Why New Authors Should Think Like Indie Bands
St. Ours
Alan J Porter alanjporter.com @alanjporter
Amelia Gray @grayamelia
Timothy Willis Sanders @timothysanders timothypresents.com
  • Have you seen things changing in the publishing world? Does Amazon, Kindle, CreateSpace.
    • It’s become a lot easier to become a known quantity. Historically self-publishing has been looked down upon by traditional press. But in the comic industry, it’s the complete opposite. You have to be self-published, to prove you are committed, you have an audience. That will start to happen in the traditional publishing.
    • I could publish a story in the Missouri Review. maybe 20 people would read it, 10 people would like it, and 5 people would like it enough to seek me out. But if I put it online, I can reach many more people. The old print journals start to lose a little bit of their prestige.
    • The best print journals now have really vibrant web presences now. 
    • My editor contacted me through my web site. I didn’t have an agent. it was totally backwards from the traditional expectation.
  • What successes have you stumbled on?
    • Porter:
      • Different social media places have different audiences. I do promotional stuff on twitter, I do personal stuff, slice of life stuff. I like to keep it a mix. Through it I’ve got to know several editors and people in the publishing industry. When/if I meet these people at a conference, they know who I am, and can put a face to a name.
      • Building relationships both with your readers and the people who publish and distribute your work.
      • I used to blog, but now my blog is more of a static site, and I interact more with people on Twitter
      • Last novella I told was completely because of Twitter: was following a publisher, find out about anthology, and was able to get novella published.
    • Amelia Gray: 
      • Do accept friend requests from everyone, use it to promote stuff and do my business.
    • Willis Sanders:
      • It’s such a new problem: how do I manage my twitter, social media accounts?
      • It’s very different for writers and literature, because so much of what we do is in a very old-school industry. Where else do you study material hundreds of years old.
      • Fiction writers grapple with new technologies in their own fiction. Fiction doesn’t reflect our realities: we’re on Facebook every day, yet Facebook doesn’t make it into fiction. 
  • Do publishers take that following into account? Does it have weight?
    • Gray: The marketing people are obsessed with how many hits my blog gets, what are the search terms, how many followers and friends do I have. (my day job is online marketing/search engine optimization.)
    • Porter: 
      • It’s a great way to study relationships – who does this editor friend? 
      • Too many authors are burning bridges, not realizing that editors are following them. An editor may go from one publisher to another, and you can run into them again and again. 
  • Are writers finding a way to give things away to fans online, the way bands do, and how do publishers respond to that?
    • Publisher (???) has printable books, iPhone app, storigami. They have a huge commitment to design.
    • Publishers and journals don’t like to publish what’s already been published. But there are many online journals/presences that you can be linking to from your own blog.
    • Some of the more forward looking publishers realize the genie is out of the bottle: anything you can find online. 
      • all these books were being bit torrented. so harper collins gave away books for free. which ended up driving more sales of the printed book than before.
    • I took my self-published book, which was $15 for the printed book, and did a $2.99 book on Kindle. It was slow for a while, but sales have taken off, and they’ve even driven up the sales of the printed copy.
    • My main motivation is to have as many people read my stuff as possible. I don’t care how it happens, I just want it to happen.
    • Self-published authors can be book tours and signing. If you can offer a book store an event: a mini-concert plus a reading. Found a local Beatles tribute band to tour and do book signings.
    • Did a cross country book reading tour at bars.
    • Merchandising:
      • Not a lot of writers make T-shirts and buttons, which is something that bands do, which raises money and spreads the world.
    • Of course, it comes down to the work being good.
      • No different than music.
  • Now you can be a full-time author, not being published, just publishing on your own. Will publishing go away?
    • Porter: 
      • Publishing won’t go away entirely. In the end, you still need an editor, a designer, a promoter, and a publisher is still an effective way to get that.
      • What is changing is that publishing is no longer a matter of moving paper around. It’s more about the content than before.
      • Print is still the best user interface around. Books that have great photography and great graphics, I still want in print. The throw away novel I’m going to read once, I am happy to read on my iPad.
    • Gray:
      • The big houses can still afford to pay more, they can hire the best designers, best editors, and they do great stuff. 
      • And they are hiring great experimental people too, doing innovative stuff.
  • Marketing of the book is always going to be a important.
    • Porter:
      • You have to do the marketing yourself, even if it’s a traditional publisher. You have to market the book, and you always have. Now it’s just easier to do. Once upon a time you had to get in the car and drive to every bookstore in the country. Now you can get a national or international following through online tools.
    • Willis Sanders:
      • It’s cool because now the writer has more control. Traditionally, when an indie artist gets popular, their record label starts to focus on what will sell, and the band loses artistic control. Publishing houses are similar: they choose the cover, and the author gets no say.
      • The writer gets more control over the public image of their work.
  • What have you found that hasn’t worked so well?
    • Willis Sanders:
      • Measuring your self-worth by how many twitter followers you have or how many people friend you is a danger
      • Writers are nervous, anxiety ridden people – when they approach social media it can either make them really excited or depressed or both.
    • St. Ours
      • Writers can be slow to adopt social media technology.
      • But once you give them the nudge, they can be eager to adopt.
    • Porter
      • The downside as a writer is that we can look for anything to do besides write: so you can spend all your time on social media, and have no product to promote.
  • Questions
    • Q: There are lots of tools for indie musicians to publish their work and see it rise to the top. e.g. with one site,
      • Fiction audit (fiction off?, can’t find the reference): you put a story up, and people vote on it.
      • Revolutionsf.com
      • There are individual forums and websites that do that.
    • Q: Publishers care deeply about follower count and “platform”. If I have to come with the audience and the content and the legwork, exactly what is the publisher there for?
      • A: Exactly.
      • I’d rather do it on my own terms.
    • Q: What are the terms that make you feel successful?
      • “Success and writer?” do they go together?
      • There are writers with six books and 5,000 followers, and they live in very small apartments.
      • A success is being able to write another book
      • A success is when somebody comes up to me and says thank you.
    • Q: Have you tried giving away first chapters, and then sell the rest? Using the free to sell the non-free?
      • I tried it with one novel, and it bombed. Not sure if that was the writing or the method.
      • But $2.99 is an impulse buy. 
      • Plus with the kindle, you get a free first chapter.
    • Q: Comment from the publishing side: The really great writers are good at building their communities. But you need to find readers outside those communities. You might get 5,000 books from the community, and 15,000 through the curators: NY Times Review.
    • Q: ???
      • An editor is going to read hundreds of manuscripts, and find the one golden one. Writers who are adverse to the online communities can still be successful.

Christopher Poole
4chan founder
  • Founded in 2003 as an image sharing site for sharing japanese anime
    • 12M people visit the site monthly
    • all organic growth
  • /b/ is the dark beating heart of the internet
    • new internet memes are born from this board
    • there are about 15,000 people browsing the index page for random all day, just looking for what is coming up
  • 4chan is anonymous, no registration
    • no structural barriers to prevent you from contribution
  • there is no archive
    • posts created on the random board fall off in minutes
    • it’s survival of the fittest: what manages to stay on the board is what survives, and the other stuff falls of
  • the community is very dynamic: people coming and coming, it’s not the same 12M every month
  • see threads change as the day goes by and different time zones: here are the americans, the japanese, the europeans as the day goes by
  • many different parts of site from origami to anime to the adult stuff. (don’t go clicking around if you don’t know what you are clicking on.)
