The Taco Thesis

by Jay Cuthrell
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Last week I attended SXSW Interactive. My goal was to expand my mind.

I’m calling this The Taco Thesis for numerous reasons. First, I walked a lot during the week and didn’t eat well either resulting in operating at a caloric deficit even with tacos calling to me at each turn. Second, the tasty breakfast tacos during one of the more interesting pitches were filling. Third, my reflection on how quickly a room fills with just the mention of breakfast tacos at noon is telling — yes, free punch and pie does work.

In the pick two world of fast, cheap, and right — where right is never reached — this was a conference overflowing with information. My goal was to push immediate thoughts and musings directly into the fluid medium with post event collection and publishing (see also: this post). I used mobile devices that fit in my pocket to make this happen. I used linked services (fire and forget) to make it accessible online.

I’ll be blunt and say that this post is more to get down my thoughts in a single post than to extract from the raw ore of my notes and produce a delicate strand of ductile and malleable wisdom.

I met a ton of my long time and newly created Internet heroes. I broke bread with them. I chillaxed with them. I hugged them. I was even blown off and dissed by them. These stories are the stories that are mine though and aren’t really something I feel the need to put into writing. Each talk was a moment and each thought shared was something that helped me grow and think more about from here forward.

It was the people pure and simple. 100% pure people powered goodness.

It was pretty cool, I gotta say.

And now for the semi-sweet ultra-big over moderately neato ideas:

Essentials for getting there and staying there:

The three most important things I brought with me were: Blackberry, Camera Phone, Business Cards.

Blackberry - while I wish I had an iPhone, it just isn’t going to happen until there is a way to use it with other carriers. The Blackberry gave me access to twitter (major use) and dodgeball (less used). I could also reload my from the Blackberry. More important though, the Blackberry wasn’t a laptop. A laptop is a tool if you are working or writing at the show and I frankly saw a laptop as a distraction or one more reason to be tethered to a wall for power. So, if it isn’t your job to cover or be paid to be there - leave the laptop behind.

Camera phone - This was the limiting factor of the three. It’s not a great phone but it is small. The camera is only useful in very strong lighting. In retrospect a better hybrid might have been an iPod Touch that could make use of WiFi but this would limit use in dead spots where the ubiquitous Austin WiFi might not be available. Or, as many folks learned, the conference WiFi was not stable. The lesson from trying to use an actual digital camera on the first day was the extra mega pixels are lost on me and the pocket clutter cannot be ignored. Also, with a digital camera there is the extra step of finding a laptop, mounting the camera, opening the photo editor, moving files or shifting them rotation wise, sucking them into an area as ready to publish, uploading to Flickr, etc… By comparison, with a camera phone, I simply took a photo then “Sent” to the Flickr blog posting email address that gave me double posting duty by simultaneously posting to my WordPress install on Are the camera phone photos going to get me into JPG magazine? No. And, that’s not the point. The point is timely upload for the Polaroid moment shared with anyone there. The other benefit of the Flickr approach to posting in the blog is hitting the WordPress Twitter Tools plug-in that notified everyone following me on Twitter that I had created a new “post”. Granted, the text area on a mobile phone is a limiting experience when creating a blog entry but the effect was proof of concept. I still have iPhone envy.

Business Cards - Quaint anachronism? Perhaps. Perhaps in days past when IR transmitter enabled PIMs were all the rage, beaming a contact card over was the talking cat. Today it seems that business cards are making a comeback due to the low cost of high quality printing and design constraints that have gone the way of the dinosaur. I came up with a new design that would include my basic contact information in terms of my blog, twitter, IM, and my personal mobile number in the event someone wanted to call me and talk. Oddly enough, nobody called. Heh. I had some from Kinkos on heavy stock but the real cards were shipped to my hotel direct by Zazzle.

Too bad I didn’t do faster shipping options as only a select few got the Zazzle cards whereas most of my Kinkos cards were handed out already — the Zazzle cards (and the gum stick like dispensers) got a lot of compliments and putting my head on there was a better idea that I had imagined.

