SXSW – the Glastonbury of conferences

SXSW badge pickupA little SXSW diary catchup… It’s the halfway point of SXSW Interactive and I’m still gearing up into this festival to end all web festivals.

Here’s my personal/business mission statement for this year’s event – slightly different from last year as I’m being part-funded to attend by the UK’s Digital Mission along with about 25 others from the West Midlands. See the Heart of Austin site for more on who we are – but with a trade show stall the size of the UK’s stand and no other UK region represented here, you can see how much Birmingham UK values the digital dollar and I think is also representative of what a digitally connected hub the Midlands is.

SXSW Diary: from Miami to Austin
Arrived into Austin on Thursday at 9.30 am after 22 hours of train travelling from New Orleans and 25 hours of no sleep – you can see the state of me in this ‘Let’s look at the brewery’ video as I fail spectacularly to be a tourist guide to San Antonio from the train.

There will also be content going up on my travel blog, Tourist vs Traveller,  about my Amtrak train and Greyhound road trip from Miami to Austin via Atlanta, Birmingham and New Orleans. But mainly about the 24 hours this Brummie spent in our namesake city, Birmingham Alabama.

I’m also adding to my Flickr picture set as the days go by: SXSW2010 and USA2010 – if you want to see the trip that led up to the festival and see what Birmingham, Alabama looks like.

Thursday/Friday saw badge pickup – where I learnt that it pays to be late. Never to turn up at the listed time but at least two hours later if you want to avoid the queues.

First panels: mobile UX and improv lessons

Watching a keynote simulcast
Watching Danah Boyd's keynote simulcast in an empty hall because all my panels were oversubscribed

My kick-off panel was the UX of Mobile, which is a whole new world of design, dev and content and one that may lead website design in future rather than the other way round. In future, mobile design will be a key driver in all digital design, was the expert view, because shrinking down website to fit on a small screen (surprise, surprise) doesn’t work.

I spent most of this panel, however trying to track down a certain Bharath Kumar who had left his memory stick on a corridor floor by a power socket. It was like trying to solve a mystery. You’d think everyone at SXSW would be easily findable on the Web, but I tell you, Bharath Kumar is a VERY common name. In the end we found his mobile number somewhere on the stick and texted him. And he lived happily ever after.

The afternoon’s best session was Improv Lessons for Freelancers – and has inspired me to take up improv if there are any such sessions in Birmingham UK… This is not just about how to be charming to your clients but how to, for example, say yes positively to their ‘Make it pop’ requests without actually committing yourself to a bad design decision – or extra unpaid work.

How to network at SXSW
Over a margarita, of course. Thursday evening was the SXSW West Midlands networking dinner at the Iron Cactus, the social and business bonding oiled by the drink of SXSW: the margarita. Parties are another major feature of SXSW.

I’m a relative new arrival into Birmingham’s digital scene – see September 2009’s Why I am moving back to Brum – so it was good to cement a few friendships and to let people know that I’m a web writer, web editor and content strategy person who can plug into the commercial scene in Birmingham and create content for clients/agencies that need a professional web writer/editor.

The serendipitous Glastonbury effect

Why Keep Blogging panel
Why Keep Blogging panel

Saturday was a frustrating day. Every panel I chose to attend had a mile-long queue to get in.

But this is where SXSW reminds me of Glastonbury in that it’s all good. If you can’t get to something you want to see because it’s over the other side of the site and four floors up, or it’s oversubscribed, then there are some great little gigs right next to you. It may not be your subject but you can still take away something from it.

Critical Tits, for example, was an interesting one – a conversation where the Burning Man festival was being called to account for its new and tight restrictions on photography, where they see anything shared to a wider audience as ‘commercial use’. I think the move has stemmed from people snapping naked female artists and those shots appearing on porn sites. But the clamp down seems excessive and controlling being applied across the board as it is. I may be wrong on this, I didn’t get the full lowdown as the session was interrupted by an emergency fire alarm and evacuation of the whole Austin Convention Center.

