Entries from March 2010 ↓

Rethinking Blogger

I have mentioned many times that I have a thing for blogging. I spend time here, I spend time on my kid blogs and I spend time encouraging a lot of other people to use blogs to reawaken their conversational writing voice. A while back I used to encourage newbies to blogging to hop into Blogger. It was simple, intuitive and it helped people who have a fear of online tools get the job done without needing to ask me many questions.

But in the last few years, I’ve started encouraging more people to use WordPress.com and those who are willing to purchase server space of their own, I send them down the WordPress.org path. (The difference? The .com version is hosted by WordPress and it isn’t as customizable or as easily tinkered. The .org version gives you total control of the look and content you place inside the blog system.) I get a few more questions when my colleagues, students and friends use WordPress, but it’s become an industry standard in some ways. I don’t want my friends and students to miss out the knowledge of using a tool that is helpful in their careers.

But after SXSW, I’m starting to think a little differently. I was walking around the Google booth on the trade floor and started talking to the cool folks that work in Google-land. First I explained to the woman working at Google Voice how my whole brand (@jenleereeves) is based on the Gmail I picked up back in 2004. I also explained how Google Voice has changed my entire life workflow. (I actually return calls… I was terrible about that before that time.) Then I walked over to the Blogger guy thinking it wouldn’t be much of a conversation… but then he shows me this:

I looked at him and said: “When did Google start thinking about Blogger? I might actually recommend this again.”

Why is the new version of Blogger so cool? The design is customizable in ways I’ve never seen in a blog tool. You can change the width of the main section and the sidebars. You can choose how the widgets will look and where you can place the elements. You can even add static pages – which I really love with my WordPress sites.

I might have to answer a few more questions when someone builds a Blogger blog and uses some of the extra features, but I won’t mind helping. I’m curious to see what can come out of the new version. If you want to check it out, visit Blogger in Draft (http://draft.blogger.com). You can sign in with your normal old blogger accounts that you left a while ago and tinker around with those sites. That’s what I did!

Bringing Twestival to #CoMo

A little more than a year ago I stumbled into an event called Twestival. It’s a social media-based international event that raises money for a good cause. Last year it raised money for an international charity called charity:water and this year it raised (and continues to raise) money for Concern Worldwide. When I first read about it a year ago, I knew my small community of Columbia, Missouri needed to join. I’ve used Twitter for a long time in this community (at least long for mid-Missouri – I joined in June 2007 and quit and then rejoined in October 2007). Many of the Twitter users were trying to get me to create a meetup in town so we could meet face to face. So that pressure convinced me to put it together. In 2009, I had two weeks and coordinated it solely over Twitter. This year I had more time and had a group of students and a local supporter of bringing Google Fiber into our town to help make this event shine.

I sat down with the owner of one of my favorite restaurants, Shakespeare’s Pizza, and got his permission to host the event in the back room. I got to explain how Twestival is really just a chance to hang out and have fun. I got the thumbs up and had a chance to move forward with looking for donations. We were lucky to raffle off a Nexus One phone, hand out a door prize of a Wii gaming system and a number of other items donated by local businesses. With the help of word of mouth, social media and a couple of mentions of the event on TV, we had an amazing turnout. Kids were playing Wii. Little kids could watch DVDs while the adults and big kids got to hang out, talk and enjoy pizza. We had so many people, we ran out of name tags and I had someone go out to get more! We didn’t set a fundraising goal for Twestival, but I think it exceeded our expectations. We raised $735! Last year was just under $300 so we made a huge jump. I also think this was the first time I really saw a big variance of attendees for a social media meet up. It wasn’t just coders and college students. We had parents, business owners, employees of local businesses, college students, coders, professors and members of the media (covering the event and not covering the event). I’m proud to see how mid-Missouri’s social media culture has expanded in a year. I can’t imagine how big a party we’ll have next year!

(Thanks to Justin Willett/@willettjf for the Twestival picture. I was so busy I forgot to take pictures!)

Putting a brand into games

So I’ve already proved I really like Foursquare. I joined in on the fun the moment I could… But not long after that I started hearing rumbles about Gowalla.