  • Starting thinking last year: what could we be doing better?
    • the message board hasn’t really changed in the last 10 years.
    • the form, functionality, and asthetic, it’s all the same
    • If you look at where it came from usenet, bbs… it’s all the same.
  • 4chan is special in that people come together and collaborate en mass.
    • the way content is created: many participates coming together, being squeezed together in one space.
    • the product is a meme.
    • the process itself is fascinating to watch how it unfolds.
  • 4 things i’ve learned from 4chan
    • fluid identity: 
      • after TED last year, August Hill came up to him and said he liked that people could chat anonymously. 
      • there’s a loss of the innocence of youth if your identify is tracked across the internet. you get stuck in who you are. the cost of failure is very high when you are contributing as yourself. the mistakes are attributed with who you are.
      • when you have the ability to choose to be identified, to be able to experiment, to poke and prod, then 
      • Mark Zuckerboard equates anonymity with a lack of authenticity. But in reality, it’s the exact opposite: you can more fully be exactly yourself without the concern of people’s opinion.
    • people are all judged the same way: by what their contribution is.
      • when you have identity, then you start to judge by their reputation. “oh this is from so and so, and therefore it must be good.”
    • recaptcha
      • we added recaptcha a few years ago to deal with spam
      • users hated this
      • up until this point there had been no structural barriers
      • people made the best of the situation: they started to make captcha art, saving really funny captcha
    • in the beginning the internet was like a letterpress. you could only contribute text.
      • now it’s more malleabe: you can draw something, push it up, someone else can download it, then draw on up, push it back up.
      • pictochart as an example
      • people are now using pictochat to do animations
    • refrigerator magnet game
      • it’s been around for 10 or more years
      • when describing 4chan, for years he had been saying that the content is fleeting. but realized that actually about 90% of the content was reposted.
      • but what is special, fleeting is the experience: the experience of using it at 9pm on a Sunday night will never be recaptured.
      • it’s like going to a drive-in movie: there’s something special about the shared experience.
      • the refrigerator magnet game…
        • allows you to drag to magnets around
        • some people spell their name
        • some people swear
        • hoard the letters
        • steal away the letter at the last minute
      • 4chan is place where people go to hang out
        • sometimes people forget how important it is to have a place and a community to hang out with
    • canvas
      • people had described it as 4chan 2.0. that’s not it at all.
      • it’s a great site to build, share, create, and hang out – based on the lessons of 8 years of 4chan
      • we started using facebook connect
        • people were asking “how can the 4chan people be using facebook connect?”
        • we were sort of forced to.
        • we don’t disclose any information, we still allow people to post anonymously, but because the user knows that we know, it’s filters out some of the worst behavior.
      • HTML5 canvas editor
        • reduce the amount of steps and friction for someone to take an image and edit it.
          • eliminate the download, save, edit in photoshop, upload.
        • It’s leveled the playing field by giving people a common set of tools.
          • by comparison, in an photoshop community, if you came with an MS Paint image, you’d be laughed out of the community.
      • certain threads are really popular: they start with an image seed, which then gets edited into a bunch of somethings by other people.
      • almost everyone who joins the site goes in and plays with the image editing tools at some point.
        • this was surprising, as they thought that only a small part of the community would use artistic tools.
    • in canvas, like all other communities, a small percentage of users create all the content. 
      • they wanted to create a new middle ground
      • they made stickers which could be dragged and put onto other posts.
      • 100,000 stickers placed in a few weeks
    • they wanted to design a product at the intersection of chat and commenting.
      • chat: synchronous but fleeting
      • commenting: asynchronous but lasting
      • reading a chat log is not interesting. chat is just not lasting.
      • it’s like improv comedy: it’s really fun to be in the audience, be live, and feel the tension. it’s not the same watching taped improv.
      • they started it to be very chatty, but then slide back over to commenting.
    • 4chan was not an overnight success. it’s been a slow steady build over 8 years. there was no hockey stick.
      • you want the core community to form over time.
      • with canvas, concern about the culture growing: if we let 10,000 people into the site tomorrow, it would destroy the fragile culture that is developing.
      • people focus on scaling – as an architecture problem. the real problem is not scaling, it’s building a community worth scaling.
    • sign up using link: canv.as/sxsw

I’ve updated my list of SXSW tips, based on reflections from last year. One big change in 2010 was sessions that went through the lunch hour. That has a big impact on planning your day.

Before the Trip
That’s one full conference room. Get to your session
early to get a seat. Popular sessions fill up quickly, and
once they do, you aren’t allowed in. One more reason
to plan your schedule in advance.
  1. Power equipment: Get yourself a travel power strip, and/or auxiliary battery for your laptop. Being able to  take notes, follow the twitter stream, or research sessions for 10 hours a day is a stretch for almost any laptop or phone. I own and love the Monster Travel Power Strip, which packs down small, and let’s you walk up and use any outlet, even one already occupied. I also like the Energizer Rechargeable Power Pack, which allows you to get an extra 3-5 hours power for your laptop and recharge your phone, when you just can’t get access to an out.
  2. Plan out your schedule. There are thousands of sessions you can attend. Which are the ones that are most interesting and applicable to you? Although you should choose primarily based on interest and applicability, all other things being equal it is usually a good bet that speakers in larger rooms are better speakers than speakers in smaller rooms. So get familiar with the map of SXSW, and figure out which rooms are which. 
  3. Choose your backup talks: For a given time slot, you might have a favorite talk you want to attend. Maybe it will be awful, or maybe it’ll be full and you can’t get in, or maybe it will be cancelled. With SXSW Interactive spread out across many blocks and different buildings and different floors, it’s not possible to get from any given room to another quickly. So once you know your preferred talk for a given timeslot, pick out a backup talk that is nearby.
  4. Wean yourself off coffee: Depending on just how hardcore you are, you may want to consider weaning yourself off coffee, or at least reducing your dependence on it. That way, when you get to Austin, you can restart your caffeine habit, and enjoy the full stimulating effects of it. (I wean myself down to one cup per day ahead of time, then plan to enjoy 3 or more cups per day there.)
  5. Holy Basil: Like to drink? I’m really fond of Holy Basil, which is a natural hangover remedy. I’ve found it to be highly effective. (I’m not a doctor, this has not been evaluated by the FDA, etc, etc. Be smart.)
  6. Business Cards: For such an online environment, business cards are still pretty popular. If networking is important to you, bring some. Make them simple. Name, email, phone, twitter handle.

At the Start of Each Day

These are the registration lines. Plan to give yourself
at least an hour to get your badge on the first day.
  1. Food/Coffee: Get your coffee on the way to the conference center, not at the actual conference center. Lines for coffee are 10-20 minutes long. Also, in 2010 they started having sessions go through the lunch hour. I think that sucks, but I hate to miss anything, so I go to them all. Since it’s hard to get food quickly, you may want to bring another snack bars that you’ve got food in your backpack to cover you through to dinner. I’m partial to KIND Nut Delight bars, which are relatively low on sugar and high on protein, and the closest bar I can find that is 4 Hour Body (4HB) compatible.
  2. Start charged: Start the day with charged laptop/phone/etc.
  3. Clothes: Bring a light jacket in case you don’t make it back to your hotel room. It’ll cool down at night. Conversely, it will be warm enough at some point during the day for short sleeves.
