SXSW, in review…

Introduction…

Austin during the day. It’s been a few days since I returned from SXSW. The trip as a whole was wonderful. I enjoy being in Austin no matter the reason; and this trip was particularly rewarding. However, the Interactive Festival itself was less than I had hoped for.

I hoped I would find myself surrounded by scores of seasoned professionals. Rather, I found myself waste deep in blogosphere evangelists. Instead of being excited by the potential to interact with people from all over the industry, I found myself slightly creeped out by hundreds of Apple laptops sending blog updates through the air around me.

The First Day…

SXSW vendors area Jeffrey Zeldman provided my introduction to the event with his keynote. I enjoyed it. From there, many of the panels were very good. I found Digital Convergence in Central Texas to be very informative, although I would have liked a little more time for questions. Social Software and Shades of Trust was probably one of the most technical panels for the entire event, but I felt a bit out of place. Both panels were well done, and got me inspired about the rest of the event.

The Second Day

Mount Bonnell About that time, my significant other showed up. She works in promotions, so we hit Open Source Marketing next. Things started to break down. One of the panelists seemed more like a used car salesman than any kind of information technology professional. Meanwhile, too many questions from the audience were preceded with a discussion of their personal blogs. But, at the very least, there was some value in the panel on the whole.

I was involved in several start-up companies, but I was never involved in investor relations; so we attended the panel on How to Obtain Start-up Funding. The panel was great, but the crowd was so thin. It seemed I’d finally escaped the blogosphere zombies, I guess they’re not interested in business. Anyway, “Social Software” was the whisper on a handful of lips in the room. The panel was one of the best panels we attened. I left feeling excited.

The Third Day

Waterfall Optomistic, we took a bold step and attended a panel with “Blog” in the title. As it turns out, Blogging While Black was full of excellent panelists. I do, however, miss an Internet that seemed to be colorblind. I really enjoyed the days when online characters lacked ethnicity, race, age, or even a face. I suppose those days a long gone, and I think it’s a little sad that the next generation will never get to experience it.

We skipped Anna‘s keynote. We accidently attended Al Franken. I wondered who was trendier.

Design Eye for the Idea Guy was almost good. Somehow I got the impression that it would be a live redesign, not the analysis of a redesign done shortly before the event. Too bad.

Last Day

Fake? We woke up early for the last day, and we raced our ways to the biggest let down of the entire event. I was stoked about a panel called Web Design 2010. I was ready to chew on statistics and hear from educated industry professionals and scholars about the current online trends. I was not impressed. It wasn’t that the panel lacked interesting, talented professionals. Doug Bowman‘s work is a big inspiration to me and I have much respect. Just, somehow, the panel was completely inappropriate for the subject matter.

The moderator’s first question to the panel was simply dumb, “Are Web apps going to happen?” As a developer of Web apps, I was shocked by the question, and more so by the answer, “That depends on how you define Web apps.” There I was, sure that someone had defined the term “Web application” already – silly me. Eris Free dodged the topic with a comment about not having had her coffee. What ultimately followed was a horrid discussion on technology with gross misinformation. Panelists constantly referred to the Internet as the Web. They also referred to network applications as Web apps. It was obvious that the panel lacked having a single software engineer or even so much as a server side programmer. The panel did not seem to understand the basic infrastructure of the World Wide Web much less networks in general.

The panel would have been much better if the subject matter related to topics the panel actually knew a little something about. I felt bad for some of the panelists as they were obviously uncomfortable. More so, I felt really bad for the attendies, as many of them were eagerly learning horrid misinformation. In that regard, I was really upset by the panel. So much so, that I couldn’t address the panelists afterwards, even with my significant other urging me to do so. I feel better knowing I wasn’t the only attendee left disappointed.

After a little venting and cooling, we caught the tail of Remix Culture. Hearing about the world of Creative Commons rocked our socks, too bad we missed the beginning.

We barely managed to dodge Blogging Versus Journalism. Whew!

