Here’s a roundup of the articles I wrote upon our return to South Africa:
South Africans rock Texas — a detailed report-back on the trip, published in the May edition of Brainstorm magazine.
Crowdsourcing startup investments — A report for ITWeb on South Africa’s own contribution to SxSW.
Tapping the crowd for start-up funding — published on TechCentral.
An update on Eve Dmochowska’s venture gives me considerable pleasure: as you can see on the CrowdFund website, the target of R1 million in pledges has been exceeded, with more than 350 individual investors wanting to get involved in projects to be funded by the CrowdFund.
Austin, it was a truly great experience. Provided we can raise the funding for the trip, we’ll certainly be back next year, in numbers.Read More
Jeff Sass: hearing & listening
Social media is not an industry, just like word processing is not an industry. Social media is not a way to shout, it’s a way to listen. Transparency goes both ways. If someone thinks your product sucks, you’re going to hear about it, and more importantly, everyone else will hear about it.
There are tools to help you focus. You can search using keywords, using hashtags, and in real time. The fact that you can do all this listening in real time changes the way you think about things, and think about your customers. You can find the people who are really interested in your product. If you’re a movie studio, and you can get feedback on opening night, it can affect how you market it the next day. If you can listen and hear in real time, your whole sales pitch changes.
Social media also affects how you engage your customers. You can engage one-to-one. If you’re the CEO of a company, or a customer service rep, it doesn’t matter. You can step into the conversation at any time, and do so whenever, wherever you want. That kind of direct feedback is invaluable. When you do that on a regular basis, it changes the vendor-client relationship. Your customer feels like they can influence what you’re doing. They can become an army of evangelists, marketing your product for you.Read More
Jeff Pulver: We’re getting to a state of hyper-connectivity. You’ve learnt more about people you don’t care about than about your family and friends. All of the audience active on Twitter as we speak.
It was three years ago, at SxSW, the community discovered Twitter. For a few days this year, something strange happened. Twitter became less relevant to the community that made it happen. Foursquare and Gowalla took over the need to tweet where you are, where you’re not, where you need to be. Being able to see where your friends are changes the game.
It’s not that a connected group of people like cool new toys. Location based services are coming of age. For years, telcos and consumer device makers wanted people to use location-based services, and it’s always been a #fail. But now, when you can layer all this information together, location, mood, commentary, the ability to have real-time information where the gatekeepers are gone… Two earthquakes ago, it took 40 minutes between the first report on Twitter, and it appearing on news.google.com. Guess where you wanted to be if you’re into financial arbitrage? You can be ahead of the market by aggregating information from classified ads, for example. You can take advantage of the real-time web and take advantage of events before they are reported.
We had a conference when the Iran elections took place. It was weird to see people turn up wearing green. Nobody asked the Iranians to tweet their dissidence. It just happened, and connected people, and started conversations. There was real value in that.
What companies need to understand is that behind every tweet, there’s a person. When I was young, I used WA2POT as my social media handle, on amateur radio. That was a platform to reach out, and we were very active during emergencies to pass traffic. Recently in Haiti, ham radio did a great deal to help finding out what was happening, and coordinating early response. There was a Doctors Without Borders plane that had to land, and they needed to get hold of the US Air Force, so I retweeted Ann Curry’s call, and I got a response within a minute. Since when do you get an instance response from a government agency like that? An hour later, that plane was in Haiti. So, since the US Air Force is following me, I invited them to my next conference. Are they here? Yeah? Give them a round of applause. (Glad to help, says US Air Force guy from the back.)
This kind of stuff is game-changing. Forget the business models. It changes lives. I’ve met so many people with unique and amazing stories like that.
Twitter kids of Tanzania
Stacey Monk, Melissa Leon & AJ Leon. Got @mamalucy to tweet from Tanzania to tell her story, and build a school in her area. From eight kids, she now has 400 kids at the school.
@gideon_gidori is one of those kids. He tweets: @StaceyMonk Wow, that is great the whole world this is like a dream!!!!!