  4. Reschedule: Learn anything interesting yet? Find some new track that seems interesting? Reevaluate your list of planned talks, and see if you want to make adjustments.
During the Day
Don’t sit in the back. Go ahead, find a seat up front! Make
friends with the person sitting next to you.
  1. Be in the moment: Don’t go to a session and then check out and read email, surf the web, or do work. SXSW is precious. Make the most of your time by being totally immersed in what is going on. 
  2. Recharge: Look for outlets in hallways, restaurants, outside, anywhere, and use them when you find them. 
  3. Conserve power: If you are taking notes on your computer or blogging the sessions, you may want to turn off wifi on your laptop to save power (and to keep your focus on the session, so you don’t start random web surfing.) I usually use my smartphone to follow twitter and email so I’m still connected.
  4. Follow the #SXSWi tag on twitter: You want to follow #SXSWi so that if another session is excellent and your session kind of sucks, then you can make the switch quickly. (or conversely find out if a room is already packed and can’t fit any more.)
  5. Follow the twitter tag for whatever session you are in: There will be a back channel of conversation about the session you are in that is almost as valuable as the primary speakers. SXSW is full of experts, both presenting and in the crowd, and you want to tap into all of that wisdom. This doesn’t violate tip #1, because you are not being distracted by something different, but rather tapping into more of what you are already there for.
  6. Talk to the people around you: SXSWi is a social place. The people around you are likely to be very experienced, smart, interesting people. Start up conversations, and make dinner plans with strangers, and keep going until 2am. The wisdom of the crowd is not just an abstract thing at SXSW – it is manifest in the people all around you. Talk to them.
  7. Attend my session on Hacking the Corporate Immune System: How to Innovate in Big Companies – Saturday at 12:30.
Have fun, and enjoy SXSW Interactive!

Photo credits: Luc Byhet and John Swords under Creative Commons license.

SXSW Interactive Summary 2010
#SXSWi #SXSW2010
This was the third time I’ve attended SXSW Interactive. The first time was in 2004, then 2009, and finally 2010. Each time, SXSW Interactive has grown by leaps and bounds. 
First, the good stuff:
I still saw some great presentations. Two highlights were the sessions on human brain computer interface and Punk Rock APIs. They both happened to be slightly smaller sessions. 
I met great people everywhere. Sitting next to me in panels. Via twitter. At bars. And because I work at a pretty big company, I met coworkers that I’ve worked with for years, but never met in person. 
Next, a few concerns:
The first time I attend in 2004, there was nary a corporate type to be seen. (I remember one person from IBM who stuck out wherever they went.) This year there many corporate attendees, but for the moment, small company, creative types still seem to outweigh the really big companies. I think this is important to track, because I think one of the key things that has always set SXSW apart from other conferences has been the predominant bias towards small companies, startups, creative types. To borrow a phrase from the Flamethrower session, SXSW has always represented to me the primordial soup of internet creativity. If the bias goes too far to the mainstream, then I think SXSW Interactive participants might consider going elsewhere.
Other key changes I noticed this year included the addition of a lunchtime slot for panels. This meant that most days I didn’t get to have lunch, which was a bummer both for missed lunchtime conversation as well as creating low-energy levels. The huge coffee lines meant you had to either leave one panel early or get to the next panel late. 
While I saw some great presentations, I didn’t see any awe inspiring presentations. There were some simply amazing presentations in past years. Kathy Sierra on Achieving Breakthroughs,  Derek Powazek on Designing for Wisdom of the Crowds are two that come to mind. 
I think SXSW Interactive is still really good, and probably has too much inertia to fall apart, but I do think the festival organizers need to address these concerns, or the creative, innovative heart of the Interactive festival might just go elsewhere over time.
People and Technology
The conference participants come from backgrounds as varied as programmers, database gurus, system administrators, user experience designers, marketing, public relationships, web designers, web strategists, business consultants, non-profits, for-profits, governmental agencies, americans, non-americans, managers, investors, and so forth. There are people representing themselves, small companies, medium size companies, Fortune 50 companies, and so forth. Some of those small businesses are startups seeking to grow, and some are agencies happy with the sweet spot niche they are occupying.
However, even with that wide gamut, some things you notice: a preponderance of Apple MacBooks. Way more than indicated by their percentage of the computer market. Lots of netbooks. Only a handful of traditional Windows notebooks. Tons of smartphones. Last year it was mostly iPhones and some Blackberries, and this year it was iPhones and goodly amount of Motorola DROIDs. (I would love to know if anyone has stats for this… for example, for people using my.SXSW during the conference, what was the breakdown by OS and browser.) 
Lots of checkins using Gowalla and Four Square. These location based services let you know where your friends are, and what locations are trending (e.g. lots of people going to an event)
People are still using twitter, a lot. I saw a ton of activity on twitter. Every panel has a hashtag, so you can follow the panel in real time, participate in a discussion about what the panelists are saying, and followup afterwards. I was so excited to one panel still use IRC (internet relay chat). In 2004, that was the sole method.
I didn’t see many panels project the real time display (e.g. twitter feed) up on the screen. That’s too bad. I know it can be somewhat distracting, but I find it fascinating too. (Especially since I’m pretty active taking notes, and can’t follow the stream on my laptop.)
After SXSW Interactive
I know that I go through a sort of withdrawal after SXSWi. It’s so invigorating and so thought provoking. Everyone there “gets it”. When you come back to regular life, it can be hard to adapt.
Here’s a few tips:
  • Make notes or read someone else’s notes: The insights that were so amazing while you were at the conference will fade unless you either write them down while they are fresh in your mind, or seek them out. You can usually search on Google or Twitter for #hashtag notes and find someone’s notes for the session.
  • Share what you learned: Try to figure out why those insights were so relevant to you, your organization, your business, and share them with others. Not on Twitter, but in real life. Talk to people about what you learned.
  • Find local social media / web meetups: Every city is bound to have some, so search Meetup. In Portland, you can find a thriving community of social media practitioners, designers, startups, and programmers on Calagator. (Although, if you are from Portland, you already know that.) If you can engage in the local community, you can recreate the SXSWi experience at least one night a month, if not more.
  • Practice what you learned: If you had some amazing insight, some great idea, take action on it. Do it yourself, if you have to. Do it with others if you can. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t have the expertise, you’ll learn it. That’s how everyone else up there did it.
On the Use of Paper
Last year at the end of SXSW, I wrote about The End of the Travel Print Packet. For years I had printed out boarding passes, plane and hotel reservations, maps, and restaurant reviews before going on a trip. Last year I hardly used my travel print packet because I had a smartphone with GPS, and could look up maps and restaurants and businesses on the fly. The entire thing might run anywhere from 10-30 pages, depending on where I was going and how long I was staying. 
This year I didn’t print one. I didn’t even print my boarding passes. I emailed them to my phone, and the TSA and airline agents just scanned the surface of my phone. (I think we should write a boarding pass bump application.) Not one page was printed in support of my trip. That’s amazing.
Panel Summaries
There were six sessions a day, and I was in Austin for a total of 21 session slots. In that time, I saw 17 sessions. Wow. That’s a lot crammed into 3 1/2 days. In no particular order, here they are. The links on the titles below are to my detailed, raw notes from the sessions. 
