Attention: the backchannel revisited

Not long before leaving for SXSW, I had posted some some thoughts and notes about ‘the backchannel’. The timing turned out to be pretty good, since the talk within and around SXSW became pretty much all about the various uses of backchannels during the conference. Twitter (which was discovered by many people at SXSW last year) is the obvious one, but there was the official Meebo chat rooms set up for each panel, plus thousands of blog posts. Cote flatteringly described my post as prescient, but it was only accidentally so. It was really something more like coincidence mixed with common sense.

I’m back from SXSW now, and while I’m still absorbing the things I learned, one highlight for me was seeing and taking part in the massive but very varied uses of backchannels during the event. Wired has a piece about a how ‘Meebo Users Plot Revolt During Dull Panels‘, Perfect Porridge talks about an ‘Audience Revolt at the Metrics Panel‘ and Jeremiah Owyang gives four examples of ‘groundswell’ events at SXSW.

The most talked about event, both during and after, was of course the Mark Zuckerberg / Sarah Lacy keynote. It was Live-blogged by CrunchGear, parodied hilariously by Paul Carr, dissected by, BuzzMachine, Brian Solis, Scoble and, well, everyone. Lessons were learned. There was an instant cartoon. GigaOM attempts to ignore the style and focus on the content, as does Lilly Rockwell. Sarah herself has responded here, but one of the more fascinating piece of analysis I’ve seen so far is the post in which Kee Hinckley wrote up some research on the interview, which includes this video (embedded below) of the Twitter messages sent during the interview, overlaid in near-real time with a video of the event.

I’m particularly glad to have this wonderful resource because I missed the keynote.  Our panel was unfortunately scheduled at the same time, but turned out to be quite a different beast. We displayed the official Meebo chat on-screen, for all to see. Dan Heaf, our moderator, took questions from the floor early and often, while several of us were reading and responding to the backchannel chat while it was happening, and weaving it into the panel as we went. The biggest problem was a fairly noticeable lag on the Meebo messages, but I’m very glad we put it up onscreen. It takes courage, and it’s probably easier for a panel than an individual to pay enough attention to it to get the most value from it, but it is something I would do again in an instant.

SXSW day 5 – Soulja Boy

Jane McGonigal gave a wonderful keynote on games and ARGs. Not dissimilar to her ‘Reality is Open’ presentation at GDC recently, so these are not her SXSW slides, but there’s an overlap.

Other people have made excellent notes already, which are much more complete than my own. Here are some:

During the keynote, Jane mentioned that as part of playing an ARG, she had witnessed (and learned) the Soulja Boy dance, and offered to perform it at the end of the session. She kept her word.

SXSW day 4 – Lots of Random Things

Matt Biddulph accused me of “blogging like it’s 2003” this week (long posts, complete with photos and video clips). Personally, I thought I’d been very lazy by not tidying up my notes from the sessions and including them too (yet) but all of that will come later. Perhaps in digested form I’m typing so fast and there’s not enough time to process and digest between sessions and parties.

So, more lazy posting today.

The Lego interactive playpen is still interesting.

Interactive Playpen

Paul Boag’s panel on using social software for your brand.

Paul Boag

The Interactive and Film tradeshow is largely dull, though has a couple of great stals. Creative Commons, O’Reilly and Make are all there.


Matt Biddulph showed some of us a couple of upcoming Dopplr features, which I won’t pre-announce of course, but I’m rather excited about.

Matt Biddulph shows us new Dopplr features

Justin Hall (a big hero of mine) presented PMOG, which I’m already addicted to and will certainly be thinking and writing about soon.

The evening parties included one for Google Open Social and the famous Great British Booze Up. I met Ewan Spence for the first time, and a bunch of us ended up at what I think was the Geico party. There was a caveman there, which meant something to the Americans. Some sort of ad campaign mascot type thing. Other than a few clusters of oh-so-hip hipsters, it was actually very quiet, which was a rather nice thing since I needed to sit down quietly and rest my legs and ears. There was lots of lovely free drink all night. Here was the view of the other side of my table (at least, for a while). Rachel Clarke, Robert Scoble and Ewan Spence.

Last night's Geico party

SXSW day 3 – Laptop Tattoos and the Accordion Guy

Austin Laser Art were at the Screenburn arcade yesterday and today, offering free laser etching on iPods, Moleskine notebooks, laptops, and in fact pretty much anything you handed them. They offered a book full of designs, or you could email in your own EPS file. I found this lovely Transformers logo, which they quickly used to create a custom layout and within minutes had turned my MacBook Pro into an Autobot.

My MacBook Pro, with Autobot logo

Here’s a video of that process, in fabulous Real Time.

For extra fun, Accordion Guy playing at the SXSW Bloghaus this morning.