I also attended Why Keep Blogging by some of the original superstars of blogging (SXSW is great for attracting big names) and How to Create a Viral Video – which was (possibly) more fun than useful but made by the attendance of Damian Kulash of OK Go viral video fame.

How to create a viral video
I think OK Go’s music has become secondary to their videos, but, OMG, This Too Shall Pass is a damn fine video. It starts with domino toppling and ends in the most astonishing series of pop music Mousetrap that you will ever, ever see. Ever.

An incredible idea if you can afford the 60 engineers and six months it took to make. Although the point was made that the record company couldn’t afford it but commercial sponsors State Farm Insurance could – and got very positive comments from the millions who have seen the video. And the only product plug was their logo on the side of a truck that sets the first domino falling, plus a credit at the end.

Now that’s what I call marketing 2010!

Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson
Kristina Halvorson presents Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy FTW was the highlight of my day. I received a major info download that is currently swirling around my head so will post another time on that.

Over the next year, I’m looking at employing content strategy for We Are Fierce in Birmingham and helping them to bring their festival, consultancy and training arms all under one unified web presence over the next year.

I’m not sure what will result, but it’s going to be interesting as few organisations pay this much attention to the haphazard and messy world of content. We shall bring order! And the basic premise is ‘Less is More’.

Will also be attending CS Forum 2010 – an entire conference devoted to the growing discipline of Content Strategy.

Daily Strangeness from Dorkbot to Kick-Ass

Dorkbot with dorkhat
Dorkbot with dorkhat

Finally, last night was fun. After a brief stop-off at the Dorkbot tent to twiddle some knobs (here I am with a BleepLabs Thingamagoop), we were hijacked on Sixth Street into a cab for an interview for (I think) DVD bonus features for a new superhero flick. SXSW Film Festival saw the premiere of Kick-Ass – a superhero movie based on a comic book of the same name – we signed our Hollywood movie waiver and proceeded to be drilled about what type of superhero skills we would have and who’s ‘ass’ would be like to kick and why, as we were driven around the streets of Austin in a cab emblazoned with Kick-Ass all over it.

It was one of those mad, interstitial Glastonbury moments that is tertiary to the main event but one of the things you remember most. After all, the slogan and ethos of this city and this festival is ‘Keep Austin weird’.

Off now to enjoy Tuttle at SXSWi, an inaugural Content Srategy meetup, Fray Café tonight and see what else Sunday brings. It’s going to be fun.

Transparent journalism – the Web 2.0 way to compile a Top 10 list

Been having fun over on my travel blog Tourist Vs Traveller with exposing the messy inner blood and guts of how I put together two Valentine’s Day features on the ‘top 10’ romantic places in the UK and around the world. The main mashup was an experiment using TravMedia for the big callout for suggestions, Google Docs as a collecting funnel and Twitter as a refinement option for feedback from the non-PR world.

It was going to be a short exposé but in the end turned into a five-part series, culminating in the Creative Commons release of all the PR source material, featuring 101 romantic places around the UK and the world.

I think different people will be interested in different links depending on whether you’re a journalism student, a social media or digital journalist, or a reader in lurve, so here they all are:

  1. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 1: transparency and the trouble with top tens
  2. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 2: the commission
  3. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 3: the seven tools of feature research
  4. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 4: the results of the Google Docs experiment
  5. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 5: 101 romantic places around the world

NYE at Birmingham Coach Station

NYE2009_Birmingham_Bus_stationApologies for the cross-posting but my new travel blog Tourist Vs Traveller is now up and running, and has some nice, shiny new content on it so I’m shouting about it a bit.

It being that time of year, I’ve just posted up my 10 New Year’s travel resolutions for 2010 on there and also ticked one of them off by writing up a picture post on the recently opened Birmingham Coach Station, where I spent a rather entertaining New Year’s Eve.

PS Can you spot me in the Christmas bauble?

I’m launching a new travel blog

It’s been two years since I started my first travel blog, What To Wear Where, in an effort to answer the niche packing question: ‘What do you wear in trendy Reykjavik in below-freezing December?’ While I still think the idea of packing help for any destination/event still has legs, and the blog still brings in a fairly steady stream of traffic, without a community to fuel the ideas, What To Wear Where sort of got stuck in the doldrums.