Neuroscience Marketing: The neuroscientists on this panel were absolutely fascinating. This was one of the three best sessions. Someone asked what are the big things we can learn from a neuroscience approach to marketing that we couldn’t just learn from behavioral studies.  They said that if you ask people what part of a 30 second commercial they liked, or which part of a piece of music was most emotionally provocative, they can’t tell you. But with neuroscience it can be measured exactly. 
Neuroscience won’t necessarily discover new principles, but will allow you to narrow in and focus on what is the most provocative. When eating chips and salsa, the most provocative moment is the moment between moments when you are lifting the chip with salsa on it to your mouth. Your brain goes crazy and lights up with activity: the anticipation of the salsa being in your mouth, the motor activity of balancing the salsa on the chip. To optimize this experience, the chip needs a certain strength to it, a certain curve to hold the salsa, the salsa needs a certain thickness and chunkiness. This may seem like a crazy amount of attention to pay to selling chips and salsa, but this attention to detail is exactly what Steve Jobs does with every aspect of Apple products.
To help inoculate children against marketing messages, don’t allow them to watch TV right before bed. When you are sleeping, the brain replays the activity of the day, with the most focus what happened just before bed. If a child watches TV before bed, then while sleeping the brain processes the memories of watching TV. If you have them do their homework before bed, then while sleeping the brain will process the memories of doing homework.
Brain Computer Interface: This presentation by Christie Nicholson covered technology developments that allow brains to communicate with computers. There are different types ranging from EEG, which is non-invasive (picture shower cap with electrodes) to introcortical electrodes, which are a 1mm chip implanted inside the brain. Christie showed examples of a quadrapalegic playing a video game using his brain, a rat with an artificial computer-chip hippocampus that replaced the mouse’s biological organic, and which can memorize mazes. This technology could one day be used to uploaded coded instructions to a soldier for flying an F-15. Another example showed using fiber optic cable to control a mouse, making it run in counter-clockwise circles, for example.
DARPA is a big fan, and is funding many projects in this area. One project is called Silent Talk: they want soldiers to be able to comunicate using EEGs to replace vocalized commands. Another DARPA project seems to simulate a one million neuron brain to control an ape-type robot. A third DARPA projects wants to understand how memories are encoded and transported around the brain (perhaps a way to extract memories from unwilling participants?)
Danah Boyd Keynote – Privacy and Publicity: Danah Boyd is a social media ethnographer who looks at how people use social media in their lives, and how social media transforms society. The topic of her keynote is how privacy and publicity intertwine. She said that privacy is not dead. People care about it. But what privacy means is not necessarily what people think. Privacy is having control over what information is shared. When people feel that they don’t have control over their environment, then they feel like their privacy has been violated. 
One of the biggest errors is when a company takes something public and makes it more public than intended. That’s publicizing, which is not necessarily what people want.
Danah talked quite a bit about teens. Teens want to be seen by their peers, but they don’t want to be seen by people who have power of them. 
In the real world, our environment gives us clues as to how public or private we are: in our bedroom, in a restaurant, up on stage. In a restaurant, you are in a public place, but there is a certain amount of anonymity, and you can have a reasonable expectation of who will show up. Online, the structure gives you far less clues. On Facebook, 65% of people made all their information public simply by accepting defaults they didn’t understand. Danah asked non-techies what their settings were, and then had them look at their actual settings, and not a single person had settings that matches what they thought.
Google’s mistake with Google Buzz was to integrate a public facing system inside one of the most private systems possible, Gmail. 
Socially Conscious Geeks: Led by Lief Utne and Lauren Bacon. This session looked at how folks could have more socially responsible jobs. The session was a mix of people who were at companies and wanted to go to non-profits, people who were at for-profit companies that weren’t socially responsible and wanted to go to a socially responsible for-profit, people who want to be socially responsible entrepreneurs.
The format of the session was discussion, so no one person was the expert. Several people commented on how they realized that profit was not inherently bad, if you were a socially responsible company hiring great people, then more profit meant you could hire more great people and do more good things. There is now a student loan forgiveness program, if you work at non-profits for 10 years, your student loans are forgiven. This can be a $30k/year benefit for someone with $300k in debt, which can help offset the potentially lower salary of a non-profit.
Joi Ito Presentation – How to Save the World: Joi Ito is a great speaker, and it was unfortunate that this panel was not better attended. He said that social software hasn’t saved the world, but the ecosystem and framework (e.g. the internet) is the only we we’re going to solve the problems we have. Our world is fundamentally messed up, and the problems we have are messy and complex. We made technology to make things faster and more efficient. But more efficient doesn’t mean better. More efficient means things start to get brittle – and effects start to amplify: the system gets non-linear and complex (non-linear means drastic changes, rather than gradual). The way we deal with world hunger and terrorism is still via centralized planned effort, and they don’t work.
One example he talked about was a game called World Without Oil, about the future when peak oil has passed and oil has run out. In the forums you see stuff like a high school physics teacher, the hardware store guy, and the mom, who are figuring out how to lower their energy consumption. It’s backyard ingenuity.
He talked about an example from The Age of the Unthinkable. A kid with a cell phone and a laptop. If this kid was in Silicon Valley, he would go work for Google. But he was in Beirut. What are his options for where he will go? Pretty much limited to the Hezbollah, a terrorist/paramilitary organization. If we gave these kids entrepreneurship opportunities, they would do that instead of being terrorists.
Joi Ito said “I believe very strongly in the Internet. It’s my religion.” 
He gave examples of how the Internet resulted in an explosion of innovation. (For the sake of brevity, go read the notes if you want the details.) He said that now the cost of collaborating is so low, one of the remaining barriers is the legal costs. The legal fees and time costs can exceed the value of collaboration. Creative Commons eliminates some of that. Sharing can become even easier. 
The cost of failure is so low, you can try lots of things. Linus Torvalds said “I’m going to create an operating system”, and that was the birth of Linux. A company can spend millions of dollars thinking about whether to do something, millions more getting ready to do, millions more actually going it. They can never do something like Linux or Amazon or Google. Doplr went into a cabin and prototyped it over a weekend. There is no idea you shouldn’t be able to prototype in a week. It’s cheaper and easier to prototype something than it is to create a presentation and try to explain things. 
Then he gave examples of how these things (entrepreneurship, low cost of trying, technology) came together to make differences in the world: 
  • Global Voices: network of bloggers, regional heads aggregate in each region. And then aggregate at higher levels. They do translation. The purpose is to give voice to each region, and enable a global conversation.
  • Witness: gives resources to human rights organization to record and share video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations
  • Meetup: For profit. Thought of doing it as a non-profit. We think of non-profits as volunteer work, and for-profits as IPO work, but there is a whole range of in between. Meetup has a tremendous amount of social good, and the founder only cares about saving the world, and makes money to keep the company going.
  • Architecture for humanity: get designs for building, license them under creative commons license. architecture is quite hard, so sharing it and opening it up is tremendously valuable. designs for hospitals and schools.
  • The Girl Effect: the power social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate.
  • Lulan Artisans: teaches women and girls how to knit, dye fabric, make money. Founder wanted to stop human trafficking, and the way to do that was to enable the woman to make money. They make more money than the man. So instead of selling the women, they are more valuable in the family. Thing has done more to stopping human trafficking than almost anything else. 