Lunch Break! We made it back from lunch just in time to slip GearboxSoftware.com in the hat for the Accessibility Shootout. When the panel tore into the first site they picked, I suddenly wanted to take mine out of the hat. It was too late, and I ended up in the spotlight. For the most part, I really enjoyed it. The panel was well informed and really dug into the details of the site – I learned a lot in the process. In the end, they told me I was doing a good job and headed the right direction. Given our target audience, I felt real good about where we were at with accessibility. Before we left, my significant other managed to get an autographed copy of Joe Clark’s new book.

SXSW in Summary…

SXSW was not what I had hoped. I must admit, for a film and music festival, they’ve worked hard to make the Interactive aspect work. However, coming from a technology background, the event wasn’t the focus I was looking for. I feel there is a missed opportunity in Texas for a gathering of information technology and Internet culture specialists.

The Trip in Summary…

Austin at night. The best part of the trip, for me, was catching up with two extremely talented Austin developers, Kirk and Vito. My breif time with each of them provided more depth and insight into our industry than every panel I attended combined. Mixed with a little time spent enjoying Austin with someone I love, and you have a very wonderful trip indeed.

SXSW, here I come…

It snuck up on me a lot faster than I thought it would… I barely finished upgrading our forums to vBulletin in time to go…

Tomorrow morning I’m off to the SXSW Interactive Festival. Many of the interactive panels have sparked my interest including: The New New Economy, Web Design 2010, Digital Convergence In Central Texas, and Open Source Marketing. The interactive segment of the event has really grown since I spoke there in 2001. Even Wired is talking about it.

Time to finish packing and snuggle into bed, the 5 hour drive awaits me in the morning.

Industry Talk: When it’s time to create new jargon.

Every industry has it’s own jargon. It follows that the Internet, and every industry built around it, has it’s own jargon. Jargon develops because early adopters of – something – have to find words to describe the new concepts they discover, learn, or create. I’ve just reached a point where I may need to create another word for our Industry’s jargon.

But first, let me tell a story (warning, I’m about to brag). Around 1998, I “came up with” a term to help me explain part of the website development processes to a client. This term was “Information Architecture“. Later, I continued to use this term while working in a different studio. Sometime after the demise of that studio in 2001, I noticed the term listed in the resume of a fellow x-employee. Not long after this, I started to notice the term used here and there. Finally, I found the term in Wikipedia. If you reference the history of the entry, you’ll see entry was first added as a term in Feb 21, 2003. But it wasn’t until May 25, 2003 that a Web centric definition was added to the entry.

Well, now I am once again looking for a new term. Given the scope and nature of what I’m doing, and more so, what I plan to do at Gearbox, the title “community manager” seems inaccurate. The title implies management over the community itself – the populous. Lately, I’ve been very concerned with the foundation of that community – to be more specific, I’m talking about the software that allows the community to exist. While researching the subject, I found myself looking for an appropriate verbal container for this discipline.

As I pondered a new, more appropriate title – three came to mind:

“Community Designer” in my mind, suggests visual design. Perhaps I have this connotation because I mentally relate to “Web Designer”. That, alone, turns me off on the term.

“Community Architect” initially appealed to me. I connect Architects to buildings, and buildings come together to form cities… and cities hold communities. An artistic touch, so to speak.

“Community Engineer” seems equally satisfying. I think of “software engineers”. While it may not have the same clever community connection that Architect has, it does more technically define the role I’ve visualized.

I’m unaware of any previously defined title, and I see this discipline growing into it’s own all over the Internet. While most companies pile their online communities onto message board software, there exist a wide variety of unique virtual communities. Some of these try something new and different while others just collected a lot of good ideas and mash them together. Once you open the scope of online community up to any Internet technology, the whole idea of what a community really is becomes very broad.

From blogs to games, virtual communities are diverse both in function and in audience. Occasionally, they even have a purpose! How long until an industry evolves around the design of custom communities? Not long, because it’s starting to happen right now.

Now we’re “Building” Communities….

Introduction of a Community Manager

Understanding and developing online communities is, perhaps, the fastest growing concern among Internet professionals today.

I’ve been working as Gearbox Software‘s community manager since July 12th, 2004. My job at Gearbox involves being a liaison between the developer and community as well as managing the development of the community itlsef. With the upcoming launch of Gearbox Software’s first original IP title, Brothers in Arms; we expect massive growth in our community.

