Feb 26

Tim Westergren at Pandora Explains How He Saved Michelle’s Job

Tim WestergrenOK, so its not like Tim Westergren and the crew at Pandora covered for me when I was late or came up with a TPS cover sheet when I forgot one. I use Pandora everyday at work. It is the best internet radio station I’ve found. When I was on the brink of quitting my job despite not having something else lined up, the optimistic stylings of Pandora’s Buena Vista Social Club station kept my spirits up. When I struggled to get my work done while dealing with a miserable break up, I turned to my Ray LaMontagne station to help me cope or Parliament to put me in a better mood. The psychologist Oliver Sachs contends that music is not just enjoyable–it is actually therapeutic. Considering the armpit that is conventional radio and the fact that I can’t download music at work, Pandora offers me an invaluable service. Especially when you consider that it is completely free.

I went to the Alamo Drafthouse to Pandora’s Get Together and did not have a video camera to record Tim Westergren’s town hall style speech. Bummer. For those of you who were not there, Tim explained his background as a musician, the struggles Pandora faced as a startup in 1999, how the music that you choose actually got there, and future plans for Pandora. What were the coolest tidbits I heard?

  • Pandora employs 50 musicians to sort through the music you hear. When a musician hears a song, he or she sorts through hundreds of elements to classify that song for the Music Genome Project. Each 3-4 minute song takes about 40 minutes to completely analyze.
  • The Senate proposed a bill that would require webcasters to pay back royalties to musicians last year. Westergren asked users to respond, and respond they did. Pandora flooded Congress with so many faxes, they jammed the entire Capitol Hill fax infastructure for two days.
  • Users have been clamoring for Pandora on the iPhone as well as zip code specific playlists. Imagine, you listen to a band and then a message shows up that tells you about the show that band’s about to play in your area…
  • If you think Pandora sucks because they don’t play “your type of music”, just let them know what you do want to hear. Much of the music you find on Pandora is submitted by users. Word to the wise though, they only use about 30 percent of the music submitted to the site. If you think you can just pick up guitar, create a CD and all of a sudden be listed in Jimi Hendrix’s station, chances are you will have to think again.

If you are interested in some of the new developments behind Pandora and other internet radio stations, check out Pandora’s CTO Tom Conrad at SxSW when he discusses the future of internet radio.

Feb 06

Why Do Tech Geeks Want to Punch Zuckerberg in the Face?

mark zuckerberg gets jackedSxSW is featuring Mark Zuckerberg as a keynote speaker. Whenever the subject of Facebook and Zuckerberg in particular comes up in everyday geek conversation, the words “punk” and “lucky” tend to come up quite a bit.

Perhaps I have a different perspective, because:
a.) I have never coded anything, so there’s not much for me to be jealous of and

b.) Zuckerberg still manages to remind me of a nice geeky guy I would bum physics notes from in high school, so I cut him some slack.

Let’s evaluate why the average hard working geek would want to jump Mark Zuckerberg:

1.) Wired speculated that his net worth was somewhere around 1.5 billion dollars. Granted, this number came out in July before the whole Microsoft/Facebook media blitzkrieg, but this still puts his salary at 22,727 times the median salary for developers in this area. Zuckerberg is all of 23, in case you didn’t catch the “6o Minutes” special.

2.) We’ve all Googled ourselves. We all want backlinks. When Zuckerberg looks at Facebook’s backlinks, he can see that there are approximately 452, 000 to date. Who wouldn’t want all the delicious press associated with 452,000 backlinks?

3.) That whole “Hey, you jacked our idea and are now making stupid money” ordeal that’s still going on.

4.) Who honestly wants to be zombified or turned into a pirate?

Pimpin’ Facebook Ain’t Easy

Although it seems like Facebook can do no wrong with their incredible developer network, there is an unfortunate side effect of starting a site where people just want to unassumingly keep up with their friends. It’s hard to make money with it. With Beacon still in need of a major overhaul and all eyes on him for an IPO date, it looks like Zuckerberg has his hands full with Facebook.

Can SxSW goers learn by watching Zuckerberg speak? I sure hope so. Just leave the eggs and various projectiles at home.

Jan 30

Big Pimpin’ with Ed Schipul of Schipul– The Web Marketing Company

Ed SchipulEd Schipul is the CEO and president of Schipul–The Web Marketing Company. Ed will be discussing how to take your non-profit to 11 in his SXSW speech “Pimping My Non-Profit–Real Non-Profits Kicking Ass with Online Technology.”

