Monthly Archives: March 2008

Stories from SXSWi 2008 – Creating Findable Rich Media Content

Here are my notes for the Creating findable rich media content session at SXSW Interactive. Listen to the podcast for yourself if my haphazard notes are difficult to follow.

  • Navigation typically not followable for Flash, etc. Text is embedded, not retrievable by spiders, key text is not prominent or differentiated (even XML).
  • Lack of a unique URL hurts your linkage and Google ranking subsequently.
  • If content is not coded or tagged correctly you’re not as findable.
  • Disney example – their entire site is Flash. You can make Flash search-friendly, navigation is key – just make sure spiders can get through.
  • Javascript function detects non-Flash capable browsers, so viewers get primary content (text, anything you can add to an HTML page).

Samsung example – Flex and AJAX for 20,000 SKUs of different tv models, used XML site maps to get all the deep links (which were previously unfindable).
Economist has a video site – 1 page for each video linked from master.
Tubemogul lets you upload videos in bulk with good tags, good titles.Not always rich media that’s the problem, but the execution, making sure you think about search and findability early on in the project, and tag early.

Sometimes content goes up only for a month and then comes back down, so search is irrelevant. Plus, if you want a rich experience, then you don’t worry about search – you actually want fewer people to have that rich experience.

Creating a findable strategy – or make your content find your users. (Now that is an interesting concept to ponder for technical writing.)

Fiat website – Flash-based
Layered approach – CMS backend with XML that transforms either to HTML or to have Flash consume the content. This approach could be mistaken for a form of cloaking, make sure intent is legit and alternative is a faithful representative of Flash content.

Other SEO suggestions – break up container, create deep links from blogs to specific content allowing inbound links.

Other findable strategies
Never ending friending report 2007
Asked people ages 14-29, if you had 15 minutes of spare time, what are your top two choices for using that time? Social networking or talking on cell phone were the top answers.

Target example (Adweek article) -Back to College campaign on Facebook
2-3 months lifespan, so this is an example of not worrying about findability, but rather ensuring that your content finds your users. How does Target create a dialogue with college students; one that would inspire and support their transition into college life?
Give freedom to kids to discuss produts, within their own community.
Personalized checklists sent to mobile.

Funny side note – I think this Target campaign was a nominee of one of the “Suxors” as one of the worst social media campaigns in 2007.

Consider everyone’s accessibility – mobile phones, text to speech, and so on.

Google webmaster tools – google.com/webmaster – these are relatively new.

Q: What is the biggest challenge coming up?
A: Something should be invented to work in the authoring stage to give info to the search engines.
Q: What about exclusionary methods? They don’t understand the ping pong effect something that’s cool will come around everywhere? His clients don’t want to pay for the bandwidth and so on.
A: I don’t think they actually answered this other than to say viral is always good.

Q: What about microformats?
A: The Google panelist said it needs to get more standard and have more attached to the content. He did point to http://www.google.com/experimental/.

blogging

Examples of content providers blogging for customers

Sarah O’Keefe wrote up a nice summary of the WritersUA Pundits Panel, and Bogo Vatovec (of Bovacon)  made a statement something like this:

Introverted technical writers will not be writing help any more and will be replaced with experts moderating support forums. … Technical writers can no longer afford to hide in their cubes, they must go out and become experts and talk to the users.

I left a comment on her post that I see a similar future for our profession, although I do not have a value placed on introversion versus extroversion – likely introverts make perfectly good community managers and forum moderators since they can do that from their desks for the most part.

But, it does take some bravery to put your real personality online. I’ve found that a few of us are doing that – going from technical writer to blogger writing directly to customers.

While many of us blog to an audience of other professional writers, there are technical writers out there who are blogging to their end-user audience. Here are two examples:

  • Another example is Dee Elling’s blog for CodeGear users. This entry offers a great example of a real conversation with customers. I applaud her bravery (and emailed her to tell her) in facing these sometimes abrasive responses with a sense of customer service and helpful attitude. She doesn’t always have a good message to bring (they are working furiously to give their customers more code examples which we all know is time-consuming and difficult). But she brings a message directly to customers anyway.