My initial reaction was

“Wow. They have cool graphics but I can’t join in on another location-based game. I’m a busy person.”

But as I got closer to SXSW Interactive, I decided I should at least check it out since there was a party during the conference. On its face value the fun is collecting stamps for various locations in your town and earning pins in a “passport” that tracks your activities. When compared to Foursquare, Gowalla is a lot stricter about your check in location. There’s no fudging and checking in after you’ve left the location. And randomly you pick up “items.” They’re little graphics of things like cowboy hats, running shoes and coffee cups. I didn’t understand the point for a while. I’ll explain it in a moment.

When you play Gowalla, you get a pin for creating location and founding locations. A founder is a person who takes one of those “items” and leaves in a location. Here’s how it works. Say you checked into work and you decided to drop a cowboy hat into the location. If another person checked into the location, they could swap the item and/or drop an item. A founder helps extend the game in that location.

So trading little items sounds silly, right? Well, what if those items were cool things like coupons or discounts for businesses? What if you didn’t want one of those items and wanted to trade with a fellow Gowalla users?

Here’s my story. One morning of the SXSW conference I was talking to a person I had just met about Gowalla. He mentioned he didn’t understand the point of the items. So I offered him my item that was a One Taco coupon. Yup. I had an item that allowed me to go to the One Taco truck, show the item and an employee would hit the “redeem” button. (I took a great screen shot of it on my phone… But I dropped the phone in an Austin cab. It’s sad that the thing that bothers me most about losing my phone is the various Gowalla screenshots I had on that phone. Gone!) I convinced my new friend to check into our location, I dropped the taco coupon and he was able to trade out one of his items for the coupon. He was free to enjoy a taco when he was hungry.

Social sharing with a location based phone game? That’s cool.

But I haven’t even talked about my favorite location-based element of Gowalla. It’s called trips. When I got to the Austin Convention Center for the first day of the conference, it was a beautiful day and my friends and I had a few hours before any of the sessions started. We decided to give a Gowalla walking tour a try. It was a chance to see spots in Austin that we had never seen before.

As we walked, we took pictures and checked into additional locations in the city for the fun of it. We saw neat spots and had a great time. When we returned to the conference center, my team of three were honored to become the first people to complete the walking tour! Our Gowalla passports earned a Chevy Walking Tour pin and we even won little Chevy Hot Wheels cars. It was fun and we had a chance to see portions of the city that we would never see without Gowalla. I talked to a member of the Chevy team who grew up in Austin. He said that was exactly what he had hoped to do with the walking tour. He picked spots that a regular tourist would miss.

That’s when I started thinking about journalism. Why shouldn’t newsrooms get involved? So here’s what my newsroom is working on: We are working on a New To Columbia Trip. (I’m thinking about calling it the Noobie CoMo Tour.) A person who is new to town will get all of the locations that are worth visiting. Once a person checks into all of the locations, they will earn a Columbia Local pin and feel a lot more knowledgeable about their new town. What if I took it up another notch and added hidden QR Codes to give the noobie a chance to learn more facts about the location.

I realize there are dozens of location-based tools that are emerging, but since I work in a newsroom with a small budget for online innovation, I’m excited to play with games and tools people are already using. The depth of Gowalla is a lot of fun and I look forward to finding new ways to enjoy the game and insert my newsroom’s content in fun ways.

Location and community

A year ago when I went to South by Southwest I heard about this thing called Foursquare. It was all about checking in at various locations from your phone. I looked at it online and didn’t join in on the fun since Foursquare wasn’t happening in my town. It seemed like a lot of work for something I couldn’t actually play.

But that changed in January when it opened up to everywhere. So I jumped in feet first. Why? Because I was curious. And after I added locations and checked in during a busy day or three, I was quickly a points leader and a mayor of every location I visit the most (work, preschool, elementary school, grocery story, ect.). Silly and fun right? There didn’t seem to be too much of a point beyond competing with my fellow community members.

