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Interactive Action at SXSW 2007


Having attended more technology oriented conference than I care to remember, because many were not that memorable, I have to say that I was wise to expand my typically music oriented focus for the annual SXSW attendance. Whether you own a music label, a magazine, or an online presence of any kind, the interactive world will affect what you do and how you do it.

The other benefit of attending an interactive conference that also involves film and music, is you get a slightly bent version of the dry, suit-version of your de facto standard presentation.

Case in point: How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0, presented by the dapper, dry wit of Jeremy Keith and Andy Budd (from Here That in Brighton, U.K.), both web designers and developers who obviously have experience with sometimes ludicrous things clients ask for and those who also try to sell them the latest fluff. The point was point fun at all this while also trying to learn a numerous array of skills, both in the cubical world and on the street.

 They started off with a social lesson for all the geeks in the audience that may not have known that this was actually a music conference. In the way you bluff your way to all the cool people and parties, you can use that skill to bluff your way in web 2.0 by using a lot of big words, which were provided by their review of buzzwords. Since most people don’t know what the hell 2.0 is anyway, they’ll agree and nod as if you’re brilliant. It’s the classic business bullshit move.

A number of definitions were thrown up on the screen, but the overall favorite created by Andy some years ago was, “It’s a state of mind. It’s a zen thing. The sound of hand clapping.

So to be accepted in the Web 2.0 clique, some of the buzzwords included one of my favorites, “leverage,” which I personally heard quite a bit when I lived and workd in Silicon Valley. It was in a sense, the butt of many jokes.

Helping you to get into the “in” crowd, go on eBay or to your local thrift store to buy up conference or Web 2.0 related T-shirts. Or better yet, make your own Web 3.0 T-shirts and talk about how Web 2.0 is “so last year.”

The poking continued, including how design seems to take priority over function, like the use of reflection images or 3D logos that don’t transfer over to different mediums. Many clients are beginning to ask for Web 2.0 websites without really knowing what the hell that means. But they think it will keep them ahead of the competition. It’s both a joke and a reality.

The duo continued their hosting of fun events at their “The Great British Booze-up” at Lava Lounge, which provided good eating and plenty of booze to go around. I dug up a video version of the presentation if you want to check it out for yourself – Keith and Budd have appeared at SXSW before, and after another round of success with this presentation, I expect that they’ll be a pick on the list for 2008.

As one who runs what I call an online magazine, I felt intrigued to find out what my future was. The first thing I heard at The Future of the Online Magazine was that I have it all wrong. I guess, according to the panelist, it was archaic to use the term online magazine. But Sean Mills, president of The Onion, said the alternative was branded content channel. “Yuck. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?” Yes. I agree.

The banter between Mills and Rufus Griscom, CEO of Nerve Media, got the most laughs, and jokes flew back and forth between the two like a ball at Wimbledon. Although each of the business owners, including Rick Van Veen from, Laruel Touby of, and Joan Walsh of, each had their own business models, they did agree that user generated content and video content were on the rise with no expectation of slowing down.

But I already knew that. And from the looks of those in the audience, most others did as well.

This panel took the silver for entertainment value, but didn’t place for any medal as far as tapping into any kind of business crystal ball.

The real lessons were learned at Online Publishers and Advertising, which delved into the current aspects of online advertising, including what to look for from the ad network channel and how to go about setting up your site not only for SEO, but for contextual advertising. You know, those ads on the side of the page that are making millions for lone site owners each month.

When you’re going that route, Justin Ward, editor of, gives his pointers on using feedburner ad network, which offers a number of free publisher tools, including:

– Tracking metrics and stats on RSS feed
– Seeing full view of audience through free tools
– Service display and text based advertising

Optimizing your site to pull contextual advertising works very similar to SEO, and in that way, it’s a good idea to include full text links instead of embedding links. Or if you do, title those embedded links with keywords that match that of the page’s content. To learn more about contextual advertising, Ward suggests going to the website,

Patrick McCarthy from Right Media pulled up as an example of how an ad exchange platform works. He explained how:
– This platform enables advertisers and ad tech providers to trade ad impressions through the web application
– Ads are bought and traded for publishers in order to monetize their inventory, which helps publishers to determine which ad solution will pay the best
– This technology helps to optimize results by tracking what other ad networks are paying, then seeing if someone in THEIR ad network will pay more (pay 75 cents for 75% of inventory versus 25 cents on ValueClick)
– The advantage is, when your content is more focused you’re going to get better CPMs than with contextual advertising

In the end, it’s not just apples and oranges. It can be chicken, steak, or a baked potato. It really depends on the focus of your site and the level of traffic you have now or desire to have in the future.

With Dakota, it really comes down to how much undersold inventory you have and how much volume your site generates (200-300K impressions a day). To reach your goals, you may want to segregate your content to focus on specific vertical advertisers.

Right Media works with any size website, and is geared for those who are having difficulty monetizing their ad inventory. Whereas Feedburner focuses on a highly engaged audience, one where RSS subscribers are actively interested in receiving that content, the site’s traffic is being driven through search, which in the end allows brand advertisers to engage with that audience.

Questions I had that were left unanswered were:
– How do the ad feeds work with a open source content management system like Joomla?
– Can you feed contextual ads to certain parts of your page and not on the index page?
– If you’re tracking user activity, even though it is anonymous, how do you write your privacy policy around that? Or is that a non-issue?

At the end of the day, I would try to make my way to the Platinum lounge for the 5pm to 6pm happy hour, which consisted of free beer. Granted, SXSW is not for lack of free beer on every corner, and coming from a higher altitude it takes a lot more of the brew to get us Colorado kids tipsy. But I knew I had many more days ahead of me, since I still had the film and the music festival on the calendar. So for now, I’ll just sip this cold one, rest the bones a bit, and listen to geeky boys and girls bantering about Web 2.0 like real champs.


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