a genre while still seeing other bands in that genre as kindred spirits or even potential collaborators, then certainly indie software developers should be able to do the same. Reckoning with seeing others who make apps as peers instead of just competitors that feed our insecurities made Marco's talk a self-reflective rumination that was again a welcome contrast to typical conference fare.

But at the same time, Marco's talk had a pretty straightforward pitch and promotion for his new podcasting app. I think it sounds cool, and will almost certainly end up trying it out, but given the nominally anti-commercial (or anti-some-kinds-of-commercial) nature of XOXO, it leaves me wondering: Which app aesthetics are allowed to promote in this kind of event? Ev never said Twitter out loud (understandable, given that the company is in its IPO quiet period), but he also never said Medium out loud. Cabel mentioned Panic's products, but only in the context of his narrative. Everyone mentioned projects they were working on, but the expectation was that they needed to be framed in a narrow set of aesthetics, predicated on an aw-shucks mindset where everyone was assumed to have impostor syndrome about their work.

Beyond Indie Impostors

I loved XOXO, and I'm phenomenally proud of my friends who organize it, impressed by my friends who presented, and delighted by my friends who attended. So the challenge I have to XOXO isn't just to Andy and Andy who organize it, but to all of my friends and peers who were there:

Can we get beyond having to be apologetic for our success? Can we admit that our don't-ask-don't-tell relationship with ambition is limiting? I'm so glad that XOXO encourages creative people to wrangle with the economic realities of creative endeavors directly, but if we have a billionaire on stage alongside people who are barely making rent, and neither gets mentioned, are we really being honest about what "independence" means? Don't get me wrong - I have good, close friends whose work I champion who exist along that entire economic continuum, and I'm glad they can interact in meaningful ways.

Just as importantly, can we recognize independent creators if their work isn't twee or conventionally "indie"? If we see that the Kickstarters and Etsys of the world don't reflect the mainstream, popular tastes of most people, can we be self-critical enough to at least ask, "Why don't we connect with more people?" And if we do have artists like Jack Conte of Pomplamoose, who can make works mainstream enough to be featured in a car commercial, can we allow that to be one of goals we're allowed to articulate explicitly, instead of implicitly.

These are the challenges I want us to focus on as creators and people who value independence. And it's not merely to be contrary, though of course that's appealing, too. Rather, it's because those who define our culture, who dominate our economics, who control our political systems — they don't shy away from being popular. They don't look with skepticism at people wanting to be commercial. They don't try to force an orthodoxy on the products and people they exploit.

And if we want our voices and our creations and our values to matter as much to society as theirs, we have to stop shackling ourselves by dancing around our aesthetic and economic constraints. XOXO matters, for being a place that can bring such great minds together. Now it needs to open up, to a more truly diverse (not just race and class and gender, but self-criticism) audience, in order to achieve the truly profound and great social goals that it could enable. It's the highest praise I can offer that I think XOXO may be able to do so.

See Also:

There are lots and lots of good pieces about XOXO this year. Here are some that spoke to me:

Ubiquity

September 15, 2008

Right now I am here, but soon I may be somewhere near you! Let's see where I've been lately, and where I'm going to be:

Across the internets, Choire asked a ridiculous question of mine to Wendy and Lisa when he interviewed them for the LA Times. Michaelangelo picked this up on Idolator, and I think my work is done here.

Absurdly, an offhand comment about Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York City who likes to mock people for being "too cosmopolitan", got quoted on the Playboy blog. Did you know Playboy has a blog?

And my presentation from the Mediabistro Circus back in May is now available on video, confirming once again that it's incredibly painful to watch oneself on video.

I'm also looking forward to a bunch of upcoming events.

  • I'm proud to have helped out a little bit with Web 2.0 Expo New York. Frankly, we have an amazing tech scene here in NYC (Six Apart is hiring!) and we haven't done enough to get recognition for it from the tech world at large. That's why I'm quoted on the Expo site saying, "Well, it's about time." Heh.
  • Next weekend in Las Vegas, I'll be joining Chris Alden, our CEO at Six Apart, in a keynote presentation at Blog World Expo. If you'll be there Saturday morning, come see us, or find me at the event before or after.
  • Finally, next month, I'll be in Greensboro, North Carolina for ConvergeSouth. I am sure there will be many interesting things to do and see there, but my first priority is to get some barbeque. I'm sure y'all understand.