Our panel was on today as well, but that will have to have its own post. I was a little bit sad to miss the Zuckerberg/Facebook keynote, which was on at the same time. (We almost filled the room anyway, which was nice). The updates on Twitter, the official backchannel and other coverage all hint at that something interesting, perhaps even slightly trainwrecky, happened in the Zuckerberg interview. There certainly seems to have been some disquiet and unrest in the audience, and I’m looking forward to seeing a video of the whole thing (please?).

SXSW day 2 – Worst Website Ever

Even more interesting and wonderful things at SXSW today. I saw the Rocketboom gang sitting behind me in a panel on video blogging (at which Bre Pettis was presenting). Later I watched Corey Bridges ranting eloquently on the future of gaming and virtual worlds (“Sucks to be you, media oligopolists”), and Dan Hon being similarly smart and eloquent about ARGs.

Bre Pettis Rocketboom gang Corey Bridges Dan Hon Matt Biddulph

Later, I dropped into the Bloghaus on the 3rd floor, and found Hugh MacLeod willing and able to deface my business card for me. Jemima not only took a photo, she posted it on her Guardian Unlimited blog.

Update: Amusingly (?) this led to The Inquirer doing a nasty little piece about the photo.

Some people are cursed with daft names by cruel parents. Imagine, if you will, the trauma caused to someone named Roo Reynolds. Surely life can throw no more misfortune in their faces? But no. Roo is employed by IBM.

How much worse can things get, I hear you ask?

Quite a bit, it would appear from Mr or Ms Reynold’s business card

You’re a what?


The climax of the day was another comedy ‘unpanel’: Andy Baio’s ‘Worst Website Ever’ competition, in which Merlin Mann was just one of eight contestants proposing ideas-so-crazy-they-might-just-work to venture capitalist David Hornik. I recorded a video of Merlin’s winning proposal.

SXSW day 1 – Battledecks

Day 1, and the first job was to pick up the bag and directory. There are a lot of bags waiting to be picked up.


I took in a couple of panels in the afternoon. In between them, the interactive playpen – a huge pile of Lego under the escalators – attracted children, playful geeks, and photographers

Interactive Playpen

Battledecks II, the second annual competition which pits presenters against each other in a surreal improvisational comedy competition. Sometimes described as PowerPoint Karaoke, except that with karaoke you usually know the song before you sing. In Battledecks, the speakers don’t get to see the slides in advance, and have to keep the flow going, and are also judged on jargon, gestures and credibility.

Battledecks Battledecks Battledecks Battledecks Battledecks

The stand out performance (and the winner) was Anil Dash. Here’s his excellent performance.

SXSW day 0 – travel day

I was picked up at 8:30am this morning by something not quite fancy enough to be called a limo, but in a different league than a regular taxi. We could perhaps ignore my non executive status and call it an executive chauffeur service. Hursley Cars offer a great, reliable door-to-door service. Enjoyably lazy on the outbound portion, particularly useful on the return leg, when the last thing you want to do after a transatlantic flight is drive home. Especially because there’s a good chance that really would be last thing you do.

I checked in (checkind?) at the business class hut at Heathrow terminal 3. Despite traveling economy class, I can check in at the business class desk by saying the magic words “I work for IBM”. I was given an emergency exit row too. The nice lady doing check-in must have taken pity on my lanky tall 6’4″ frame. Would I be prepared to assist in the event of an emergency? For some extra legroom, I’d be prepared to do pretty much anything.

I bumped into both Jemima Kiss and Jo Twist during boarding. I’ve also seen a girl I don’t recognise wearing an Upcoming t-shirt, so I get the feeling she’s One Of Us. It seems that at least some of the British contingent of the tech invasion of Austin are beginning their journey together.

I love filling in the visa waiver form when I sit down in the plane. It allows me momentary glimpses into parallel universes in which I have to answer ‘yes’ to any of the scary questions on the back. It asks, do I have a “communicable disease, physical or mental disorder”? It asks whether I am a drug abuser or addict. Have I been convicted for an offense or crime involving “moral turpitude”? Am I involved in espionage or sabotage, or terrorist activities? Best of all, whether or not, between 1933 and 1945, I was involved in persecution associated with Nazi Germany or its allies. Fortunately, the answer to all of these questions is ‘no’, otherwise I’d have had to contact the American embassy before traveling.

The food is the predictable choice between chicken with vegetables, beef with the same vegetables, or a vegetarian option. I’m increasingly tempted to ask for the vegetarian option, despite not being one, just to have something different. Ah well. Maybe next time. Portions are meagre. I’ve always assumed that’s so we don’t put undue strain on the (frankly already smelly) toilet system. I weighed myself for the first time in ages this morning, purely out of interest, in order to see whether I gain or lose weight during the next 10 days. The small portion of sensible food isn’t going to make much of a difference either way. I noticed that the can of coke was an imperial 12 fluid ounces (355ml) rather than European 333ml (1/3 litre) size, so a gradual Americanizing of my diet has already begun.