Your SxSW Interactive Speech is called, “Pimp My Non Profit — Real Non-Profits Kicking Ass with Online Technology.” Does this perhaps involve putting TV screens in head consoles or in car trunks? How does one pimp a non-profit?

Man, you COMPLETELY nailed it! We have taken the concept of “LCD Screen in headrest”, with obligatory neon green highlights, and extended it into the social sector. People serving food at the soup kitchens will literally have the LCD screens mounted on their backs on neon green harnesses. We predict the level of pimp will be so fresh even the food will be fresher! Perhaps a small segment may go so far as to embed the units surgically, excluding subwoofers, but we will be satisfied if the fresh soup action is worn like typical pimp bling. Word.

OK, seriously though. Social media, and in particular widgets, have truly enabled rapid response at a low cost for non profits online. It is no longer an issue to raise money online as you can add a chipin widget to your blog. Or paypal. Or coordinate your events with moveon or meetup or any number of other services. So great, now we CAN do it, but how exactly? What are the actual best practices so the donor dollar goes to the cause, so the volunteers time and commitment are maximized, so the stress is the lowest and so the return on investment of social media can be returned in the form of bottom line results for non profits.

When we say “pimp your nonprofit” we specifically mean leveraging new media tools to create best of class bottom line results. And keep in mind most non profits have two bottom lines – one for the financials and one for the real goals of the nonprofit; the social issue. This is exciting stuff and our panelists are amazing. Specifically I will be joined by these four amazing social change makers:

Beth Kanter, bethkanter.org
Rachel Weidinger, Strategy for Social Entrepreneurs and on Netsquared here.
Michaela Hackner, Girls with Macs and World Learning.
Erin Denny, Netsquared

Be prepared for our panel to take a stand on recommendations. To look at real world case studies. To speak with candor about what works and what doesn’t. And to listen with humility to the audience who will also likely have some amazing ideas to benefit the group. Did I mention I am excited about this?

Speaking of pimping non-profits, what is NetSquared?

The official mission is to “spur responsible adoption of social web tools by social benefit organizations.” The Houston meetup group has extended this a bit to be an organization at the intersection of social issues and technology. And we have had some success connecting speakers to technologists to affect change. Sometimes it is as simple as SEO consulting for an organization. Other times groups like the Accessibility Internet Rally have joined forces with Netsquared to create complete accessible web sites for non profits.

And frankly it is also nice to meet with a group of people that speak the language and CARE about social issues. So perhaps the greatest success has been in connecting and encouraging dialog on social issues within the tech community. There is more to life than the latest startup. Seeing the success of organizations like http://www.savethecenter.org/ which in combination with a grass roots and a coordinated PR campaign literally saved The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation in Houston. That just makes you feel good. Netsquared was only a small part of the effort, but we were able to be a part of the solution.

The winner of last year’s netsquared conference was www.maplight.org which shines a light on money and politics. Another winner was http://www.freecycle.org/ – these are just very exciting and simple ideas that are affecting change. So yes, I am pretty excited about Netsquared!

You grew a mustache to help raise money for the Texas Children’s Hospital, but you did not win the contest. What is your strategy for next year, and do you have any potential mustache plans for SxSW?

Short of changing my genetics, I have little hope of winning this contest next year. So in the spirit of tilting at windmills I am ignoring these odds and moving forward with three courses of action.

  • I plan to raise more money and throw myself on the mercy of the judges and;
  • To be more blatant about bribing the judges. Apparently one dozen roses per judge was not enough to overcome my follicular growth rate challenges. And;
  • encouraging the creation of multiple divisions. Based on genetics some people really need to be in a formula one mustache division, others in a stock car mustache division, and finally I am really pushing for a Herbie the Lovebug mustache division given my bloodlines. Let’s be fair, right? This is a freaking mustache competition! I need a break here people!!!!! Arrrgh.

When Ed is not acting as a John for various non-profits, he also runs his own internet marketing firm in Houston and speaks on various topics in social media. Are you having a hard time convincing your friends to come to South by Southwest Interactive? Read Ed’s writings on the three motivations of people to learn how to persuade them against being so lame.

*picture of Ed Schipul courtesy of Deneyterrio.

Jan 22

South by Southwest Interactive Speakers: Going Hollywood with Microsoft’s Chris Bernard

chris bernard photoDesign is taking a new direction as websites become less like entertainment and news and more like applications for people to use. At the forefront of this shift is Microsoft’s User Experience Evangelist Chris Bernard, who is speaking this year at South by Southwest Interactive. You can find Chris at the finals of Microsoft’s Phizzpop Challenge at their SxSW after party.