My SXSW badge was pretty limited in terms of photogenic representation. Heh.

The packing I did for the weather was layered.

Austin was colder than I imagined but due to my packing strategy that was a good thing. I also packed for no laundry.

  • 7 pairs of socks, underwear, tee shirts
  • 5 button down synthetic fiber dress shirts (biz casual)
  • 2 “social” shirts
  • 1 pair of jeans, shorts
  • 1 pair walking shoes
  • 1 pair workout shoes
  • 1 leather jacket
  • 1 windbreaker
  • 1 pair prescription sunglasses
  • 1 IKEA toiletry kit with travel size items

After selection the travel day outfit, this collection fits into a standard carry on bag or a large backpack when folded properly. I use garment organizers too maximize space. Wow. I never thought I’d use that phrase when I was a kid.

As a result, no checking of baggage was required. Assuming there is hotel laundry is a bit dicey since there might be a few hundred other people with the same people in the same hotels that day.

I flew Delta direct ATL to AUS direct. My Platinum status helped me to a free upgrade and I was early enough to relax in the Delta Crown Room. It also gave me the chance to connect pre-conference with a new media superhero.

A lot of other folks encountered weather, flight changes, and general travel hell.

Checking bags is a huge liability when you want to travel with flexibility but for the folks that tirelessly covered this event as part of their jobs… I salute you.

I’d only recommend others take a trade show booth worker approach as well to lighten and limber travel options. To that end, I might FedEx clothes ahead if expect colder weather next year or wish to extend to.

Next year? Yes. I am that positive I will be back again assuming I don’t get hit by a bus.

The other thing I’ve learned is that staying very far away from the event is peaceful but not ideal. I actually got a reservation at the Marriott near the airport. That was a little too peaceful. However, next year I am going to stay at the Marriott closer to the event or even at the Hilton itself as much as I don’t like staying in Hilton properties.

Things that made my head expand a bit more than I expected from SXSW:

After a presentation involving breakfast tacos, I see companies like Get Satisfaction taking over the role of Usenet as a support and feedback channel from technology companies in the 90s.

The key elements of how social networking changed the feedback loop are a) ease of access b) self grouping and c) removing silos of authentication

a) Ease of access is where the tools are readily available to all the user and across the various aspects within the enterprise and the outside supplier and customer views as well. This approach will bring greater community involvement with a maturity model similar to political involvement — passion brings involvement.

b) Self grouping will let the like minded and like interested teams find and rally around products, products, and initiatives without being lumped into what the enterprise -decides- to logically group. The point being that the social network will determine what is sensibly grouped and when. The enterprise will benefit from knowing what the various users and aspects truly highlight as valued discussions.

c) By removing silos of authentication (i.e. a web forum tied only to usernames/passwords/profiles unique to a specific company) the need to register, sign away your direct marketing rights for resale, and otherwise recreate your namespace within yet another sign up page (YASUP) is replaced by a unified notion of identity or leverage of familiar and acceptable means of gaining access to a resource or service. By taking away YASUP the user base can be free to shift from one destination to the next while retaining elements of their identity that are pertinent to finding the inter-community circles that bring concepts such as reputation, peering, and otherwise finding the birds of a feather they can agree with or disagree with on any given topic or free discussion.

Things that I think would make SXSW even more amazing if it was present:

White Board Room - there should be an entire room filled with white boards and the dry erase markers and cleaning erasers to keep everyone happy. In front of each board there should be a cheap megapixel IP web cam or even a marker tape showing the best place to take a photo of the white board. This would be a lot nicer than the back of napkins or, in my case, the dinner menu.

SXSWg or SXSW Games - there was such a huge amount of gamer presence there it felt like they should have their own show. The argument might be made that this is how Interactive came to be but I would have to research that a bit more to determine what shifted the focus to a breakout.