Is anyone else talking directly to their customer base with their blog? Consultants in technical writing and content management are definitely talking to current and potential clients – Palimpsest is Scriptorium’s blog, The Rockley Blog, The Content Wrangler, and DMN Communications to name a few. But what about conversations with end users? I’d love to see more examples.

sxsw writing

Stories from SXSWi 2008 – Textbooks of the Future: Free & Collaborative

I have been talking to SJ Klein regularly via email and phone for my work on the wiki pages and kid’s user manual for the XO laptop for One Laptop Per Child, so I was excited to hear him speak and meet him in person. Also, directly afterwards I planned to go to lunch with SJ and with Robert Nagle, the technical writer (and self-named idiot programmer) in Houston who originated the idea of XO user groups across the states after the Give 1 Get 1 program completed.

I had tried my best to promote an XO meetup as a lunch after the Textbooks talk, even getting it listed on the entirely awesome sched.org, but when the four of us arrived at Las Manitas at about 10 after 1, we were the only ones with the “little computers,” as my son calls them. So we just waited our turn for seating, and got to know SJ and Melissa Hagemann, a program manager with the Open Society Initiative who was moderator for the panel. As it turned out, she and Robert had been in some of the same cities in south eastern Europe in the 90s. While speaking of books, Robert described hand-carrying two fifty-pound bags of books along dirt roads as a Peace Corp volunteer and for me it really brought home the fact that books – they are heavy. Much heavier than the two 3-pound XO laptops I had been “lugging” around the Austin Convention Center all day. The 3-pound OLPC library on the XO laptop probably contains hundreds of pounds of books, and you could add several hundred more pounds of books by putting in a small USB stick or SD card. Quite a revelation for me.

Here are my rough notes from the Textbooks of the Future: Free & Collaborative talk at SXSW Interactive 2008. I’ll link to the podcast of it when it’s available. (Updated to add the link, since now it is.)

For open source textbooks, take a look at cnx.org.

Yes, wikibooks are now possible. Pedia press had been doing high quality book output for a while, now partnering with Wikimedia Foundation.

OLPC’s interest in open education materials is that it gives students and teachers ability to share and collaborate on materials. They’re in a unique position in some ways, though, because they’d like to target 15 languages for their materials.

Why are open textbooks possible now?

  • Convergence of technology and community
  • Also XML – lets you build lego blogs of reconfigurable, recombinable objects (sounds like DITA topics, doesn’t it?)
  • Online lets you go past books
  • Intellectual property now has new licensing – creative commons license
  • Development of quality control mechanisms, repository of content
  • Lens – gives you a filter, lets you see things through a lens, filtering which items which you think are valuable
  • National Instruments, Texas Instruments, checking the books, offering lenses

Print on demand options – if you can’t produce shiny books, you aren’t taken seriously in many parts of the world, and in some age groups, print is important. With just-in-time printing, books are assembled automatically, index generated automatically, print on demand only costs students $20 instead of $120.

The same thing will happen everywhere that knowledge is valuable.

Is there a role for publishers in the new learning environment? There can be conflicts even in branches of publishing. All major publishers he’s talked to know that a change has to happen. They’re investing/investigating.

What strategies are useful? “The Budapest Open Access Initiative: an international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet.” from http://www.soros.org/openaccess/index.shtml

Three dimensions –
people (blurring the lines of roles, in today’s society we have rigid lines of roles of teacher, or author)
networking, transmitters, guides

Q: Robert’s question as a representative from Teleread.org – people searching for tutorials or text books want “the best” – what’s the finished state?
A: People looking for most efficient and effective way to learn things. Those sites will rise to the top.

Q: Can you use a lens that is another company’s lens?
A: Next version, yes you can.

Q: What about “controversial” areas or areas that evolve year over year?
A: For CXN.org, they decided not to develop with a wiki model, allowing for a multiple entry model, such as causes for the civil war has multiple articles with author attribution. Lenses can then point towards most used, or most heavily peer reviewed, your choice.

Q: From instructional designer in corp. environment – she sees missing things such as visual representations or animations, what’s happening or needs to happen to bring in those valuable designers.
A: Inkscape – open source vector drawing application, access to others’ illustrations (svg, vector graphics standards) Also mentioned the payment for illustration contribution based on Phillip Greenspun’s donation to Wikimedia Foundation.