Back on the Road Again

March 10, 2008

Blogging's been light because this part of March is the heart of the conference season for me, usually stretching for a few exhausting weeks on the road. My new goal this year was to take it a little easier, pace myself better, get more sleep and exercise, and then try to make the things I do participate in get enough focus that they're done well.

That seems to be working out, especially as I come back to SXSW for the first time in years. Some nice mentions in Wired talking about my Battledecks presentation (see also a video clip which captures most of the presentation), both Valleywag and CNet talking about this year's amazingly-successful kickball game, and a really amusing bunch of conversations on Twitter that show just how much people like a pithy soundbite when participating in a panel. It's been fun seeing everybody in person, but I can't say I'm not ready to go home.

All Over The Place

October 17, 2007

I've been doing a good bit of speaking lately, and have some more coming up, so let me share it with you if you're interested.

  • I was flattered to have my post about Gawker quoted in passing by Jim Romenesko while talking about Vanessa Grigoriadis. However, I was mortified at the context -- Page Six of the NY Post had published a thinly-veiled threat of sexual violence against Ms. Grigoriadis. Let's repeat: The traditional, mainstream, dead-tree media institution published a threat of sexual violence on newsprint. And those who objected? The folks typing away in Movable Type at Radar Online and Media Bistro. This is why we need blogs to help fix traditional media.
  • I got to spend an hour talking to John C. Havens over at Blog Talk Radio which was ostensibly about transparency, but ended up getting into a good bit of blog history and some more philosophical parts of blogging. That was a lot of fun, and I was glad to get to do it.
  • On Friday, I'll be speaking at the Online News Association Conference in Toronto. I'll only be in town for a few hours, unfortunately, even though I love Toronto, but the discussion about Journalism Next is right up my alley. And I'm especially looking forward to getting to meet the other folks on the panel.
  • And then on Saturday, I'll be at ConvergeSouth 2007 in Greensboro, North Carolina. It looks to be an absolutely amazing event, and I'll be joining in at 10am on Saturday for my panel. I'll also be hosting a dinner at 6:30 on Saturday, you can sign up on the wiki to join the table.

Phew! Can't wait to meet a bunch of new folks, and if you want to get in touch and will be at either event, my mobile number and email address are both right here on my blog.

Meet up at PodCamp?

April 6, 2007

Are you in New York for the PodCamp NYC conference? Well, I'll be there representing Six Apart and if you're podcasting with Movable Type, TypePad, LiveJournal or Vox, then we should meet up. There are an astounding twelve simultaneous sessions taking place, so it'll be impossible to get in touch with everyone in our community, but if you keep your eyes open in sessions like the 2:00PM "Blogging for Business" panel in the Kips Bay room, it should be easy to get in touch. You can also text me at 646-541-5843.

(And you can add the Six Apart Twitter account or my personal Twitter account to your friends to get the latest updates.)

Collecting Samples

March 6, 2007

Do you want links? Because I'll give you some damn links, I'm not afraid of you! I'm not afraid of NOBODY!

Dominant, a UC Berkeley alumnus who actually attended the much-publicized class on Shakur in the late '90s, says that he finds value in hip-hop studies, provided they take the long view. "With hip-hop and all black music, you can't talk about the art separate from a lot of other things," he says. "You can't talk about hip-hop as an art form without talking about the people, the economics, how and why it was made. You have to be pretty thorough."

Finding ways to teach and study hip-hop from within a university setting is not easy. "I worry that scholars like us get so obsessed with trying to justify hip-hop that we end up running in circles," says Berkeley grad student Felicia Viator, a DJ who's finishing up a doctorate in history.