Being a developer of popular games, Gearbox has a fast growing community. My challenge is in growing the community larger while maintaining stability, and finding ways for the developer and community to further benefit from each other. Over the past 8 months, I focused on analyzing the current environment and preparing changes to the landscape of Gearbox’s online infrastructure. During this phase, I’ve launched two new tools.

The first tool is an online Developer’s Diary I like to call Gearblogs. The diary was originally launched as a independent site, but will soon be absorbed into the rebuild of Gearbox’s main site. New entries are posted at least once a month, providing original content that gives the community a view inside the culture and business of Gearbox Software.

The second tool is a sub-community known as the Gearbox Fans Nexus. It’s difficult for a busy development shop to stay in touch with a large number of fansites. The Nexus focuses on providing fansite webmasters with information, media, and a line of communication with Gearbox.

Both of these tools are merely stepping stones for a long term plan of community support. The next stone will be laid in the next few weeks when I launch a new primary Web site.

Resort Review: Durango Mountain Resort, CO

4x4 and Chains Only Beyond This Point In January of 2004, my first snowboarding adventure in Colorado took me to a place most commonly known as Purgatory. The park is now officially known by the more conservative name of Durango Mountain Resort. I prefer Purgatory.The town of Durango rests at 6,580 feet. The base elevation of the mountain is 8,793 and the peak reaches up to 10,822 feet. The 1200 acre park has 85 trails and 11 lifts. The park also boasts some nice terrain parks; however, these were closed during our stay.The resort was far less commercial than most of the resorts I’ve visited. My group of 4 ended up staying in an older slope side unit with two beds, a fireplace, and a kitchenette. Room and lift tickets for three days cost us less than $200 per person. This was, by far, the best deal I’ve found at any snow park. We found the resort itself to be more than adequate. While our unit was slightly older, everything was clean and in good repair. We had access to hot tubs as well as an indoor/outdoor heated pool.

Two feet of fresh powder fell the night before we arrived. As we entered the park, a sign read “4×4 and chains only beyond this point”. I was stoked! Inches of snow continued to fall at periodic times during our stay.

The first big day time snow storm lead me and my girlfriend to another good surprise. Being blinded on the mountain and in need of some good goggles, we headed down to the strip of shops at the base of the mountain. Traditionally, mountainside shops tend to be expensive. For about $20 each, we both walked away with a very comfortable pair of good quality goggles. In general, we found all the shops to be fairly well priced. Even better, we found most of the merchants and employees to be very pleasant.

The resort and shops were fantastic, but you probably want to know about the mountain. In short, it’s fantastic. The mountain was huge with a wide variety of trails. I was please to find a wide variety of long runs and various levels of challenge. I was only disappointed by one thing; as I mentioned, the terrain park was closed during our visit. The snow cats were busy building a new park on the front side of the mountain as they flatted out the one in the back. On the other hand, the park was littered with a wide variety of small jibs, jumps, and side trails through the trees.

There is but one more wonderful aspect of Purgatory I’d like to discuss. More so than any other park I’ve ever attended, Purgatory was packed with exceptional riders. Watching the performance of riders with mad skills can make a good trip even better. Given the large number of extremely talented riders, I tend to think Purgatory may have a large local hardcore snowboarding community.

On a scale from 1 to 10, I give it a 9.

Winter Park, Here We Come

My baby surfing the snow... It’s been a long summer, but there’s finally a chill in the air. It’s just about that time again – three weeks from now I will be at Winter Park. I can’t wait!The word on the street says this is going to be “the best snow season in the past 100 years.” That could be what we refer to as advertising, but it seems like we’ve already gotten more snowfall than usual.

Me and my girl will be spending this year’s turkey day on the slopes. As I mentioned, we picked Winter Park. While shopping around, I checked out Purgatory/Durango. Last season, they gave us a killer deal on a little condo that sleeps four. However, with two people going instead of four, Winter Park had the best rates. I got a room for 2 for 4 nights and 2 lift tickets for under $500. I’m excited about checking out Winter Park, I hear it’s one of the best spots in the US for snowboarding. I was also pleased to discover Winter Park is considerably closer to me than Purgatory so I’ll save some money on gas as well.