In your blog, http://chrisbernard.blogs.com, you write, “De Stijl,
Bauhaus, Futurism. The short history of design is filled with a lexicon of
terms and movements that inspire designers of today.” How can GeekAustin
designers use the design and cultural cues of the past to improve their
work everyday?

We traditionally think of Web design with a focus on typography and illustration,
which are important components of graphic design and are certainly important for the
Web. But symbolism and photography and the study of film and motion were an
important part of the classic design lexicon too. Take folks the Charles and Ray
Eames, they pioneered a lot of the design principles we use in the realm of Web and
software design today, but they also were product designers and adept at the use of
film and motion as a communications medium too. Symbolism was an important part of
their work when you examine both how they lived and how they structured and shaped
some of the iconic forms they are known for. Today we see all this disciplines
manifesting themselves in the current high-water mark of interaction design, which
is the iPhone. When we look at next general platforms such as Surface and
gesture-based computing designers that have knowledge of these disciplines will
become far more important.

But you don’t need to be inventing the future to embrace these disciplines. Firms
like Happy Cog and Coudal partners frequently apply their creative backgrounds in
photography, film and motion to their work and in applying how they solve problems.

Why will there be blood with Web 3.0?

The great promise of the Web, which I think has largely been delivered, is a common
standards-based way which we can all build against. Nicholas Carr equates the
ubiquity and power of the internet or network to be a breakthrough on the scale of
electricity and the electrical grid. If we agree with this I think we can say that
the Web browser in this equation is the light bulb. Everyone needs a light bulb, but
there are other things they want to plug into platform too, such as phones,
televisions, etc. What we’re going to see over time is a complementary merge of open
standards, de facto standards and proprietary standards. It’s going to be difficult
for enterprises or individuals to firmly ensconce themselves in one camp or the
other exclusively I think, but I also don’t think people will pay much attention to
it as market dynamics and sovereigns will exert significant presume on providers to
optimize experiences. We’re seeing that today with debates about data-portability
for example but we’re also seeing it with the browser itself. As marketers play a
larger role in subsidizer or creating much of the content we consume in the digital
realm there will be a strong urge to optimize across multiple platforms. So for
example, if you’re Sony Pictures, you might very well sell DVDs and Blu-Ray disks
but you’ll be developing your own digital distribution properties and establishing
agreements with proprietary parties that are de facto standards like iTunes.

Your SxSW Interactive speech is called “Hollywood and Design and
Literature: Just Who is Inspiring Who?” So, who is inspiring who?

Blade Runner just celebrated its 25th anniversary this last November. Talk to anyone
in advertising or interaction design and it’s hard not to find folks that draw
inspiration from movies like that or literature from the likes of William Gibson or
Neal Stephenson. More recently we’ve seen concepts that are real today
(gesture-based computing and multi-touch interfaces) shown in movies like Minority
Report, The Island and Children of men become reality. In fact some of the more
notable artists that create these visions, artists like Mark Coleran for example,
actual transcend both mediums, working in special effects and in software design. In
Microsoft’s Surface team for example we recruit very heavily from creative
disciplines that focus on animation, composition and motion design and it you look
at the new APIs that Windows users for UI, WPF, I think we’ll eventually see the
value of those disciplines start to be applied tom more mundane uses.

What are you looking forward to most at South by Southwest

The thing I’m most looking forward to at South by Southwest is a discussion around
the massive convergence we’re seeing in marketing, social media and (although it’s
not quite there yet) what I would call rich internet or rich interactive
experiences. I’ve also got a personal interest in what the convergence of the media
and internet means for film distribution, main independent film. SxSW is always a
good place to chat with folks about that.

GeekAustin is looking to do a site redesign. Any suggestions?

Hmmm, where to start. :) I think working a bit on the contrast might be a good a
good start. One of my favorite sites in terms of design and approachability is
www.designobserver.com. It’s simple, clean and the design doesn’t step on the
content. I think Web sites that work best are those that don’t get in the way of the
content. Much like a museum doesn’t get in the way of the artifacts it’s designed to

Please insert not so shameless plug here.

One of the things that I’m very excited about is that we get to continue an event we
started last year called the PhizzPop Design Challenge. In this event we structured a bit of a design ‘grand challenge’ (albeit a very short one) in which we got 36 design firms from
around the country (San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Austin, LA and Boston) to
compete against each other solving a variety of technology oriented design problems
that ranged from designing a hotel concierge system, to a better social media
platform and even an online independent film festival. All of the winners from those
events will be competing against each other at SxSW for the PhizzPop 2008
championship. For GeekAustin folks that will be at SxSW the PhizzPop Design
Challenge will be a great event to check out on Monday night, March 11th at Maggie

Jan 10

SxSW Interactive Speakers: Dishing It Up With Panel Speaker Lindsey Simon

Lindsey Simon The SxSW Interactive Festival is full of interesting speakers from throughout the technology spectrum. SxSW fans like you can choose who you want to hear from using a Panel Picker. Fortunately for me, I was able to speak to the man behind the picker himself, Lindsey Simon.