It’s the network, not the media, plus, the Content Wrangler Community on Ning

Another one of my takeaways from last week’s South By South West Interactive conference is that it makes sense to use the term “social networking” rather than “social media” to describe sites and tools that help you stay connected with others. We’re not all journalists, and the “media” part of the term seems to signify that you want to share media, but in reality, you want to share interests, ideas, and connect with others.

Join the Content Wrangler Community on Ning

There seemed to be an amazing convergence for me last week, when not only did I witness some neat interactions at the conference in person, online I was also having neat interactions with other members of the Content Wranger Community on Ning. I’ve started a Blogging group there as well, and I posed two questions to the group – one is, How do you find time to write blog entries? and the other is, Blog engine as a CMS? Or CMS as blog engine?

Please feel free to add me as your friend, add a comment, join a group, connect with me on The Content Wrangler Community. I’d like to get to know my readers!

Austin’s own STC president Leah Eaton invited the most people to join the community in the 3-day timeframe for a contest, so she gets to choose from a list of conferences to attend. Naturally, I encouraged her to attend DocTrain West where I’ll be moderating the Meet the Bloggers session featuring Scott Abel, Darren Barefoot, Aaron Davis, Tom Johnson, and Scott Nesbitt.

Social Media Marketing Playbook – book review

Cover of Our Social Media Marketing eBook
This book was an easy, fun, read, and seemed especially pertinent after all the immersion into social networking I’ve been doing with SXSW Interactive. The 100-page book, Getting to First Base: A Social Media Marketing Playbook, is aimed at your company’s marketing department for them to read before deep-diving into the social media landscape. Julie Szabo and Darren Barefoot share their stories and even their somewhat embarrassing lessons learned, sparing you from the same fate while also encouraging you to start the conversation.

At talk.bmc our entire intent was to start the conversation. So I know how daunting and intimidating it can be, yet you also have to dive in and sit back and listen. It’s not an easy road to walk. But sometimes ROI stands for Risk of Inaction, so eventually you should learn your way around the tools of the trade. I still like Reach Or Influence for the ROI acronym when applied to blogging. :)

This book gives you specific examples of tools and technology you can use to start the conversation, and also has the proper amount of caution about being genuine and having good intentions. One of my favorite quotes:

The vast majority of products are
ordinary. Worse, most customers
have made their buying decisions
about staple purchases years ago,
and it’s difficult to change their
minds.

So, what to do? Pull off the “online equivalent of a publicity stunt,” create a meme. To me, this is such a daunting task I can’t imagine writing a book about how to do it. But sure enough, these two have the experience and case studies to show for it.

I also liked the “influencer” chapter, describing the rules for interaction with bloggers. Looking at it as a blogger rather than a marketer, it’s good insider information to have. For example, check out this trick! Let’s say someone has a feedburner feed, but they haven’t published that little graphic that shows how many subscribers they have. Just insert /~fc/ into their feedburner URL, and voila, you have the little graphic! Example: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~fc/JustWriteClick. Super secret way to check out your friend’s blogs and see if they have any subscribers to speak of.

Glory be, they like their technical writers as monitors!

Darren has a background as a technical writer, and when the book talks about who is a good candidate for the sometimes time-consuming task of monitoring the blogosphere, I’ll bet it’s Darren who’s giving the nod to the technical writer. My other favorite quote:

On the development side, technical support engineers
or technical writers are often a good choice. They’re good
communicators, tend to have a broad awareness of the
company’s products, and can even reply to basic
support-related posts.

I agree whole heartedly. I think the Agile technical writer that Sarah Maddox describes is precisely the right person to be identifying keywords, get RSS watch lists configured, and read, read, read, and respond when necessary or find someone in our company who can respond correctly.

Wikipedia doesn’t like marketers – tread carefully

And, my personal favorite topic, wikis, is addressed. The book has an excellent section about what to do and what not to do when it comes to the tricky waters of Wikipedia. To me, this section alone is worth the $29 for this book! Solid advice with the proper amount of respect for the community behind Wikipedia.

