I attended day one of the Seattle Interactive Conference and all I got was this lousy blog post.

A few weeks ago I discovered the Seattle Interactive conference. Two people I follow on Twitter were scheduled to speak, and I like them, so I passed the info on to my boss — I thought someone else from the company might want to go.

Turned out I got to go. Yay, me! Two days of not sitting at a desk! I was busy enough that I didn’t pore over the schedule, but I figured it would be an abundance of educational riches.

Then last night Dylan Wilbanks tweeted several reasons why he wasn’t attending. One example: “I don’t understand how you can have an interactive conference in Seattle without any actual designers and coders.”

Huh, I thought. And I hoped Dylan was underestimating the conference. And I envied his upcoming trip to UIE in Boston. And I made some time to glance over the schedule, and my heart sank a bit.

But I was going. As I walked into the conference center at 9:00, I figured I’d be a little late for the opening session, but it would still be a good day.

At 10:05, I finally got registered. Yes, I spent an hour in line, at least in part because the organizers split the alphabet into thirds (A-H, I-P, Q-Z) without figuring out that A-H represented far more than a third of the attendees. That didn’t bode well.

The first session I made it to talked about how your UX needed to be flawless, and that UX was more than UI. If the term “cross-channel design” came up, I didn’t catch it. I am sure that the word “content” was never mentioned, although the two examples given of sites with less than inspiring UI that still had great UX were Craigslist and (early) Amazon, which thrive precisely because they’ve got content that people want. The word “information” was used a couple of times to hint in that direction.

The second session was crammed full of blah blah blah about social media, and trotted out the notion that you need to be authentic. (In the Q&A, the presenter authentically dodged a question about whether or not he thought Klout was worthwhile, because saying something negative about it would damage his business.) Also of note: Kenneth Cole’s tweet about the Egyptian riots being inspired by his sale? Turns out that wasn’t cool. There’s a lesson to be learned there: Don’t be uncool. Except maybe KC wanted the controversy. But the controversy was bad and revealed KC’s inauthenticity. But there was no discussion about whether or not it actually cost KC any business. But we’re still talking about it today, so obviously, bad move.

I should’ve left that one when the “yo dawg, we put Facebook in your Facebook” meme was compared to Foucault, because really? Foucault?

For the first afternoon session, I went with a winner: Christopher Johnson’s talk on Microstyle. I stacked the deck, there, because I’d seen him give an early version of the presentation at one of our Content Strategy Meetups. Johnson spoke about how small messages can carry a lot of brand personality, and gave examples that I hadn’t seen a dozen times before. Bravo!

The digital storytelling seminar that followed was highly non-boring, and occasionally verged on the practical. Write a logline to sum up your experiences and help you remember them: Not bad advice.

The final seminar promised to explore “Making a Mess” and dive into “the importance of creative exploration,” but was really a showcase of work that Digital Kitchen has done recently. It was nice work, but very little “mess” was explored. The high point was a slide that said “If you know what you’re doing, you aren’t trying hard enough.” Would’ve been a magnificent tweet — as evidenced by the multiple retweets — but it made for thin gruel in a 45-minute presentation that was notably non-messy, given its title.

And that was that. Admitted: I may have picked bum presentations. But as of now, I’m not at all sure why this cost five times more than InfoCamp, or cost anything more than BarCamp, given that I got less insight out of four of five presentations than you get in an average article in A List Apart.

Here’s hoping tomorrow is better.

Dear Confab: Thanks for the wings!

Monday night I stepped out of the party at Bar Lurcat to call my daughter and say goodnight. The first thing she asked me: “Daddy, are you making lots of new friends?”

Which is exactly what I was doing. And exactly the best words to describe it. Still from It's a Wonderful Life

Confab was a joy to attend. It was well-run, interesting, educational, and stuffed tighter than a card catalog with brainy people sharing useful wisdom. The least impressive session I attended* would’ve been a highlight many other places.

So what did I learn? Three big lessons, though I don’t think they’re probably typical.

1) I know more than I think I do.

Here’s something that surprised me: I was inspired by all of the presenters, but I was not awed by them. (Not all of them all the time, anyway.) I came away from several sessions realizing that I know stuff like that, and I could probably work on doing a better job of sharing that knowledge. (Could? Should.)

Continue reading

Panel Discussion: Ask the Content Strategist [video]

On September 8, I hosted a panel I’d been plotting since founding the Content Strategy Seattle group last October: Ask the Content Strategist.

My idea: Get a group of professional content strategists together and let people ask them questions. It worked great, and here’s the video to prove it.

Watch live streaming video from contentseattle at livestream.com

The participants: Ariel van Spronsen of POPVanessa Casavant of AdoptUsKidsPatty Campbell of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Tiffani Jones Brown of Second and Park and Things That Are Brown. (Scott Pierce provided invaluable behind the scenes techie magic. I moderated.)

Questions included:

  • What are the differences between a content strategist and a writer or journalist?
  • How do you differentiate between a content sitemap and a IA sitemap? More broadly: Now that we’ve covered the differences between a content strategist and a writer, what are the differences between a content strategist and an information architect?
  • What’s the most effective way to explain the importance of content strategy to a team who doesn’t understand why site architecture would come before design?
  • Is workflow analysis always a part of content strategy, or is there a way around it?
  • What’s the ideal interaction or workflow between content strategy and search engine optimization (SEO)?
  • Knowing that content is king, a call to action is imperative, and the company or website will fail without a good content strategy, when do you throw in the towel?

Many thanks to all four panelists, and to the Watercooler for the venue.

And don’t miss next month’s meetup: Margot Bloomstein talks about Waking Up in Seattle: You’re the one that they want.

Notes on BarCamp. (Apologies to Susan Sontag.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I went to BarCamp Seattle for the first time. That post featured my talk, “Content Lessons from Comics,” whic went from notions to presentation in 3.5 hours.

It was a rough mishmash of a few ideas that had been kicking around my head, and it was a pretty good talk under those circumstances. (I’ve heard myself quoted twice, which is delightfully odd. Once at a later session, and once by Heidi Miller.)

What would I do differently?

  • I’d lead a discussion, rather than give a presentation. One of the best sessions I went to was Kristin Marshall’s “Tits or GTFO: Women in Tech.” She threw out a few ideas and opened the floor, which spent the next half hour in lively debate.
  • Or I’d plan a presentation ahead of time. Bruce P. Henry gave my favorite session, “Why Everything Is Late: From Projects to Dinner Parties.” He had slides. Which he knew cold. Nicely done.

Either of those would’ve helped me focus more on the presentations being given — my attention span got vaster after I’d given my presentation.

  • One more thing: I’d have gone a little more basic with my presentation. If you weren’t into content as a web discipline, my talk was probably hard to follow. (One question at the end: “Won’t the people who publish those comics want to enforce their copyright?” That’s when I realized I might have gone a little too metaphorical in a literal-heavy crowd.)

You’ll likely see some of the ideas from “Content Lessons from Comics” fleshed out here in later posts. (And I’ll pretend some of the other ideas are non-canonical and never happened in the first place.)

Some of them may even crop up at Seattle InfoCamp in early October. That was another lesson learned from BarCamp: How to participate in an unconference. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll do BarCamp again — I think I’ve got about 48 weeks to decide — but I’ll definitely keep camping somewhere.