Beyond LAMP – Scaling Websites Past MySQL: This super valuable session covered technology to bringing websites to high scale. If interested, just read the detailed notes.
One great question was why none of the folks present on the panel (Twitter, Facebook, TechCrunch, Reddit) used Oracle. There was consensus on the panel that they liked open source. The panelist from Twitter said that as they scale, they like to be able to peek under the hook and see what is going on. The panelist from Facebook said they like open source, they like the way open source products work well together, and they like to be nimble. The proprietary systems are not so nimble. Essentially, for maximum scaling, proprietary systems just aren’t good enough because they can’t be tweaked fast enough.
Coding For Pleasure: This panel was about developing applications not to make money, but just for fun, to scratch a personal itch. They talked about how all the beloved apps, twitter, flickr, facebook – they didn’t start as a plan to make a lot of money. They just filled a need for their founders. When you aren’t out to make money, you have less restrictions – you can just focus on the best possible user experience. There was a lot of interest from the audience on how to do this if you weren’t a coder – and the panelists said that with modern languages, frameworks, and APIs, you can go from zero to competent in six months or less. Just Google your programming question. They talked about the need to link of programmers and designers, something that can still be tricky to find the right person to work with. Sounds like an unmet need.
Valerie Casey Keynote Address – Designing A Movement – Integrating Sustainability Through Systems Thinking: Valerie said that the Interactive community would be critical going forward to the sustainability movement. She said that one of the big problems facing the sustainability movement is the use of Kafta-type narrative as the prevailing story for sustainability (reference: Kafka’s metamorphosis is an unhappy man turns into a cockroach.) Examples of these including child sitting in an e-waste dump in China, the   Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the area of plastic stuck floating in the North Pacific Gyre), polar ice caps melting which is destablizing earth’s plates, and burn pits in Iraq, which cause more deaths of U.S. soldiers than combat. Yet these stories cause burnout of sustainability activists, and have no positive, optimistic side to motivate sustained, passionate effort. She covered principles of systems thinking that could motivate more effective change: 
  • a system is more than the sum of it’s parts
  • feedback delays + bounded rationality = design traps
  • creating the right measurement of success
  • selecting the correct level for change
  • enabling new models by recognizing the relationship between structure and behavior
  • issue-attention cycle: degree of awareness is inversely correlated to the degree of productive action.
Kick Ass Mashups – Punk Rock APIs: In this session Kent Brewster talking about using web site APIs to create mashups. Every website has an API, even if it is a poor one: the HTML can easily be scraped. If a company instead opens up an API, they can get pinpoint data about how it is being used.
Kent showed some amazing examples of using Yahoo Pipes and YQL to create mashups in a matter of hours. YQL is essentially a query language like SQL, the data is in the form of tables, the tables definition is creating by scraping a website or accessing the website API. It all becomes reusable. The examples Kent showed included improving the user experience of the my.SXSW scheduling website, mashing up Netflix movie data with a personal blog.
I thought it was one of the top sessions at SXSWi.
Gmail – Behind the Scenes: A cool session about Gmail and the innovations behind it. It was staffed with five Google employees from Gmail, representing engineering, engineering manager, product marketing manger, technical lead. Key insights about innovation: virtually every new feature starts life as one individual’s initiative. They prototype something, get others interested, and it moves forward. They value interaction over meetings: no regular staff meeting, instead everyone sits closely together in an open floor layout. One key feature (undo send) was implemented by an engineer in Japan, not even part of the core Gmail team – he just checked out the Gmail code, made the changes, released it to Google Labs. While the Gmail team had debated whether or not it was feasible for two years, this other engineer just did it. That’s not uncommon. Other good insights in the notes. 
What Corporate American Thinks of Enterprise 2.0 – Andrew McAfee: McAfee is a noted researcher and professor at Harvard with numerous HBR papers on enterprise adoption of Web 2.0 tools. I got to this well-attended talk 30 minutes late, so my notes only cover the last half. He talked about how to talk to management about technology, including tips such as using before and after comparisons instead of demos, presenting theories and frameworks instead of jargon, present case studies and narratives (but not about companies they may not be able to relate to such as Google or Amazon), anticipate and alley concerns, don’t treat business colleagues like geeks or dopes – very few are geeks, but no one likes to be talked down to, or treated as being part of the problem.
Scoring a Tech Book Deal: Lots of good advice for would-be writers from a successful writer, a development editor, an acquisitions editor, and a writer’s agent. One big theme: Publishers don’t want to receive a finished book: they want a proposal, a writing sample, and an explanation of why you are the right author for this project. 
A Brave New Future for Book Publishing: Given that this panel was pitched as a follow-up to the well-attended and controversial panel called New Think for Old Publishers in 2009, I expected more energy and excitement around this. (In particular, I keep hoping for The Pragmatic Bookshelf to be held out as an example of an outstanding publisher that blends the online and print worlds.) One of two big insights from this session was talk of the Espresso Book Machine, an office copier-sized machine that can churn out a trade soft cover book in five minutes. A vision was painted of the future where a bookstore is a coffee shop with a shelf full of staff picks, and the ability to print any book you want. The other big topic was the iPad, and it’s impact. The panelists thought that the iPad would be a game changer because it would introduce a new audience to e-readers: people who would not have purchased a dedicated e-reader, but will try out the e-reader capability when it comes with a device. Some discussion of books+video, books as the centerpiece of a community that includes discussions, video, and other content.
AI 2010 – Wall-e or Rise of the Machines: Like the human brain interface panel, seeing the state of the art in artificial intelligence was pretty awesome. Peter Stone talked about the value of challenge problems to stimulate progress. Good problems produce good science, examples of this include manned flight, the Apollo mission, and the Manhattan Project. Examples of current challenge problems include: “By the year 2050, a team of humanoid robots that can beat a championship team playing soccer.” Videos were shown of the progress over ten years in RoboCup. Another good challenge problem was the DARPA Grand Challenge (autonomous vehicles navigate offroad), DARPA Urban Challenge (autonomous vehicles navigate urban environment include other autonomous vehicles and human-driven vehicles.) Both successfully accomplished.
Customer Support in a 140 Character World: (A quick reminder: I work for HP, who was part of the panel, although I write for myself, and don’t represent HP.) This panel was about the use of Twitter for customer support. Opinions from the panelists varied as to whether it should be used to actually resolve issues for the customer versus connecting with them and following up by phone or email. Jeremiah Owyang said, “Customer support is PR. Customer’s don’t care what department you’re in, they just want their problem solved.” There were questions from the audience about the listening tools used (see notes for details), and the size and scope of the teams listening (~10 people for both Comcast and HP). 
What We Learned from Watching Kids with Flameworkers: This was an interesting session on the cultural value of long tail content to individuals, niche communities, and future cultural anthropologists. There are micro-genres of content (e.g. homemade flamethrowers) that might have a few thousand videos on the topic, with none having more than 10k-50k views. Yet these micro-genres make up the mass of the volume of YouTube. Amassing of collection of flamethrower videos would once have required an extension effort by a curator, yet now can be done in minutes or hours with YouTube. What future value does this hold – if a cultural anthropologist wants to look back on this time in 100 years, will those videos still exist? There are other examples of content disappearing en masse, such as GeoCities web pages, so we’re already losing our cultural history on the web less than 15 years into life on the web. Who decides what content stays around, who funds it, and how can we influence it? The flamethrower video was pretty dang great too. 