@leah_albert is another one, asking people to share whatever they’re grateful for. If you respond, you can donate. If you donate, you get your Twitter handle added to the Thank You wall at the school. “This classroom was built by gratitude.” Amazing story, helping kids build their own schools.
@carren_martin i lost my mom when I was in 4th grade. ppl can’t make the hurt go away, but it will in time. — sent by someone who shared her experience.
Melissa Leon: We started with this social media curriculum in New York City. We realised they important thing was not to teach the kids to use Twitter, but to really understand what they were doing.
The first experience of those kids in Arusha, Tanzania, was to get responses from kids in the United States. It blew them away. It changed their lives. The kids, for them to be able to speak and be heard and tell their story is just magical.
AJ Leon: It changes how they think about themselves and their place in the world. Mama Lucy created an oasis for these rural kids online. They get transported through conversations to the States, Europe — places they couldn’t dream of going physically.
Melissa: You really give kids an opportunity to share, and connect.
AJ Leon: There were kids who were shy, because they stuttered, and they turned to tweeting their questions in class to a live Twitterfall. There are people doing the same in India, the Phillipines. They’re using the technology not just to raise funds, but to amplify their voices. Even in the outskirts of Arusha, there’s internet access through Zain. It’s crappy, by our standards, but it works.
Audience guy: I grew up in Tanzania, and have been looking for a way to get back. This just gave me an idea how I can do that.
Nicole Kelly: Do you think those kids can use this and get opportunities to get out of their poverty?
Stacey: Every point of human connection is such an opportunity.
The kids have 12 laptops, and a local ISP account.
AJ Leon: Get involved. Tweet with them. They’ll do a lot more for you than you can do for them. [Twitter list to follow]
I started tweeting three years ago. I’m @marlooz. I met this guy online, and he was kinda cute. So I asked him out. @gabemac was the lucky guy. We live-streamed our first date. He asked me out with a link on Google Maps. We were both geeks. Two hundred people watched our date. The whole idea was that it was an interactive date. They got to ask questions. I got to ask all these questions that I couldn’t have asked otherwise. One of my followers called the restaurant and told them to get us a drink. Then the restaurant told us we had to stop filming. Now nobody goes to the restaurant anymore. It’s a year later, and we’re not in a relationship, but we are roommates. There’s a sign in our room: anything you say and do can and will be used for entertainment. It was Twitter love. Sharing it with all our followers.
Another Love 2.0 story: I lost my laptop once. It was my baby. I couldn’t afford a new one. So I tweeted that I was freaking out. @idsedepree tweeted that if all my followers gave me a Euro, I could buy a new one. Michiel Berger started the hashtag #dontloozeit. And people all over started donating, and in 8 hours, they’d raised €1800. I cried harder that people thought I should have a new laptop so I could carry on tweeting, than for losing my old laptop.
I’m going to go on another Twitter date. I auctioned myself for a Haiti charity. I am worth $200. I’ll live-stream this one too.
Other #140conf notes
Celebrities on Twitter. One challenge is what Pulver calls “fourstalking”. Location-based services have implications that digital producers have to grapple with. (This doesn’t go only for celebrities, of course. It’s a serious issue.)Read More
South Africans out on the town for sight-seeing, food and music. Austin is a lively town, with great music and excellent food. And horses.Read More
I wasn’t the only one to aggregate funny tweets. And this list, on Silicon Valley Insider, includes one of mine.Read More
Call it cognitive dissonance. Or dissociative absurdity. Umair Haque might have called it “interesting”. If there was one presentation, tweeted one disgruntled attendee, that needed a backchannel on-screen, this was it.
Half an hour before the “keynote interview” with Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, the queue stretched the length of the Austin Convention Center. Along with a row of other bescarved South Africans, I find myself front and centre, in row seven. We’re excited to be there. There are half a dozen other large ballrooms to which @ev is being broadcast. All networks – wi-fi, 3G, GSM, the works – are heavily overloaded. The expectation is palpable as the huge hall fills to capacity.
