SXSW 2006 Day 2

Day two seemed to start off fairly low key. The conference centre didn’t seem to have the buzz it did the previous day. I strolled in, much like the day before, just before the first set of presentations at 10:00am.

Sink or Swim: The Five Most Important Startup Decisions

I decided to check out Sink or Swim: The Five Most Important Startup Decisions. Michael Lopp (Apple) moderated this panel of Evan Williams (Odeo), Joshua Schachter (, Joel Spolsky (Fog Creek Software) and Cabel Sasser (Panic). This was a lively presentation with some really good discussion amongst the panellists and the audience. Cabel in particular often presented his own questions to other members of the panel. One of the frequent topics was that of hiring. Across the board, the focus was on grow slow and hire quality. Joel specifically said to rely on interns. They offer an inexpensive way to test and find new employees. Joel and Cabel, who both produce products as opposed to services, tended to be very conservative in their approaches and have actually been able to bootstrap their operations with no venture capital. Joel, in fact, reinvests in his company by hiring more staff. None of the panellists had business plans. They just did it.

The Future of Education in a Digitally Convergent World

After that I checked out The Future of Education in a Digitally Convergent World; mostly because I’m currently working on an e-learning application and wanted to see the panellists’ thoughts on the matter. This panel was hit and miss. Firstly, each panellist did a 5-10 minute pitch which, in the case of Andrea Angelo, this was her opportunity to pitch her company. She also offered little to the rest of the conversation.

Betsy Spears and David Palumbo were certainly the most vocal and I was happy to see them disagree and discuss things later on in the session. Spears focused more on the use of gaming theory to develop “interactive branching”. Game developers, she felt, do the best at creating multiple levels of difficulty and a depth to their products that keep users engaged. This allowed for self-direction and self-pacing. This, in turn, meant they learned more and were inspired more to continue learning. Convergence also offered greater possibilities for learners to learn through kinetic and visual means and not just through audio as traditionally happened in a classroom.

Palumbo really felt the measurement aspect was important; having rigorous ways of measuring how people were learning. This really seemed more focus on school systems as opposed to generic learning systems.

Michael Anderson actually touched on what seems like more general learning concepts. Essentially you have three types of relationships: learners to content, learners to teachers, and learners to other learners. Online systems have tried to duplicate the traditional Roman method of teaching by bringing the lecture online. Anderson felt that synchronous learning events and a movement towards social networking allowed for a diversity of communication. In discussions with adolescents, it was determined that “doing is more important that knowing.” By keeping people connected, they stay more focused and they can expect to learn from other learners just as much as from a teacher.

All in all, I wasn’t overly impressed by this presentation. It felt out of place in the overall scope of the conference.

Lunch Break

Lunch today was pretty low key with about ten of us hitting a Vietnamese-Thai place on 6th Street. Like the day before, though, I ended up staying just a little too long at lunch to make the keynote speech.

Web 2.1: Making Web 2.0 Accessible

Okay, I felt a little obligated to go to this one. My hometown man, Derek Featherstone, was on this panel. During his intro, he mentions only to have a bunch of audience members exclaim, “oohhh!” It started off with Shawn Henry giving some background on the W3C’s various initiatives such as WAI, WCAG (1.0 and 2.0), ATAG, and UAAG. It was nice to see a person representing the W3C and to have a more personable front to what often comes across as a very unfriendly standard. One of her best comments was, “do not read WCAG 2.0!” But really she meant was, “read Understanding WCAG 2.0 instead.” After which she said, “don’t read Understanding WCAG 2.0.” Only to temper that with, “do user testing!” Very amusing stuff. Derek provided the only technical how-to example of the panel in demonstrating the use of the label tag along with an error message in emphasis tags. I would’ve liked to have heard more from Matt Vande Voorde who used to work at the Bank of America and to impart more of his experience.

Holistic Web Design: Finding the Creative Balance in Multi-Disciplined Teams

Again, I felt I needed to support Garrett Dimon but as it turns out, it was a good panel with Jason Santa Maria, Eris Stassi, Carl Sieber and Shaun Inman also at the table. Unfortunately, the first 10 minutes was marred with technical difficulties in connecting with the projector — an issue that cropped up again near the end of the presentation. But the content presented in between and after these issues was stellar. They essentially assigned different responsibilities (months ago) to each of the panellists to redesign a site. Eris provided initial user goals and direction, Jason provided design, Carl did HTML, while Shaun tied it together with JavaScript. Garrett was the project manager throughout the project. In any redesign, it’s always fascinating to learn how and why decisions were made and this session had some great material. The redesign turned out superbly and the audience questions at the end were fantastic.

The End of the Day

The big event his evening was the Web Awards (where 9rules, James Archer and Bryan Veloso among many others were nominated). After dinner, however, I decided to skip on the awards (and ensuing after-party) and enjoy a relaxing evening in the hotel. Tomorrow there’s some great presentations so I must get some rest!

Published March 13, 2006 · Updated September 14, 2006
Categorized as Conferences
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bee said on March 13, 2006

I thought the Education Panel was poor as well. Michael Anderson had the most insight, and I really wanted to hear what tools he thought would help with the "spectacular failure of online learning." Instead, we got to hear Spears' theory on whether or not instructor led teaching was in or out, and whether or not the moderator's friend had ADD. Very odd.

Jehiah said on March 13, 2006

yeah i didn't get much out of the "making web 2.0 accessible" panel except that one small code snippit. It's nice to know that updating html inside a label tag (with an error message) will be appropriatly picked up by screen readers. What did i learn the rest of the hour? nothing. The whole "don't read the standard" thing was odd as well. I'm sure they meant to say "understand the principles, the standard can help show you that, but it's more important to understand principles." Principles in the usability field after all will stay pretty constant, even thought the guidelines will change with technology.

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