All in all, nicely done and a great read for marketers and bloggers alike.

wiki

Stories from SXSWi 2008 – Edit Me: How Gamers are Adopting the Wiki Way

Eager to get started with the four days of SouthBy goodness, I got off work Friday afternoon a little early, having headed in a little early, and made it downtown in time to wait in a line a half a block long for my SXSW Interactive badge complete with my photo. I only needed a half hour to get through the line, though. For the first time ever I made it to the very first SXSWi session, having to choose between Edit Me: How Gamers are Adopting the Wiki Way, and Career Rev 342: Dabble Dabble, Toil and Kick Ass. Come on, what would you choose?

The wiki talk won out, and I was happy to sit in the back and take notes in my moleskine notebook. Here they are, my notes transcribed from my handwriting, after listening to these panelists. You can listen to them also, as the podcasts are already available.

Angelique Shelton GM of Wikia Gaming, Wikia IncA collection of freely-hosted ad-supported wiki communities using the Open Source MediaWiki software.
April Burba Community Mgr, NCsoft – Game software publisher
George Pribul Lead Admin, WowWiki.com

Jake McKee, moderator Chief Ant Wrangler, Ant’s Eye View

Wiki way – gamers community – wowwiki.com World Of Warcraft wiki

“People are stronger than the game.”

People devoting time to their product is more valuable than money (because the money will follow, I guess) and because it makes the developers motivated and excited – passion.

Wikia has 6000-7000 communities. Wow.

Why write content for free? NBA Analogy – pick up games in the street are everywhere, they are playing for social status. Same thing with the wiki status – social currency is valuable in the gaming community and other communities. I especially like this analogy because it means I’m like a pro basketball player but I play pick up games when I write on wikis other than my employers. :)

Q: What happens when or if the social status in the game collides with the social aspect of the wiki?
A: It happens all the time – the panelist met his girlfriend on the wiki but also played the game with her. Both areas contribute to social status. You can now browse the Internet while you play with side-by-side windows. Lets the wiki be viewed or even edited while playing the game. Wow. In the MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game industry, they have seamless interaction between web and the game. XML feeds for character sets and everything already supplied.

Q: What’s the best scenario – when do you (the company) create a wiki, or are you better off letting the community start and run with it?
A: NCSoft decided to let users run their own wiki, citing concern about risk, but offered network hosting, “helping the community help themselves” – ended up making one wiki. Let the community moderate/arbitrate it – thinking they’ll take care of “griefers.”

Q: What about guilds in the game publishing in correct data to mess up other guilds?
A: Wowwiki does not allow anonymous editing, so this isn’t easy to do, although they have seen it attempted but it’s usually futile.

Q: Are published strategy guides losing money because of the wiki? Is there any IP conflict? Sicne Wikia is ad-based, how does it cut into game book revenue? A: Absolutely not, since publishing “freezes” the content, and Walmart is the only one making any “real” money on the product. There’s not enough money to be made on strategy guides. Books on strategy tend to be read in the bathroom (says a panelist), having a passionate community offers more return on investment. Wikis and the community members are accessible at all times across all time zones, the info is up-to-date.

Q: Is it good (intentional) that Blizzard’s developers aren’t on the wiki?
A: Thinks developer editing would hinder the wiki’s growth – especially if users “hate” a particular area of the game, they’ll attack the developer. But, they want info to get it out there. Also, it’s more motivating to the community when a developer comments – means he’s reading with out interfering. The Panel moderator said he would prefer that a CEO comment on blogs rather than write a blog. George commented that the forums are for “railing against” a certain area of the game (or a developer). Also, developers do use internal wikis and have found them very helpful for collaborative idea generation – such as asking for ideas for armor.

If community is not motivated enough on their own, might find someone outside of the company who is passionate, or an inside (the company) community manager can help . One panelist said she thinks 5 editors is the “tipping point” – readers will come if those five continually update. This best practice matches with the wikipatterns.com findings and other’s findings.

Q: How does support work within the wiki?
A: George says the community “sends them away.” Because their wiki’s conversation is about strategy only, not how to. Fascinating to me. To attempt to interpret for the enterprise wikis that many tech writers might be working on, it seems like there are two potential conversations and perhaps two communities built up around strategy and best practices versus how to and perhaps even troubleshooting. It’s like the difference between asking for help from a professional services group versus asking for help from the customer support group. There are specific conversations you’d expect to have from each group.

Meatball wiki guy asked, what collaborative projects such as fan on a wiki writing fan fiction on the wiki (amateurs) like what happens in the film industry (I’m not sure what this is an example of, but I’d love to see it.) A: Again George said that their wiki isn’t set up for that, they’d send them to another area, apparently.