  • Businessweek's Catherine Holahan looks at the unfiltered conversations that have sprung up in light of community changes after USA Today's recent web redesign. I don't know that I'd make a change in the cultural assumptions of a site at the same time as aesthetic/UI changes, because then you don't know which one caused everybody to lose their minds.
  • Ask the Wizard, written by Feedburner CEO Dick Costolo is, flat out, the best new blog of 2007. The thing I love about great writing is it makes the pervasive truths seem self-evident and even obvious. Plus it's actually funny, not another tech exec wearing a goofy tie and claiming to be full of ha-ha.
  • Dear Drew, have you considered changing the font on Fark's homepage?
  • This is the old Top 5% of all Web Sites graphic that used to be used by Point. Which was actually Point Communications, which was actually at pointcom.com, until it sold to Lycos during a period of the web's history 10 years ago that is apparently so old nobody caught the reference. Winning the meaningless award used to be accompanied by an email alerting you to the good news. I suspect Todd Whitney is not still toiling away at Lycos.
  • I spoke at the Northern Voice conference in Vancouver a little over a week ago, and there's video of my presentation up on the web, albeit with suboptimal sound. But it kind of gives you a feel for what we were all talking about, if you have the patience to sit through it. (My part starts about five minutes in.)
  • If you've somehow missed them, a few articles on the tech generation gap. Emily Nussbaum's excellent, definitive look at the distinctions between the technological expectations of those born before and after 1977 in regard to privacy seems like the coming-out party for the topics danah has been talking about forever. A simpler, but still compelling, Tim Bajarin piece in PC Magazine complements it nicely. And the WaPo sez colleges have lost track of students because the schools are still trying to use phones and email to talk to kids who only use Facebook and IM. Whoops.
  • Someday, me and Kal Penn in a steel cage match for Most Famous Indian in America. Someday.

The Essentials of Web 2.0 Your Event Doesn't Cover

February 23, 2007

Do you want to learn about the future of web applications? If so, when choosing an event, you might want to make sure it's one that cares about including speakers based on merit, instead of based on arbitrary gender qualifications. I judge merit to be those who meet these criteria:

1. They've already been successful
2. They have done something innovative and unique
3. They are well-known names who will draw an audience and make the event compelling
4. Their work impacts a large audience, or has great influence on the space

Caveats: This list took about 15 minutes for me to make, and I had a little bit of help from Caterina. It's also skewed towards women whom I know well or whom I have already seen speak. But in 15 minutes, I was able to construct a set of theoretical sessions that you won't see at events that specifically exclude women, or that make sure not to reach out to them.

  • danah boyd: The younger generation of web users have different definitions of "public" and "private" than you do.
  • Mitchell Baker: How to take something from being an interesting technology to being a mainstream tool
  • Caterina Fake: How to get things done even within the constraints of a big company
  • Mena Trott: How to design an application that delights its users, instead of confounding them
  • Liza Sabater: Your project won't succeed unless you reach people who are different from you
  • Amy Jo Kim: How best practices from game design can make your web applications like crack
  • Linda Stone:What we will be paying attention to in the future
  • Kathy Sierra: How to design products that make your users smarter, sexier and hungry for more
  • Heather Armstrong, Meg Frost, and Gina Trapani: One person can be a successful media outlet
  • Lynne Johnson: How to credibly bring new media to an old-media company
  • Jane Pinckard: Anybody with half a brain could have seen that the Wii was going to win, but you were busy bickering about the Cell processor
  • Meg Hourihan: A real mashup: How to combine technology with something you love
  • Heather Champ: How to manage a web community shitstorm with grace and tact
  • Susannah Fox: You talk about "accessibility", but what do you know about people who are sick, old, or disabled?
  • LeeAnn Prescott: Everybody talks about traffic and stats -- what about someone with actual data?
  • Charlene Li: What are the criteria by which real-world analysts create their make-or-break analyses?

I could go on and on, but I know the obvious question: Where are the men? Well, don't worry -- the door is open to them. As soon as one of you has done something with the impact of Flickr, something that has the number of users of Firefox, made something that's used by the elderly or the young or by someone different than you, you can participate. Hell, if you make something that makes half as many people smile as Heather, Meg, and Gina's work does, you can send along a proposal to our imaginary event.

To conference organizers: If you haven't heard of these people or their work, or you think that Yet Another Bookmarking To-Do List Guy is more important, perhaps you owe some refunds. At this event, nobody would even notice if the wifi went out.

The Old Boys Club is for Losers

February 23, 2007

A few months ago, I spent a lot of time trying to show the tech community I belong to that diversity is essential to our survival. Not just to the Web 2.0 world being healthy and thriving, but as a matter of life and death.

Unfortunately, my diatribe on the topic was boring and thus unpersuasive. Jason Kottke kicked off another conversation about the paucity of female participants in some of the higher-profile technology conferences. I agree with Jason's point, but am disappointed that his preference for rationality and logic led to him using numbers and statistics to justify the idea: The responses quickly devolved into the expected defensive numbers game.

One bright spot is that at least some of the people on the defense are smart guys whom I respect and like. Because, while they're wrong, at least I can debate them in good conscience without feeling bad. I would have felt bad if I only linked to defensive rationales foisted by those who I think are malicious and idiotic.