So I’m going back to basics. I’ve set up a new blog as a playground for my travel journalism. It’s called Tourist Vs Traveller (not for any deep and meaningful reason but because it was free) and you’ll find it at http://touristvstraveller.wordpress.com/.

Playing with travel journalism…
Playing with travel journalism…

Crowdsourced and client-led content
The first experiment is that I hope the content will be led by others – and my opening post is asking for your input. I’m soliciting views about what kind of content to publish because I don’t want the content solely to be defined by me as a journalist. It could be anything, I am open to suggestions. What I do want to do, though, is use it as a place to experiment with lots of lovely Web tools. With a background in digital client publishing, I’m also interested in travel companies who want me to create online content for their offering – not marketing fluff, but the real stories behind the PR, the kind of content that DOES help people decide to buy your product – or not! Y’know, useful stuff.

The problem with travel writing
So what travel writing is out there right now? On the Web, we have trip blogs, review sites and an avalanche of whinging UGC that is rapidly becoming meaningless as a way to make buying decisions. There are also some nice up and coming blogs from travel journalists and bloggers – I’ll be adding them to the blog roll as time goes by. In print, we have standard travel narratives and a limited number of news items published by newspapers and magazines and written by a rather exclusive club of commissioned travel journalists (or staff writers on a freebie). And on TV, we have an increasing amount of celebrities and comedians being sent off around the globe in the name of entertainment.

What is harder to find is a middle-ground between Jo Bloggs naming and shaming their hotel and the angled/subjective narrative of the commissioned travel writer/presenter.

Finding fresh ways to tell the story
Where I do find decent content, I’ll be linking to it though. I suspect that, for now and for a while, it will be possible to aggregate good examples of experimental travel journalism.

But I think there is also room for journalistic content that goes behind the scenes of a travel product, that tells stories that the newspaper doesn’t have room for, or that revisits classic stories from new angles using audio, video, slideshows, aggregated content and social media. It would be great to break out from the form – after all, traditional travel writing is itself rather stuck in the doldrums, in style and structure, in privileged points of view, and because collapsing print budgets mean fewer outlets and options for travel journalists

And I think that the travel industry could potentially pay for this content now that their outlets for print editorial are shrinking – to explain, here’s my earlier posting on a potential new business model for travel journalists.

So that’s it for now. Please visit the blog and post your comments. I’ve got the first couple of posts up – all about the nonsense of tourism slogans inspired by two days spent at the World Travel Market (WTM) in November.

And especially for Brummies, there’s a winning marketing slogan from St Johns Hotel, Solihull at the end of Around the world in 44 tourism slogans.

WTM2009: the folk dances, the music, the kiss…

Had a bit more fun with the Flip on my second day at World Travel Market and probably more success by keeping the camera still, ditching the high-speed panning and getting close to the subject – very close in the case of video no 3! These three clips show the kind of random things you stumble across when walking around the stall-sized world of the WTM trade show. Next post: ‘Around the world in 44 slogans’…

Clip one features some superb folk dancing from Azerbaijan, clip two folk music from Uzbekistan and clip three a wandering blow-up giant with a Cockney accent and a penchant for kissing the ladies – even those holding a video camera.

Azerbaijan folk dance: check out the skipping steps…

Uzbekistan folk musicians: check out the hats…

And finally… a kiss from a wandering giant with a penchant for the ladies.

WTM2009: three firsts and a load of balls

So yesterday I learnt how to use a Flip – an indepth 30-second lesson conducted by Pete on the 45 bus into town (yes it really is that easy). And today I shot my first proper video and just now did my first bit of video editing in iMovie (not so easy, found it a bit finicketty) and uploaded to YouTube (Vimeo logins disabled).

Fortunately there are plenty of random scenes to shoot at the first day at World Travel Market 2009 and while I didn’t spot any crazy folk dancing, there were some top footie skills going on at the WTM entrance, promoting sports tourism to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. So here’s the results – enjoy 40 seconds of some pretty neat ballplay.