On the way out, I ran into another Austinite Laura P Thomas, known as LPT on Twitter, and her daughter. I had met Laura at an Austin Social Media Club meeting. She had chosen the Career rev talk instead, and she said it was good. I told them about the giant pile of Legos (it looked like a pit of Legos from where I saw it while waiting in line! But it was actually a pile.) I saw later on Twitter that they both enjoyed them! :) I love that kids had things they could see and do at SXSW Interactive. A great start to a great conference.

writing

SXSW and Twitter – lost digital camera, found!

I finally have an exciting handful of stories from South By Southwest based on the really neat people I met. Yesterday I wrote about the awesome attendees. Here’s a story about Twitter used in a way I hadn’t heard of before.

At Tom Parish’s social media metrics panel, I sat next to Summer Huggins, who works in Austin for Hammock, a media company based out of Nashville. We chatted about Austin, how I feel like a tourist in my own town when I come downtown, and laughed about the Compass Bank building when she said it looks like a giant nosehair trimmer. (Yes, it does.)

When she left the talk, she accidentally left her digital camera on her seat. I noticed it and asked both the guys in front of me if they caught her last name so that I could try to find an email address for her in the SXSWi attendee directory. None of us could remember her last name, though.

So, I took the camera in its cute case to the SXSW information desk to be placed in Lost & Found, telling them that someone named Summer from Austin would hopefully pick it up. They said they’d be open until 8:00 and it would be kept in a safe place overnight.

Later that night, I started searching on twitter for someone named Summer from Austin who maybe just maybe had talked about attending the social media metrics panel. Sure enough, SummerH posted a tweet marked with #SXSW saying she had lost her digital camera! I immediately sent her a direct tweet, clicked through to her blog, found her email address, and sent her an email telling her she could pick up her camera at SXSW Lost & Found. Problem solved!

Lost camera, found

Summer was very excited and also noted the power of the Twitter and SXSW attendees! The power of SXSWi attendees was certainly not lost during the metrics panel, but this story has a feel-good ending to it.

writing

Amazing conversations and meeting amazing people at SXSW Interactive

South by Southwest Interactive is a big web design/blogging conference in downtown Austin. There are thousands of people here for it in 2008. It’s crazy busy.

The latest excitement was in a friend’s panel where people tried to stage an uprising on both Twitter and in the meebo room at meebo.com/sxsw, set up specifically for this talk. Tom Parish has a great picture and is quoted in this Wired blog story. The very next day, the Zuckerburg interview had a similar uprising on a much grander scale. Jeff Jarvis has the best analyses I’ve read so far about it, and Scoble’s view from the Twitter gallery is also a good read.

I’m of two minds about the things that have happened here this week – on one hand, I think the conference is only as high quality as its presenters. If all the attendees think they’re smarter than and better than the panelists, then why bother coming at all when you can view the video online or listen to the podcast later? I guess that hypothetical question is answered with – we come because we can interact with the panelists.

I even witnessed a panelist admit that he “wasn’t paying attention” to another panelist’s answer to a question during their panel. It came across as immature, arrogant, and unprofessional to me. Much like the sweater-tossing antics I observed based on the meebo room conversation in the social media metrics talk, I internally rolled my eyes and thought, how many people are just trying to get attention, drawing it away from the panelists disrespectfully? Is this online behavior and real-life behavior only as mature as the junior high lunch room?

On the other hand, if all the panelists preach about user-centered content, then when the choir stages an uprising, the preacher should be able to adjust his message to fit the audience. Right? I really admired Tom’s quick thinking. I was admiring the way that Tom handled the panel, ensuring that the podcast recording turns out well also, by having each speaker introduce themselves so that listeners later can identify voices while listening.

But enough about the conflicts and struggles going on between panelists, interviewers, and SXSWi attendees. This year, my interaction with other attendees has been the most exciting and fun for me.

Before and after the social media metrics talk, I befriended two guys from Washington, DC, and Summer from Austin who were all sitting around me.