So, the good guys on the wrong side of this debate include, first Eric Meyer:

In my personal view, diversity is not of itself important, and I don't feel that I have anything to address next time around. What's important is technical expertise, speaking skills, professional stature, brand appropriateness, and marketability. That's it. That's always been the alpha and omega of my thinking, and it will continue to be so the next time, and time after that, and the time after that.

You'll note that nowhere in that list do you find gender, race, creed, or any other such parameter. Those things are completely unimportant to me when organizing a conference. (Or, really, when I'm doing almost anything.)

In a similar vein, John Gruber:

It's not because of a lack of opportunity or aptitude; it's a lack of interest.

So the issue here isn't why there aren't more women speaking at web conferences, but why there aren't more women interested in web nerdery.

Eric and John are both good guys who mean well, but that two people who are smart, forward-thinking, and open minded are still unaware of the limits and constraints imposed by their own shortsightedness is disappointing. Eric: Are you saying that it's your explicit desire to only make a conference that's marketable to the audience you already have? Because that seems so boring and unambitious that it feels like you're saying "we're only in it for the money".

Unless I'm going strictly out of obligation, I go to events to learn things, to have my mindset challenged. Being presented with familiar, unchallenging ideas just so someone can make a buck is the equivalent of junk food. Don't get me wrong -- I'm a fan of pop music, so junk food has its place. But I expect better of those who are seen as leaders.

And John, to fall into the laziest, least persuasive argument of all leads me to believe you're being almost willfully naive. "Women aren't in these disciplines because they aren't interested?" Really? There's a simpler explanation, which falls under the heading of "I know where I'm not welcome." This kind of bias isn't new; Guys are almost always unable to see the barriers they construct.

Let me put this into terms your respective audiences can better understand:

  • Limiting the speaker list of an event to those that appeal to your existing audience will yield diminishing returns as your attendees tire of seeing the same voices over and over. And in the meantime you will make less and less money.
  • Saying that you want to design an event to appeal to the audience that you already reach is like making a web page to work with only the browsers that can already see your site. Do you believe in open standards and accessibility when it matters, and when it's not easy, and when it's not merely a technological problem?
  • It's foolish to think that the feedback loop of a strong network effect doesn't act as an enormous barrier to new audiences. If you are an Apple fan, do you think that merely touting one's own technological superiority is sufficient? Or does it make sense to accommodate those who aren't yet part of the community by being able to run their applications, get the same economies of scale from processors and peripherals, and improving distribution and retailing? If you do, then you're saying it takes more than opening up the door -- it requires welcoming the audience you haven't yet reached.

And in passing, I am not surprised that those who advocate yelling at their customers tend to get very defensive about their lack of ambition. It is a fitting punishment that the web of some people's "future" only includes more boys like themselves, progressing further and further into a rounded-corner of irrelevance.

That brings me to my final point, which I'll explain more in my next post: Those of you who are defending this status quo are defending a culture of failure.

And that's the most important thing to remember: Those who are reaching out to include all members of their community, who are seeking out new ideas and voices, are not only winning, they're the only ones who will continue to win. You may succeed in defending the boys-only nature of your treehouse. But you'll be dooming yourselves to irrelevance.

Vancouver-Bound!

February 22, 2007

This weekend, I'm making my first trip to Vancouver (and my first trip to Canada in over 3 years) to speak at the Northern Voice 2007 blogging conference. I'm really excited to get to meet a lot of new people, as well as finally getting to meet a number of long-time bloggers in person.

If you'll be in Vancouver, drop me a line (email is anil@dashes.com and my mobile phone is 646-541-5843) and I hope we can meet up. I'm not sure exactly how much free time I'll have, but I'm hoping to try at least one good local restaurant, as well, since I'll be staying downtown.

Oh, and I'm looking for restaurant suggestions as well -- if you're local, hook me up.

KICKless in Austin

March 10, 2006

In the same week I missed Etech for the first time in years, I should also mention that I'm not going to be in Austin for South by Southwest for the first time this millennium. My apologies to everyone who I'd hoped to see, but the combination of having been fighting off a persistent cold and being pretty busy at work means that I can't make it to Texas this year. And yeah, that means no KICK!

Sorry to everyone who's disappointed, and have fun at the panels and parties. Make sure to enjoy the Boiling Pot on my behalf.

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