Then Umair Haque of Harvard Business Review walked in, with his interviewee, and the afternoon went pear-shaped.
It started well, with an announcement by Williams of a new product for content publishers which allows them to integrate Twitter tools better with their websites. These tools open in a floating box, and allow readers to easily log in, or follow writers or topics, directly from the byline or keyword. It’s useful to Twitter users, because it makes discovery and connection easier. As a revenue generating model, it will not impose advertising on Twitter users, which is promising.
The lesson Williams says he learnt from Twitter is that your initial assumptions are almost always wrong, so you have to be willing to experiment and correct errors and move on. This goes as much for the product, which was forged more by its openness to users, and how developers adapted it to specific purposes, as for the business model. The openness of Twitter (as opposed to mere transparency, when users can look but not touch), is a survival mechanism.
That was, said Haque, interesting. So were all the rest of the platitudes that he set Williams up for. This wasn’t William’s fault, of course. But Haque looked unprepared, and much too often fell back on self-absorbed musing about how the latest interesting comment related to something he had recently written about.
Occasionally, Williams made an impression, such as when he related the e-mail from someone in Chile who’d used Twitter during the aftermath of the recent earthquake, and was very grateful for its existence. “We’re living terrible days after the earthquake, and thanks to Twitter, we can find people, help people, spread warnings…”
He added that it had always been Twitter’s goal to reach the least connected in the world, which is why the SMS channel remains key to its strategy. “This is why SMS is still important, and we’re seeing strong growth in places like India, where SMS is ubiquitous, and we’re hearing back from these regions that it’s of tremendous value to them.”
However, the interviewer let down the audience badly. He seem ill-prepared, and entirely unable to engage even Williams, let alone the audience. In my notes, I described him as “[I]nept. He waffles, he repeats what Williams has already said, and he finds everything an interesting point.” “He is so pompous,” said my neighbour. “Evan Williams #SXSW keynote boring — can haz better, less pompous interviewer?” agreed @planettroy on the back channel.
The exodus started. One wag posted to Twitter: “The queue to get out was longer than the queue to get in.”
“Should have kept the #mondaykeynote to 140 characters,” chirped @zuno. And @mikeminer: “Every time the moderator says ‘let me talk for a minute about. . .’ a baby angel dies in heaven.” Added @chrisbergman: “Score. Just saw @guykawasaki walk out on the #mondaykeynote Guess he has betterness figured out.”
Yup, Haque talked for a minute about something he calls “betterness”.
I didn’t fly 48 hours to Texas to be insulted by an interviewer who didn’t prepare for a keynote. I got up from front and centre, and joined the throng at the door.
Says @stitchmedia: “#mondaykeynote w/ @ev is being called a trainwreck. I can assure you it wasn’t. Trainwrecks keep my eyes open, this did not.”
Leslie Jensen-Inman, whom I met shortly afterwards, described it the best: “The #mondaykenote is like the Titanic. The moderator is the iceberg and everyone is running for the life boats.”
Kawasaki, hosting a panel of his own immediately afterwards, began: “My name is Guy Kawasaki and I have an extensive vocabulary and no affiliation with Harvard.”
This is an object lesson on so many levels. If you’re moderating, engage the audience, and stop talking about yourself for a minute. If you’re on stage, ignore the back channel at your peril. And if you’re going to address an audience of thousands, many of whom travelled far to get there, and queued for an hour in the hope of not being relegated to one of the half-dozen overflow halls, have the common courtesy to prepare, rehearse and put on something that’s worth the (very expensive) price of admission. A modern audience will not have the common courtesy to stay put and show respect you have not earned.
To Evan Williams’s credit, this is how he responded: “@ev: I heard on the backchannel that people want me to answer tougher questions. What’ya want to know? Will answer 10. Go.
That earns respect. But don’t ever inflict Umair Haque on us again, m’kay?Read More