I ended up giving a ride up Sixth Street to David, one of the guys from DC, and he and I had the nicest conversation on the way to BarCamp. I had asked about the conversations that occur on wikis and how interesting it was that the WoWiki panelist George Pribel said they never want to answer how to or troubleshooting questions on their wiki, that they only wanted articles and discussion around strategy. I said that as a tech writer, I was looking for the best use of wikis for content, but since we usually live nearest to and offer the most value to the customer support department, our wikis would be shaped more towards howto and troubleshooting information. However, best practices and strategy wikis might be more easily shaped for conversational articles, so, which was the better approach? His answer was spot on and an excellent example that will stick with me. He said, it’s just like the real world conversations you have in a crowd. If you and I are talking about movies, and someone comes up and starts talking about their favorite restaurant, we would politely inform them that we’re talking about movies, and could you take your food conversation elsewhere, maybe to the person sitting next to me? It’s a matter of staying on topic. With wiki design, I would conclude, you might want to prepare for two audiences (and two types of conversations), just like Lisa Dyer has done at Lombardi Software.

After attending David’s talk, WhiteHouse 2.0 at Barcamp, I learned that he’s former White House Internet and Communications Director David Almacy! He started RSS feeds and podcasts on iTunes and Tivo for the president’s white house. He wrote a Barney Cam script that got posted on Youtube and had over 25,000 views that season. As it turns out, he has two daughters nearly exactly the same age as my two sons. Our youngest kids were born within three days of each other. He was so nice and professional, a knowledgeable expert who is also willing to share his experiences. Prior to the social media metrics talk, I babbled about how I was a blogger for Ynema and Tom on talk.bmc. Little did I know of my fellow attendees level of experience with social media, but I was so pleased that David didn’t try to prove just how much more knowledgeable (and famous) he is than I. Instead he just answered my questions and truly listened to me.

I’m still amazed at the serendipitous meetings and conversations. Yes, the attendees make the conference interesting, and the panelists are bravely facing those attendees.

sxsw

Stories from SXSWi 2008 – BarCamp Austin III (BarCampAustin3)

BarCamp Austin schedule

Steve Carl already wrote up his notes from BarCamp Austin and I enjoyed his viewpoint very much. This was only my second BarCamp experience, and this year, I decided to take the plunge and actually volunteer to present. Whurley was very encouraging despite my inexperienced questions. “What’s a badge that you wear vs. a badge for your blog?” for example. There are graphics for each, as it turns out. The graphics are completely awesome, and the t-shirts were great, arriving despite an actual train derailment preventing the first shipment from arriving on time.

For those not familiar with the BarCamp format, it’s an unconference where you show up in the morning and put your session into one of the time slots on a white board or on a post-it note. The wiki also had sign-up schedules but the hand-written timeslots at the event win over the wiki page.

The week before BarCamp, I went to the wiki’s Sessions page, clicked the Edit button, and wrote up a short description of a session called Hug the XO. I basically wanted to see if others could bring their XO laptops and I could show them the tricks I’ve learned recently, plus run the Sugar emulation on my Dell laptop.

Getting to Idea City

(photo by Chad Hanna from theotherpaper on flickr)Idea City Austin

The morning of BarCamp, getting to BarCamp turned out to be more difficult than I had planned. I got downtown by 9:00, but couldn’t find the Silver Dillo to ride over to 6th and Lamar to GSD&M’s Idea City. So, I took a few touristy photos of Ester’s Follies and the row of SegCity’s Segways, turned around and went back to the Austin Convention Center. I attended a 10:00 SXSW Interactive session, Creating Findable Rich Media Content, and then went back to Sixth street seeking the ‘Dillo. I walked about five blocks until I was past Congress Avenue when I saw a Silver Dillo sign and a person waiting at the sign, then turned and looked up the street to see the trolley coming our way. I double-checked with the woman waiting to make sure there wasn’t a charge since I was silly enough to have not gotten cash out, and sure enough, it’s a free ride. I boarded the Dillo and was on my way.

Getting into BarCamp

Idea City itself is an incredible workplace, full of creative vibes and a wonderful open design with full windows in front. Steve Carl greeted me, I registered with a cool registration application that Twittered my arrival to @barcampaustin (very cool), I had my picture taken for the flickr photo stream, and Steve and I proceeded to the schedule board to see where I could fit in my pres. I really felt more like doing a demo than a full-fledged presentation, so I was happy to see that the demo room had a free half-hour slot at noon. I drew little XO icons on a post-it, titled it “Hug the XO” and headed upstairs to figure out the room layout. On the way up, I saw my old BMC buddy Cote, and ran into Decibel, a good friend of my husband’s, and also met Snax finally, having friends of friends of hers.