Missed it?

If you missed SXSW this year, and you’re now banging your head against your desk saying “why, why, why”, then attend WebVisions 2010 in Portland, which is another great, organic Interactive/Web conference.

Other Great Summaries:
If you find or have written other worthwhile summaries, please link to them to the comments below.

What We Learned Watching Kids with Homemade Flamethrowers
Mega secret homemade flamethrower music video on YouTube
Hwang (founder ROFLCon, @timhwang, tim at timhwang.com, brosephstalin.com)
Jacobs (@underwaterpeeps, sawyer at underwaterpeoples.com, underwaterpeoples.com)
  • Micro-genres: bodies of content that are specific yet enormous – they just haven’t been seen by anyone
    • A cluster of related work, the majority of which receives less than 50,000 views
      • Examples: slap the bag (drink an entire bag of wine, then slap the bag), dance the whip (2,850 videos), fire in the hole (10,000 videos), kids doing drugs (13,700 of salvia alone)
  • Flamethrowers (1,500 videos: 25.2 hours of video)
    • Kids are building stuff to shoot flames onto other stuff
    • Mostly kids, mostly amateur — yet the flamerthrowers get huge. Enormous flames.
    • Outside in the backyard, outside on the patio, in a forest, indoors, out the window of a car
    • Team Bonesaw: lighting a cigarette with a flamethrower
    • We’re not seeing a community here (because the same questions get asked over and over again)… just a lot of independent interactions.
  • So What?
    • the flamethrower example is the dark matter of youtube. 
    • 100,000,000 videos on youtube
    • what is actually going on inside the long tail of content? Who really looks at it?
    • micro-genres are the primordial soup of internet culture
    • ambient, historical archive on our time: continually capturing ourselves in a very genuine, amateur way for the foreseeable future. 
      • How valuable would it have been for researchers to have ambient, historical archive of videos of human behavior for the last 200 years?
    • And yet… Under Threat
  • What’s the threat?
    • Who pours the money into support platforms like YouTube?
      • The Platforms themselves. They provide the supply space for micro-genres.
      • Brands and Businesses: they use the platforms to spread their message. This is the demand element that supports the aggregators.
    • Platforms
      • We’re increasingly surrounded by devices to capture, collect, and put online data. It’s easier to transfer it, can be done at a higher rate (2G -> 3G -> 4G). This is causing an exponential growth in content
      • The monetizable content is growing an a linear rate, while all the rest of the content is growing at an exponential rate.
      • It takes a lot of resources and time to generate the monetizable content. It’s easier and easier to get the other content.
    • Brands and Business
      • Internet Celebrities
      • brands and businesses are moving into this long tail content
    • Enter the micro-genre
      • Some of it just can’t be monetized. Some is dangerous (no one wants to sponsor flamethrowers), or illegal (same for drugs), and some of it is just nothing (kids hanging out and eating McDonalds)
      • The stuff that is most culturally interested is the hardest to monetize.
    • But is there a limit?
      • Brands and businesses can sponsor down to a certain point. But somewhere there is a hard stop.
      • And the cost keeps rising.
      • There’s no love for the micro-genre. Business doesn’t sponsor based on cultural value.
    • There are potentially profitable content, and non-profitable material
      • The two live together now in places like YouTube
      • The non-profitable side is going to grow much faster
      • At a certain side, the profitable side is going to stop subsidizing the non-profitable at a certain size
      • We will lose the historical archive, the social enhancement, the primordial soup of internet culture
    • We’ll end up with something like TV
      • The profitable realm will dominate
    • Making This Stuff Culturally Sustainable
      • What is least valuable in the business realm has the most value in the cultural realm
      • So if we’re concerned about depending that space, about keeping that value, we have to do something
    • But what?
      • Create “Flamethrower Studies” – convert from a cultural curiosity to cultural study
      • Infrastructure – create infrastructure specific to it
      • Cultural Sustainability – make the case for the value so that business will accept the additional cost
      • Conservation – users of the web, as users, can make efforts to direct the web where they want it to go, influence for conservation of the resources they care about.
  • Questions
    • What about the questionable nature of the content? Don’t videos about doing drugs promote drugs?
      • The costs of going through and deciding what fits and what doesn’t fit, exceeds the costs of not allowing this content.
      • The cultural value of the open medium exceeds the cultural value of filtering out some content
    • Do we need to retain everything? Is that just an assumption from our imperial past? We need to retain every species, we need to retain every video of eating mcdonalds? Isn’t some of this just useless stuff we should just let it die?
      • It’s an over statement to say that web would die if this content goes away… It’s hard to quantify the value of any one item going away. (Will: it’s especially hard to know the future value.)
      • Sometimes the value is the community that forms: the red headed kid who made a video about being persecuted because of being a redhead, but then he found a community of supporters through followers.
    • What are the specific threats out there? net neutrality? FCC?
      • Specific case recently… chatroulette… mass media said that it was the worst thing ever, full of perverts and predators. We did some studies… Only about 8% had explicit content, which compared to the internet as a whole is really not very much at all.
    • Are there really significant marginal costs to supply and distribution? Is there any evidence to support this?
      • It’s difficult to collect data on it. (Will: no evidence)
      • The real issue may be the human bandwidth to process it… how much is coming in versus how much we process it.
    • As a teenager who did these activities, even without the internet, we still had these kinds of pranks… they just spread person to person. “How did you make that flamethrower?”
      • The main value of these videos is not that they propagate the activity, it’s that they are a snapshot in time of human behavior.
      • These things just happen… at a certain age you want to blow things up. The value is that you can capture. To compile the 25.2 hours of flamethrower video in VHS would take some serious curation. To do the same on YouTube is trivial. 
    • Any thoughts on the future of the infrastructure?
      • Holden camera has a huge community around it, even though it is a weirdly defective product. When you search on Google, you want to get the one thing you want.
      • There are good products that always do you want, bad products that never do what you want, and weird products that sometimes do what you want. 
      • If there was a random way for people to occasional be exposed to flamethrower videos, this might be useful. (Will: And this is what Rebecca Blood has been saying for years… http://www.rebeccablood.net. It’s the newspaper reading experience. You are exposed to articles you didn’t know you were interested in.)
    • Businesses always want niches. Someday “Bob’s Burn Cream” will find out about these flamethrower videos and want to advertise on them.
      • At a certain point, once the behavior is more accepted, then the advertising might be more OK. Things that are Taboo may become less taboo.
      • Why not have some disgusting snack food sponsor videos of kids getting stoned.
      • But at a certain point, do the costs of going even further niche with advertising outweight the benefit you can get. How many niches can McDonalds support or target with advertising?

AI 2010: Wall-e or Rise of the Machines?
 Mason Hale
 Doug Lenat
 Bart Selman
 Natasha Vita-More
 Peter Stone
  • Presentation started with history of AI from the Mechanical Turk through Vernor Vinge writings, from Deep Blue in 1997 through Ray Kurzweil’s Technological Singularity in 2029.
  • Doug Lenat
    • founder of two AI companies
    • Whatever Happened to AI? (title of an article he wrote, came out about a year ago)
    • You can’t get answers to simple questions from a search engine: is the space needle taller than the eiffel tower? who was president when obama was born?