So I hear you work for some company called Google. How is that going for you?

It’s been a really eye-opening experience in lots of ways. I’m actually
working as a front-end engineer inside of the User Experience team, and that
has been a great opportunity to learn from folks with extensive experience
in doing user-centered research and design. It’s a very different approach
than what most startups go with, and also I bet why many of them don’t
succeed. It is often amazing to me how sometimes even a little bit of well
done research can make some substantial improvements to, or sometimes
justify the killing of, a project’s direction and interface.

You created the South by Southwest Interactive Panel Picker. Please
explain what this is and why it is so cool.

The SXSW Panel Picker was Hugh and Shawn at SXSW’s idea, and I’ve glued it
together for two years now. Both times, their goal has been to try to get
more feedback from the community about what kinds of panels and ideas they
most wanted to see at the upcoming SXSW. Pretty ballsy for an already
successful conference. If you’ve ever submitted panel ideas to most other
conferences, you know the drill – maybe you get a form letter back (if
you’re lucky) and then probably a form rejection letter – everything in
between is a total black hole. This is at least something different and
draws on the momentum that BarCamps all over the country have evidenced
exists – conferences should be about group participation and not wholly
one-way expert-to-masses sorts of things. That experience is more fun for

This year’s particular take on the panel picker was kind of funny for a few
reasons. When the SXSW folks told me that they wanted to go all out with
comments, star-voting, and login/registration for the picker it was like,
okay, this fun little project a year ago is going to be a full-on webapp
this time. Having recently made my Google transition and consequently become
a pretty happy Gmail user, I started thinking how similar the two things are
in a few ways. Comments are like email threads, Gmail has stars, etc.. So I
just started using the Gmail design as a frame for the development of the
panel picker. It made loads of decisions about visual design way easier than
the year before. It’s not like this kind of application needs to be in any
way revolutionary, so once it was all done, we just left the Gmail skin on
it as kind of a bit of an inside joke but mainly as an homage.

Your speech this year is called “Filching Design.” What do you mean by
this, and why would a design decide to pilfer or make off with the belongings of
other designers (sorry, had to look it up)?

This idea came directly out of the making of the SXSW Panel Picker this past
year, but there’s some history to it as well. When I was originally
developing Dishola, we started with all of the html, css, and layout
graphics from digg and built the site into that already-beautiful ui. Of
course we knew all along we’d go back and redo the design for Dishola, but
for a few months, it made it both easy on the eyes and in many ways easier
to develop. We didn’t waste any time haggling about typography, colors, look
and feel, etc.. We had a pretty well-functioning prototype that we could get
feedback on. It’s not like the social networking premise of Dishola was
revolutionary, and the UI didn’t need to be. I was focused on the idea – a
site which revolves around dishes instead of locations (restaurants). That
is the thing that makes Dishola different from yelp, citysearch, zagat,
etc… And by developing it in digg’s UI framework we were able to give our
testers, many of whom had never heard of digg anyhow, an immediate
impression that we were building a “professional” looking site. As such,
their comments were much more useful and on-topic I believe than if we’d
solicited feedback with it running in wireframes.

So when I found myself using the same approach for the Panel Picker this
year it seemed like it would be fun to talk about the good and bad of this
idea at SXSW. I suspect lots of web developers do this sort of thing from
time to time. It’s not really about stealing design, but borrowing UI
instead of thinking about it from scratch when appropriate. Luke
Wroblewski’s going to be talking about some of his research on form design,
and I think this plays right into the idea. “Don’t think about the visual
design of your form, think about what it’s designed for” – and pick the
visual design that most aptly suits this – and it doesn’t hurt that it is
based on loads of his lab research 😉

It’s worth noting that there are most certainly times where this approach
can be inappropriate and it can (rightly) be argued that it boxes you into
some paradigms before you should.

Is there anything in particular that you are looking forward to at SxSW
Interactive, or in Austin?

Camilla’s fish taco at Polvo’s, visiting with my Austin amigos, and drinking
some Fireman’s 4 from a tap.

Do you have any shameless plugs you would like to promote here? Go
ahead. We don’t mind.

I’m always trying to spread the word about Dishola.