I’m having fun and when I have fun in social media, I start looking for ways to bring a newsroom to the fun. How can KOMU join in? Well, with Foursquare, you can leave tips for people who check in nearby locations. For example, Columbia has a well-known restaurant that burned down a few years ago. It was rebuilt and looks almost the same except for the patio on the roof and the lack of a very old cigarette smell that always lingered. It would be cool for our newsroom to leave tips like that around town. The newsroom could encourage a local swarm. That’s when 50 people get together in the same locations and check in with Foursquare. You get a badge in honor of that experience.

(By the way, there was a SXSW badge that required 250 checkins. I got it at my first conference party) Businesses have had a lot of success with coordinated swarms. Why not a newsroom-sponsored swarm. Meet people from the newsroom! Get to know members of the community. Sounds great to me. I also like seeing how a number of companies are teaming up with Foursquare for brand-specific badges… Including Starbucks, Bravo and even the city of Chicago.

I clearly like it… and I see great potential here. And I’m obviously a Foursquare addict. But during my time at SXSW, I found some awesome ideas for Gowalla – another location-based game. I’ll blog about that next. But I figure I’ll stop this rant and take a break!

Can a village find a phone?

I decided to ask that question in honor of Clay Shirky who had wonderful things to say during the SXSW 2010 conference. On my last day attending SXSW, I decided to go on an impromptu trip to a cowboy store to buy hats for my kids. During that trip, my iPhone dropped out of my pocket and onto the floor of an Austin Yellow Cab. Bummer.

My friend and I called the company and were told that maybe I’d hear from them in a week.


I guess I could have gotten really upset, but I’m lucky to connect my phone through MobileMe. I complain about the $99/a year but it’s suddenly worth it since a lot of the information I had inside that phone is also available online and in my personal computer. I lost photos from SXSW. I lost great notes I had taken in my little iPhone notes section. (Hey MobileMe – could you sync that too someday?) It’s just technology, right? My friends and family are way more important. What hit me in the face was how I don’t have the funding to get a new phone.

So I started a crusade in honor of Shirky. In his first chapter of Here Comes Everybody, titled “It Takes a Village to Find a Phone” he explains how a woman in New York City got her phone back from a teenager thanks to an organic online uprising of pressure that saved the day. I realize I may not have a good enough story to get an entire city to support my error. But it was worth a try. So, during my last night in Austin, I launched I Lost My iPhone @ SXSW (or http://sxswlostphone.com). I wanted to share my story, explain why I really need my phone back and see if I could awaken enough of the SXSW village to help me out.

So I tweeted about it just before I disconnected and drove to the airport. I noticed a few retweets almost immediately. My first came from Ryan Sholin (thanks Ryan).

I hopped into a car toward the airport completely disconnected and hoped for the best.

Disconnected is something I should do more often. I look more people in the face. I actually bumped into people I knew at the airport without needing phone connections (of course they happened to read my Facebook and knew I’d be in the airport disconnected – so they kind of looked around for me).

Right before hopping on board my first plane, I decided to log into the wireless on my computer and started a Twitter campaign: @sxswlostphone. It was worth a try, right? It also made it easier for me to send people to the website URL. It doesn’t have many followers but it gave me a way to drone on about my lost phone somewhere other than my @jenleereeves Twitter page. Sure, I’ve retweeted most of the @sxswlostphone posts… But I kind of feel better separating the two.

In the end, did I find my phone? No. But it was an efficient way to get the word out that I’d be tricky to find for a few days. I currently found my old 1G iPhone (you know, the original that was 4gigs) and I’m trying to get it to connect to my iTunes and actually work. (I snagged a new SIM card from AT&T) I’m hoping to save up some money to get a real replacement. I honestly don’t have the money so I started a little crowdfunding experiment with my Facebook friends. I’m collecting $.50 per friend I can see face to face (because Paypal charges wouldn’t lead to much of a collection). It feels a little wrong… but with the healthcare expenses in my personal world and an already expensive year due to fun trips, I thought I’d give it a try.

Thanks to the many people who have checked in to see if I found my phone and the amazing number of people who were just curious about what the heck I was doing with this little Shirky-esque campaign.

The high and low tech of SXSWi

I’m just wrapping up my stay in Austin after almost a full week of geeking it up with some of the most amazing minds in the world during the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference. I had a chance to mingle with people from thousands of different interests and niches. This wasn’t just a conference with journalists. This wasn’t just a conference with coders, or marketers or promoters or CMS designers or graphic artists or people who are Internet famous. They were all there… along with so many other people.