      • You can get hits, and read those hits.
      • essentially a gloried dog fetching the newspaper
    • understanding natural language, speed, images… requires lots of general knowledge
      • Mary and Sue are sisters. (are they each other’s sisters? or just sisters of other people?)
    • There is no free lunch… we have to prime the pump: thousands of years of knowledge had to be communicated with the machine
      • At odds with sci-fi, evolution, academia
      • But there has been one mega-engineering effort: Cyc
        • http://cyc.com
        • Build millions of years of common sense into an expert system
    • Today: experts which are not idiots savant
    • 2015*: question answering -> semantic search -> syntactic search
      • answer the question if you can, if you can’t, fall back to meaning search, if you can’t, fall back to today’s syntactic search
    • 2020*: cradle->to->grave mental prosthesis
    • * assumes a 2013 crowdsourced knowledge acquisition
      • it’s a web based game that asks questions like “i believe that clenching one’s fists expresses frustration: true or false”
  • Peter Stone
    • Progress in artificial intelligence: the challenge problem approach
    • Non-verbal AI. 
    • A Goal of AI: Robust, fully autonomous agents that exist in the real world
    • Good problems produce good science
      • Manned flight
      • Apollo mission
      • Manhattan project
    • Goal: by the year 2050, a team of humanoid robots that can beat a championship team playing soccer
      • RoboCup 1997-1998: early robots. complete system of vision, movement, and decision.
      • RoboCup 2005-2006: robots are individually better, playing as a team. Robots are fully autonomous.
    • Many Advances due to RoboCup
      • they are seeing the world, figuring out where they are, working together.
    • Other good AI challenges
      • Trading Agents
      • Autonomous vehicles
      • Multiagent reasoning
    • Darpa Grand Challenge
      • Urban Challenge continues in the right direction – moves the competition into driving in traffic
      • It is now technically feasible to have cars that can drive themselves
      • Awesome example of a traffic intersection with all robot drivers: they use a reservation system for driving through the intersection. No need for traffic lights, just work out an optimal pattern for all cars to make it through the intersection.
  • Natasha Vita-More
    • consultant to singularity university. looks at impact of technology on society and culture
    • Immersion: the fusion of life and interactivity
    • We see a synthesis of technologies that are converging, including nanotechnology and AI
    • We are not going to be 100% biological humans in the coming decades
    • Augmentation
    • 3 complex issues
      • Enhancement: what is human enhancement and what are its media?
      • Normality: what is normal and will there be new criteria for normal?
      • Behavior: will they be familiar or feaful?
    • Enhancement
      • therapeutic enablement
      • selective enhancement
      • radical transformation
    • Creating multiple bio-synthetic personas
      • species issue: life and death
      • social issue: human and non-human rights 
      • individual issues: identity
    • Addressing design bioethics
      • life as a network of information gathering, retrieving, storing, exchanging…
    • Showed pictures of different design/art looking at future humans
    • AI Metabrain: What would it be like if our intelligence could increase? How far could that go? If we could add augmentation to our metacortex.
      • Future prosthetic, attached physically or virtually
      • Would be combination of cognitive science, neuroscience, nanotechnology
    • What will normal be? Will an unaugumented person be considered disabled? How will human thought merge with artificial intelligence? Lots of questions…
  • Bart Selman
    • AAAI Presidential Panel on Long Term AI Futures
    • One example is how to keep humans in the loop. Example, when you have military drones, who should decide to fire? One line of reasoning says humans make the final decision. But there is substantial pressure to take humans out to speed up reaction time, because it is far faster to have the machine make a judgement call than a human.
    • On plane autopilots:
      • “Current pilots are less able to fly the plane than a few years ago because they rely on the autopilot so much”
      • When pilots turn off the autopilot, they (the human pilot) then tends to make mistakes – usually because the autopilot was in a complex situation it couldn’t figure out, but the human is not any better at figuring it out.
  • Questions
    • There are now examples of human+machine playing chess against human+machine. (uh, this is not a question.)
    • Can AI be good at predicting and/or generating beautiful artistic outputs?
      • There is some example of an algorithm doing paintings.
      • Art and human is in the eye of the beholder. 
    • Are we going about it the wrong way – trying to create AI that copies human intelligence, rather than just something unique (will: i think this was the question)
      • With Deep Blue, Kasparov said that he saw the machine play creative moves.
      • Humans are a wonderful existance proof that something human sized can be intelligence, but at a certain point it’s like trying to build a flying machine using a bird as a model. The bird proves it is possible, but a plane is very different than a bird.
    • Bill Joy wrote that science needs to slow down, because it is going faster than we can manage it. What do you think?
      • We’re not, by default, building ethical behavior into robots. But that is something we need to be doing.
      • You give the robot ten dollars and tell it to get the car washed. It comes back several hours later, and the car isn’t washed. You ask what happened. It says that it donated the money to hunger relief. 
        • It’s hard to figure out ethics. You could say that it is ethically better to donate the money to hunger relief than to get a car washed. That has to be weighed against the ethic of doing what it was told to do. How do you judge, prioritize, balance these ethical issues?
    • One idea is that you can download your conscious onto a computer, and then run it there. What is the feasibility of that?
      • it’s called brain emulation
      • it’s in theory possible, but not in the next 50 years
      • there’s a question that intelligence/consciousness might not exist without being embodied.
      • besides, is it even ethical to spawn another intelligence, and then expect it to do what you want to do? 
    • How can you tell the difference, looking at the RoboCup competition, how can you tell whether behavior you are witnessing is a bug or a breakthrough?
      • It’s a breakthrough if they are doing well, and a bug if they are not. It’s easier in the context of RoboCup because the criteria for success are well defined.

Given that this panel was pitched as a followup to the missed opportunity from last year’s “New Think for Old Publishers”, I was expecting more out of it. It still felt a little light, and somehow missed the energy of last year’s panel. — Will
A Brave New Future For Book Publishing
Kevin Smokler @weegee
Kassia Krozer @booksquare
Pablo Defendini @pablod, Tor.com/Macmillan (Cory Doctorow’s publisher)
Matthew Cavnar @vooktv Sr. Director of Content, Vook
Debbie Stier @debbiestier (Sr. VP. Associate Publisher HarperStudio, Director of Digital Marketing, Harper Collins)
  • 80% of books published do not make the money back that was spent on them
  • 40% of books shipped are returned unsold
  • Borders may go under, and if they do X% of retail establishments in the U.S. will be gone.
  • Is the iPad game-changing?
    • iPad will be entry point for casual ereader use, people who don’t own ereaders. they will get comfortable with it.
    • Vook: it’s going to allow us to combine video plus a book, and that is going to be very, very compelling
    • Any device that gets book to the reader in the most frictionless way possible is going to be good. 
    • Talk about typical customer: mom, very busy, wants one device, wants it to be easy.
  • Kindle set prices at $9.99. If you buy from an independent store, it’s the same price as a hardcover – $28.99. How can an ebook cost the same as a hardcover?
    • Regardless of what the price is, it should be set by the market, not set artificially. If you put the price control with the publisher, they can experiment to see what makes the book sell.
    • What the market will bear is what the price should be, and it should vary by book. but we think to think about alternate ways about how to bring revenue and profit to the author and publisher. Don’t be locked in by the old model which is out of sync with the world today.