Hugging the XO

In the demo room, I hooked up my laptop and ran the Sugar emulation image downloaded from the RedHat Site by using QEMU. In emulation the Activities run pretty quickly, and it’s very easy to display on a large screen. There’s discussions surrounding a projection display for the XO itself, but it’s easiest to emulate for me.

I showed Turtle Art which is really exciting to programmers. People expressed an interest in showing the XOs at Codemash because there’s a grassroots Kidsmash that happens in parallel, so I’ll definitely be following up with Josh on that idea.

I also learned some neat tricks to get deeper into the XO. One way to view the files on the flash memory without using a command line is to launch the Browse Activity and type file:///home/olpc/ as the URL. Now that is a handy shortcut.

Browse for olpc home files

I also learned that you can transfer files to and from the XO by using scp from the Terminal Activity by reading the XO setup user guide at OLPC Austria. First, get the IP address by typing iwconfig at the prompt. Then, you can use these instructions:

To upload the file test.py from a pc to the xo (into /home/olpc), use: scp FILE_NAME USER@IP:TO_DIRECTORY

scp test.py olpc@192.168.0.2:/home/olpc

To download the file /home/olpc/xo_test.py from the xo to a local pc, simply reverse the arguments:

scp olpc@192.168.0.2:/home/olpc/xo_test.py ./

Measuring the conference room table with the Acoustic Tape Measure ActivityWe finally got the Acoustic Tape Measure Activity working correctly, and I’ve updated the instructions on Floss Manuals appropriately. Test your task instructions, I always say! Fortunately, this was a fun one to test. We had to have the laptops beep at each other at least 4-5 times before the measurements came into a reasonable range, starting out at nearly 200 meters, and eventually settling on just over 3 meters. Success! The noise they make to each other almost sounds like they’re spitting at each other. Kids will love this activity with a pair of laptops.

People really enjoyed the Speak Activity and we laughed to discover you could give it multiple eyes.

Speak Activity - don’t call me three eyes

I think we had at least a dozen people stop by the demo room, and after the demo session was over, we set up two of them near the lunch pickup line. Steve was nice enough to “babysit” the XOs while I went back to some afternoon SXSWi sessions, and he said he thinks at least 100 people got to see and try out the XOs for themselves. We downloaded Flipsticks, played some Tam Tam Jam, showed off the Browse Activity, surfing to any URL we needed to, and generally had a great time. We met other XO owners and I told them about the XO-Austin users group, and told everyone they could meet us at Las Manitas on Sunday for an XO meetup. I’ll write another story about my lunch meeting with SJ Klein from OLPC, Robert Nagle, the XO-Houston user’s group organizer, and Melissa Hagemann from the Open Society Institute (OSI). We had a great time together.

Summing it up

This experience was such a great opportunity for me to talk to people about things I believe in (kids, technology, and education) while having fun being a technical writer. I was intimidated initially because I’m not a programmer, and so I wondered if I’d be questioned for even volunteering to present, but I realized that no matter how technical I was, I would be less technical than someone in the room and more technical than someone else in the room. So, the correct action to take is to share the knowledge you have and listen to others to learn more about the topics that interest you.

My only regret from BarCamp is not staying longer for Dawn Foster’s talk about Community Management. I had asked my husband to meet me at the Convention Center with my two sons so we could go to Screenburn together, but after seeing how intimidated my four-year-old would have been by the shoot-em-up video games there, I cancelled on them and wished I had stayed at BarCamp longer. I’ll just have to settle for reading Dawn’s notes about her BarCamp experience instead.

OLPC sxsw

SXSW Interactive starts today – pack your XO

Las ManitasSo many sessions that I want to attend, but at least sched.org lets me select more than one session at a time. Such an awesomely simple interface and login is so quick, just an email address and a password and you’re scheduling in no time.

I’ve also put an invite out on upcoming.org to anyone who wants to meet with other XO users to come to Las Manitas for a late Sunday lunch. Thanks tantek for the photo.