My big take away from this HUGE experience is there are so many things happening in different niches… But there is a similar conversation.  (You can see the list of all of the panels here) I took the advice of Thom Singer who told a small group of people at the start of the SXSW Interactive conference to make sure we spread out and speak to people outside our circles. I did just that. I went beyond my comfort zone of journalists and journalism researchers. I went beyond marketing professionals. I met people who are a part of the Open Source movement, bartenders, event planners, members of startups… I could go on and on. I met people randomly in lines, in the hallway and at a couple of social hang out spots on the first floor of the conference center.

I also had a few ways to meet people thanks to a little pre-planning. I brought a power strip and plugged it in as often as possible to keep my iPhone charged (I was obsessively playing around with Foursquare and Gowalla). Any time a person plugged into my power strip, I asked for one thing – to have that person introduce themselves to me. I didn’t require a card swap or official networking. But I did at some point decide to declare a hashtag in honor of some cool people plugging in: #powerfriends. It was silly, but I had suddenly discovered a new way to network with people. Less pressure, but we could easily find one another if we followed the hashtag. Silly? Maybe. But I met people who may want to chat with me again some day. (Including @schneidermike who I met randomly and shared a Gowalla OneTaco coupon with)

I met people I’d known a long time but never in person (@JessicaKnows) and got to know people who I’d seen in passing on the Internet but I didn’t really know how great they were until I saw them in person (@gawthrok, @jodiontheweb) and I got the meet some really wonderful new friends (including @inmikeswords, @moniguzman and @bradflora). And beyond that, I saw people I adore and have met at conferences and through the Internet before. (That list would go on and on)

I learned a lot of things in panels and outside of panels. But in the end, while some people say SXSW stunk, I think it’s a once a year event I hope I don’t miss. The opportunities for random meetings and discussions are unlike any other conference or meetup. It’s the low tech side of SXSW that wins me over. All of the face-to-face meetings mean the world to me.

Expect a number of postings where I hope to brain dump ideas and thoughts. But I wanted to summarize the experience itself before I start on my ideas.

Here are a few pictures to share from the fun and nerdiness of it all:

Gearing up for SXSWi

I’m getting ready to head out of town again… It’s been a busy month. But this time around I’m heading to a mecca of new media/social media/technology minds. I went to SXSW for the first time last year and I learned SO much about the experience. If you ever have a chance to attend a conference this large, there are a few things you need to do:

1) Prepare your schedule. The trip won’t go exactly as planned, but knowing which sessions to attend will keep you motivated to wake up on time each morning. It will also help you with conversations when you meet new people. (“What session are you attending?” “Oh! I hadn’t thought about going to that event. Let’s meet up afterward and compare notes”) SXSW has great tools to help conference attendees keep up with the full schedule. I used a few mobile tools last year and it’s the only way I was able to keep up with it all.

2) Meet new people. There are so many people from so many different industries that attend this conference. Most events I attend are for journalists. SXSWi (which is short for South by Southwest Interactive) is a space for anyone with interest in interactive media. There are so many minds and products out there that you may have never thought could be useful for your profession. I learned a ton last year. Yes, I ended up meeting a lot of journalists, but I met others from marketing and software organizations that I would have never known met without this conference.

3) Socialize inside and outside the conference. SXSW is in Austin, Texas – a mecca for entertainment. There are amazing social events where I met and spoke to people I would have never met in conference sessions. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have fun, meet new people and pass those business cards around.

4) Follow up. I am terrible with this. I race home and spend time sharing the information I gathered from SXSW, but I didn’t sit down and contact each person I met. I wish I had. I’m actually planning on attending a session that may give me better tips on following through with the follow up.

I’m lucky to be connected to the Missouri School of Journalism and its many alumni. There’s a small gathering I’m planning while I take part in SXSW to give the Mizzou connections a chance to chat. I’ve found any opportunity that puts me in a different city, I have a great reason to bring alumni together.

By the way – I just stumbled onto this link about SXSW food. Yum.