    • The author, the publisher, and the reader all have different valuations of a book. Sometimes even after you read it the value changes…
      • (Will: make it easy to donate to author after reading?)
  • What about the book as just the mothership for a community around the book/author?
    • If you separate the content from the vessel (e.g. memoir vs. published book), then you can figure out the best vessel for the content. Is a book always the right thing? Why is a book publisher any different than a movie studio or a music producer, why isn’t it all just a media business?
    • Movie studios have figured this out. They don’t just make a movie. They make a brand, that has spinoffs, and related products, and toys, and characters.
    • Example book: Breakaway Japanese Cooking: i’m getting some narrative, i’m getting some recipes, and i’m getting some video all from the author. The role of the publisher must change to use all the assets.
  • A New Kind of Author…
    • The Happiness Project: had a huge following, big community even before they wrote the book. 
      • The publisher always wants to know “What’s your platform?” — it used to be where did you speak, what have you published, and now it is “how many twitter followers do you have, friends on facebook, what’s your blog readership.”
    • The Pioneer Woman
    • Certain kinds of authors have the infrastructure in place to do so much on their own. So they can go to a publisher and say “what can you do for me?”, and the publisher has to show their worth.
  • Books as Art Object
    • (photo shown) beautiful editions of previously published books
    • doing ebooks would allow publishers to do more with low print run / high value editions.
    • these special books have value beyond just a vessel for reading.
  • Can anyone compete with traditional publishers…
    • Yes, because anyone could build an empire on their own like Gary V.
    • Yes, and no. Because we could be collaborators. 
    • It would take a lot of blood and sweat.
    • But someone could easily do that on their own.
    • Defendini, who runs a science fiction site, is asked if io9 is his competition. No, they are my colleagues.
    • In the same way that blogging is very accessible to soccer moms today, in five years from now, Adobe will make it just as easy to publish a book
  • Is a book becoming more like software?
    • Yes, it is becoming more of an iterative process. Like a wiki or blog, you can iterate and add to it over time. Editors and publishers need to integrate this… Yes, we took this gold master to press, but we need to keep taking new related content.
  • Questions…
      • Will print on demand really become part of the industry?
        • Yes, absolutely. 
        • Espresso Book Machine: Put in a PDF, and out comes a trade book 5 minutes later. As the price goes down, why not put that into every bookstore?
        • The bookstore of the future will be a coffee, a staff recommendations shelves, and an Espresso Book Machine. You’ll get any book you want.
      • Is the hardcover/software model broken? Don’t the $5 firesale hardcovers eat into the soft cover sale?
        • Some problems.
        • Hard cover sales are very important. When a publisher recoups cost, it usually comes from hardcover sales.
        • Hardcovers do get more credibility for reviewers, even though that is outdated.
      • Transmedia Storytelling… hard to find people in book publishing who is doing it. Hollywood is doing it. Why aren’t publishers doing it more? Random House is doing it a little. There is a transmedia hollywood.
        • It’s a little complicated from a rights perspective. Book rights are very distributed. 

Scoring a Tech Book Deal
Robert Hoekman Jr
  • Five things you need
    • A sellable idea
      • A sellable idea has to be a good idea, but it has to be more
      • it has to fill a need
      • it has to fill a gap that other books don’t fill
    • Evidence that you are the one to author this book
      • Sell yourself to the acquisition editor
      • You have to prove that not only you can write this book, but that you are THE one to write
      • It’s not just qualifications. “I never had the title Interaction Designer”, but it was a huge part of my work.
      • Q: What are qualifications?
        • Do you have a blog
        • Do you have 5,000 twitter followers
        • Other ways you can illustrate that you are listened to
        • Do you participate in forums where you are a recognized leader
        • Your proposal should include your explanation
        • “The first thing I do is Google you”
        • A writing sample. Could be a sample chapter, or something else in the style of the proposed book. Show that you can communicate and that you can educate people on the subject
    • A willingness to change your idea (#4)
      • Your original idea may not be as sellable as what you think
      • Your acquisitions editor will help you shape the idea to something you can use
    • Thick Skin (#5)
      • Your development editor will shred you during the writing. It’s their job. You don’t write as well as you think you do.
      • Your readers will shred you. It’s the internet.
    • A really good relationship (bonus)
      • If you are on the verge of divorce, it will be the end of your marriage.
      • You really need a supportive partner.
      • When you are working on the book, you don’t get your other jobs done… 
        • taking care of kids, taking out the garbage
  • Q: What about agents?
    • Entirely optional
    • Might help you get more money
  • Q: What goes in a proposal?
    • Publisher will document it. You’ll find it on their website.
  • Q: Rapor with development editor?
    • Needs to be good. If isn’t compatible, you could talk to the acquisitions editor, about another editor.
    • On the flip side, the editor is always right. If it’s not working, it’s possible the book will just get killed.
  • Q: What about sending a draft of an entire book?
    • Absolutely not. They will reject it outright. They want the development editor to shape the book. If you’ve written the whole book, they can’t shape it. It’s like writing an entire web application before getting any feedback/guidance.
    • Table of content plus sample chapter is the most you should send.
  • Q: What about title of the book and cover design?
    • Don’t send it. It marks you as someone who will be difficult to work with because you are coming in with hard and fast notions. The publisher might ask you later for ideas.
  • Q: What about things that are not strictly tech. Maybe partly tech.
    • The publisher will talk to sales rep, marketing department, book buyers to see what they would buy.
    • If the book you have wouldn’t get shelved with the tech books, then the book buyer wouldn’t buy it. That’s a different book buyer. They won’t do one-off books. 
      • A little less important on Amazon.com, and critically important in brick and mortar stores.
  • The best reason to go to a publisher is that they have a reach that you don’t have unless your 37 signals.
  • You shouldn’t be in this to make money. It’s just not going to happen. And the publishing business margins are so thin these days, there is no chance of negotiation.
  • Q: What about screenshots and images?
    • Your development editor will say “we need more images here and here”
    • The compositor will work to fit images and screenshots to the space available and made it look the best possible given space available and printing technology
  • Every publisher will have a proposal template for what they are looking for
  • You should be able to explain your book in one sentence, you’re in good shape.
  • Q: What should be the sample chapter?
    • I tell people I need a writing sample. I need to know what your voice is like, your tone. I want the writing sample to match the type of book you are proposing. But it is not essential to be an actual sample chapter.
    • Writing a sample chapter is helpful, we don’t want people to write it just to write it, but it can be helpful
  • “5,000 followers on twitter” — mentioned many times. A magic number for publishers to know you are compelling???
  • Don’t make sloppy mistakes: 
    • If you are writing a proposal to O’Reilly, don’t say “I really want to publish with New Line”
    • Don’t have spelling errors.
  • Agents:
    • Publisher will always low-ball the agent, because they know they are going to have to negotiate. If you are a first-time author, I’ll just offer what I think we would have ended up with.
    • If you come from an agent I trust, then yes, I will look at it more closely. But if it is an agent I don’t know, then it’s no different than coming yourself.
  • You get paid an advance, that’s an advance payment on royalties. 
    • Advance can be around $10K, is not trending any higher over time. 
    • Royalties can be 10% to 12%, for as long as book sells
  • We’re not looking for writers who want to write 20 books. We’re looking for (as an example) an interaction designer who is incredible passionate about interaction design and wants to share that.