As ever, American Airways in-flight entertainment system is sadly lacking, with a terrible choice of content let down even further by poor picture quality. They degrade this even further in the in-flight movies by printing “American Airlines” at the bottom of the screen after the film starts. Either because they’re proud of their trimmed down no-swearing and very-little-violence-indeed edits of the films, or perhaps to deter would-be copyright theft. As if even the most piratical pirate would stoop to attempting a screen-cap on a 777.

After exhausting both my eyes and my supply of podcast listening material by reading and listening at the same time, I watched, get this, ‘No Country For Old Men’. Yes, there is an American Airlines family-friendly in-flight-movie version. While I enjoyed the film, this was my first viewing of it, and I’m not making any judgments based on this version. I’ve been stung by the in-flight-movie edit before; for several months I didn’t realise Tim-from-the-Office was even in ‘Love Actually’. All of his scenes were cut. Who knows, perhaps in the cinema release of ‘No Country For Old Men’ there is some, you know, violence or something. Perhaps blood was spilled. The clumsy audio edits were easy to spot, but there are, I have no doubt, whole scenes which I have missed. How very disappointing. Another reason I love Virgin Atlantic, and would always use them if I had any choice in the matter over American Airlines. Virgin’s in-flight entertainment system is actually very good. Lots of choice, better picture quality, Video On Demand rather than Video On A Loop, and best of all, full uncut grown-up versions of the films.

Update: I met up with Dan Taylor, Deirdre Molloy, Jemima Kiss and Jo Twist in O’Hare, where we hung out and waited for the connecting flight to Austin together.

Jemima Fully seesmicd up Brits Delayed! Alcat on Seesmic

Jo’s stuffed cat, Alcat, is making Seesmic videos of the trip. Here was the update from the airport. Look out for the tall geek grinning in the background.

(Rough) plans for SXSW 2008

I’m packing for SXSW tomorrow (Thursday) morning.

I’ve pulled together a (rough) schedule, thanks to the lovely SCHED ( This is a bit more complete than my previous list of things-not-to-miss. Of course, that list still contains the panel I’m sitting on (‘Stories, Games and Your Brand’) with Rachel Clarke, Jeremy Ettinghausen and Dan Hon. We might have a quiet time of it, since the Mark Zuckerberg keynote is scheduled to happen at the same time. So we’re going to be ultra-careful not to even mention you-know-what, in a first panelist to do so buys the beers type way. Isn’t everyone bored of it by now anyway? :-)

My event wishlist is long, but I’m particularly excited by Andy Baio‘s unpanel (including Merlin Mann and many more) entitled ‘Worst Website Ever: That’s So Crazy, It Just Might Work’ a chance for “smart people to be stupid” and propose their “worst possible startup ideas”, which sounds like it will be very funny.

In addition to the various panels and keynotes, there are a great many informal events running too. There are even more parties and events on Upcoming. Here are few which are catching my eye:

I’ll also be dropping into BlogHaus and hoping to catch Hugh MacLeod there and maybe even get an original cartoon-on-the-back-of-a-business-card.

Update: Note to self (and anyone else who is affected) it’s really really important not to forget that daylight savings time starts on the morning of 9th of March. (I don’t think it starts in the UK until the 30th of March this year.)

Five SXSWi panels I’m looking forward to

It’s still a long way off, but for your interest (and my own reference) here are some panels I won’t be missing at South By Southwest in Austin this year…

  • Saturday, March 8 – 11:30 AM – The Future of Virtual World & Game Development: Rise of the Indies (Corey Bridges)
  • Sunday, March 9 – 2:00 PM – Stories, Games and Your Brand (Rachel Clarke (and I happen to know that Jeremy Ettinghausen, Dan Hon and some tall geek called Roo will all be on the panel too))
  • Sunday, March 9 – 3:30 PM – Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users (Kathy Sierra)
  • Monday, March 10 – 2:00 PM – PMOG: The Web as a Play Field (Justin Hall)
  • Tuesday, March 11 – 11:30 AM – Casual Multi-Player Online Games: Serious Revenues (Michael Smith)

I should point out that all dates at this stage are essentially rumours. At best they’re provisional and subject to change.

One final thing: the SXSWi flyer from January. Over 450 speakers, and I was lucky enough to be mentioned, along with Paul Boag. I’ll have to find out when his panel is too, because I’d hate to miss it.

SXSWi Speakers

50 word bio

I’ve been asked to provide a 50 word bio and a photo for SXSW next year (I’m a panelist. Yay!). 50 words is quite short, and it made me think about the wording very carefully.

Roo Reynolds is a Metaverse Evangelist based at IBM UK’s Hursley Park laboratory. For the past two years he has been helping people understand the importance of social software and virtual worlds. He’s also helping create a virtual world within IBM’s intranet. He is rather tall, and blogs at

I also have to provide a photo, which can be quite informal. Of course, I turned to Flickr, and found these, all taken by Rachel.

Windswept and ruffled Roo

I’m going to try the first one, because it’s most ‘me’ (and is actually less cropped in the non-thumbnail version).

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