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

Surfing vs Snowboarding

Me and the girl hidding away in our tent at Padre Island, TX Somehow, when I started a snowboarding site, I knew that some day I’d be discussing surfing. Now that I’ve tried surfing, that time has finally come. I’ve heard many people claim the two are very similar while others claim they’re nothing alike. It’s true that snowboarding and surfing are two totally different experiences but there is a lot of overlap.

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Snowboarding Road Trip Tips

A Snowboarding Road Trip Since there’s not much snow in Texas, most of my snowboarding adventures have been long road trips. After having organized many of these trips, there are many do’s and don’t do’s I’ve learned along the way. I could write a lengthy how-to on the subject, but I’ll try to provide just the highlights.

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Texas Snowboarding

Virtual Snow In Action - Taken from snowflex.com Being from Texas, snowboarding has always meant long trips to somewhere that actually has both mountains and snow. For a long time, I pondered and discussed the idea of an artificial snowboarding surface. In my mind, some kind of little styrofoam balls seemed like the right way to go. Eventually, I caught a reference to artificial turf in a snowboarding magazine – thus confirming that it does indeed exist.Then, while checking out Snowgo, I found my way to this article and eventually to the website for Snowflex. This stuff looks pretty cool. Unlike my idea of lots of tiny balls, these surfaces are more like astroturf with extra padding. According to the article, it doesn’t ride like snow, but it’s “pretty darn close!” It sounds like fun regardless.But that article was about a resort in the UK. I’ve dug around for more info on artificial snow turfs and it seems it isn’t used at all in the US. This is ironic because snowboarding was invented in the US. If I could go to somewhere close and ride a day on artificial turf for a reasonable price, I’m certain I’d be there at least a couple times a month. Does anyone have any investment capitol they need to get rid of?

I tell ya, I’d like to do it… I’d like to bring Snowboarding to Texas!

Resort Review: Angel Fire, NM

Look Mom, No Coat!Most of my snowboarding trips have been to Angel Fire in New Mexico. In fact, it’s the only resort I’ve been to more than once. Obviously, my review is based on limited reference, but I’ll offer what I can.Angel Fire mountain’s base elevation is 8,600 feet and summit is 10,677 feet making for 2,077 feet of vertical drop. There are two high-speed quad lifts, one on the front of the mountain and the other on the back. Lifts run from 9am to 4:30pm (4pm on the back).The resort itself seems rather commercial. Accommodations are, for the most part, rather nice. The pool and hottub are great. The food is decent, but expensive. I’ve heard many people mention AF having the highest food prices of any resort they visited. Lift ticket prices can be a bit stiff as well. During the value seasons, we’ve been able to snag 3 days of lift tickets, lodging, and breakfast for about $300 per person (quad occupancy!). We shaved off a little more by sneaking folks in and putting them on the floor, but lift tickets alone stack up well over $100 for 3 days. Because the value rates include lift tickets, we’ve found that there’s not much money to be saved by staying at other lodging unless you’ve got a pretty big group. That is, unless you own an RV – you can get an RV hook up pretty cheap (less than $15 a night IIRC).The mountain can be fantastic when there’s snow on the ground. Unfortunately, being so far south, Angel Fire frequently has issues with lack of snow or poor quality snow. More than half the snow during a regular season is man made. The flip side of this is warmer weather, I frequently don’t need a coat while riding Angel Fire. When the snow is good, there is a wide variety of runs. There are lots of wide easy trails available for beginners along with a nice variety of blues and blacks for more advance riders. One of the nicest features of Angel Fire mountain are the snow parks. There are 4 parks total, 2 of which have been added since the last time I was there. One park features a 400 foot Olympic style half-pipe. Overall, the mountain is very snowboarder friendly.If you’re interested in night life, there is none. The resort has a bar that’s usually sparsely populated (aside from – maybe – spring break) and there’s never anything going on in town. You might be able to find something going on in a nearby town such as Red River.

If you’re planning a trip, here are my suggestions: Watch the snow report – obviously. Call and ask several times for deals, sometimes they fail to offer you the best rates. Once on the mountain, head to the back. The back of the mountain has the best runs and is usually less crowded. If possible, bring food or head into town for food. I usually pack my coat with snacks while I’m boarding to avoid having to eat in one of the high priced restaurants.

On a scale from 1 to 10, I give it a 6.