More tomorrow…

WTM and a new business model for travel journalism

wtm_30_yrs_cmykLater today I’m off to my fourth World Travel Market, held annually at London’s Excel every November. Around 50,000 travel industry people attend each year. In 2008, 187 countries and regions set out their stall, filling up 43,000 sq m of space. Last year there were stage shows featuring folk dancing from Kazakhstan, Thai massages on the Thailand stand, saki hour via Japan, Uri Geller breaking spoons with his mind on the Israel stand, and so on. This year, no doubt, there’ll be more of the same and on the same grand scale for although it’s a trade-only show, I think is the third largest show currently held in the UK, behind the Motor and Home Show.

This is the second vast conference I’ve attended this year. The first one was SXSW Interactive, a five-day event on all things interwebbie, in Austin, Texas – I tried to blog about my SXSWi but most of it remains in my head. Will see what stories WTM 2009 throws up.

If you’re going to WTM, and would like to meet, the best way to make contact with me is via Twitter: @fionacullinan. I’ll be checking it and tweeting from it throughout Monday and Tuesday.

My plan for Monday press day is:

  • 10-11 WTM Forecast Forum
  • 10.30 Maldives press conference
  • 12-1 Korea Tourism Org wine/buffet lunch (Novotel)
  • 1-2 Rezidor Hotel Group press reception
  • 3.30 US Travel Association
  • 4 Wandering!
  • 6 Sri Lanka press reception
  • Eve: Travtweetup, WTM Special

My plan for Tuesday seminar day is:

  • 11-12 Innovative Travel Marketing in a recession
  • 12 Irish stew on the Ireland stand
  • 12.30-1.30 Content matters
  • 2 Wandering again.
  • 4.30 Technology and Online Travel drinks reception
  • Eve: Travel Blog Camp.

Sometimes schedules go astray and I’m happy for this to happen in the accelerated serendipitous environment of a digital WTM. Because the other main reason I’m attending WTM is to put myself out there for blogging work, either corporate blogging or creating content for tourist boards and travel companies. I’ve been doing this for a large non-travel organisation on the subjects of innovation and entrepreneurship but would love to do it in the sector I’m passionate about and to combine it with my love of digital content.

WTM tip: find good writers
In the WTM PR manual there’s a tip sheet for companies to get the most out of WTM. Point 5 says this:

Get good writers and PR people onboard
It makes sense to get great story writers and PR people on board – preferably individuals who have previous experience working with travel products and who know your target media. The more professional in your approach, the more professional you will appear to the press.

Twice in the last year, I’ve been told by leading travel editors that there is no longer a freelance budget for travel articles. Well, it was hard enough to make a decent income from travel writing before. Now it seems impossible. The newspaper industry is still where PRs are concentrating their efforts and, increasingly, ‘influential’ travel bloggers – neither of which offers much of a business revenue model for the travel journalist.

A future travel journalist business model?
But I think PRs (and travel companies and travel journalists) are missing a trick. With traditional outlets shrinking, there is a market for creating content direct for the companies and tourist boards. They need someone (a digital journalist would make sense!) to tell their own stories and put them out there to be picked up directly by prospective clients, by editors and by search engines.

They need to, as WTM suggests, find good writers to tell these stories for them and put together a package of content that helps a prospect decide whether they want to visit that destination or book that tour – essentially, write, photograph and video the kind of things a travel journalist would research as a matter of course, adding value to their offering by being useful to the client. And why restrict this content to the occasional press article; why not magnify your offering by hosting them on your own travel sites. If they are good, other sites and blogs will link to them.

For more information on this, check out my comments on where travel journalists might progress to on Travel Blather’s post about paid for content and objectivity. It’s not that I’m giving up on ‘objective’ travel writing for print, just trying to find a new ways to work, because increasingly the old ways aren’t working.

Eh voila. C’est tout. Off to learn how to use a Flip camera now. See you at WTM.