Eye recognition software or head tilt recogniation software - this was the first conference I have attended where everyone seemed to have their head down praying into their mobile phone keyboard, iPhone/Touch screen, or laptop plinking away actively. It would be interesting to have a running tally displayed of head tilt percentages in the crowd if everyone wore a motion sensor that determine if they were looking up at the presentations or down at their devices. Or, even a background noise detector that monitored for the sound of key clicks or button pressing sounds. It really sounds like rain on dry leaves if you close your eyes and listen.

Things that I am still wanting to get answers to in the wake of SXSW:

I’m still wondering what the mobile operator A-link utilization (SS7) looked like as a traffic ramp for all the Twitter txt activityfor SXSW. I think it would make for an interesting graphic.

I’m wondering how customers can reach into the enterprise or how coworkers can communicate within. It seems that social networking can bring transparency to the dialog. Are companies ready for that?

Things I will likely apply soon from SXSW:

So, with this newly expanded mind I’m trying to apply this to my panel and presentation in April at IP Possibilities. It is highly likely that I am going to have a few ideas thrown in the mix.

My semi-summarized thoughts are going to be how rural network operators (ISP, NSP, Telco) visualize the social network in the metrics and language they use day to day. The challenge is how these operators move from observers to active (benevolent) participants.

One thing I noted about SXSW is that I felt, well, geriatric by comparison to most of the attendees. The energy and spirit of these people is amazing. I’m sure many were close to age 35 or over 35 but the way they conducted themselves was a youthful zeal.

I did reflect on the reality of my condition. This is the year I will be 36 and begin selecting the next rung in the drop down menu for Age for YASUP.

As participation goes, a presentation last year at the NeoNova Summit 2007 from Keith Quattlebaum really hit home with me. To summarize, it’s not enough to merely listen to buzz around you. Rather, it is the service providers responsibility to represent itself through the methods of communication that the base selects and uses to discuss their needs and ideas.

This relevant photo is via assuming WordPress didn’t eat it due to reliance upon embedded javascript.

So, back to the concept of reaching into the provider…

This concept is fascinating if you run through a scenario in your head. Imagine not having to “know someone” within a large corporate structure to be heard or have your concern be seen as common and specific to the base. Going further, imagine that the faceless corporate structure is allowed to communicate and have a more personal conversation. I’m more inclined to think Get Satisfaction or similar companies will become a common approach to getting this dialog started. Hopefully the folks at Get Satisfaction will soak in their own Palmolive.

Hopefully I can illustrate pictorially with real ISP data what a social network draw on the network resource appears as in terms of flows, peer communication within the user base of a provider and what this might mean in terms of that most social of networking functions dating back several years — Internet peering.

I’m left thinking that many of the companies I’ve been exposed to during SXSW are the electronic equivalent of the Elvis peanut butter mayonnaise banana sandwich that is deep fried. Yes, Elvis was the original Mashup model architect.

  • peanut butter is sticky: compelling content that won’t let go
  • mayo is smooth: easy access via openID
  • banana is sweet: all the other user bees are swarming around
  • bread is the gui: prudent user experience elements throughout
  • frying makes it addictive: community quirks that brings you back again and again

The notion of broadcast TV with fixed schedules is going to be dead if you don’t enable content to flow from below and let kids be the new wave of public broadcasting. Will adults get it? Not likely. Still, there is something about a show everyone can talk about the next day. Time shifting might not make for the same water cooler discussions. On demand downloads of shows will shift how people rally around the actors, directors, and studios that produce the product.

Teens and access lines are not mixing but mobility will mix and be the baseline for how younger consumers want to be reached and reach out to the world around them — no matter how insular that world might be.

Everyone at SXSW that was trying to download the latest episode of The Wire (which I’ve never seen but I’m aware of this thing called TV that has shows on it and a channel known as HBO) but found that the hospitality approach to the captive portal and/or walled garden for Internet access did not mesh well with extended downloads. Also, the client software (iTunes) doesn’t really expect to have connectivity arrested mid-download. This highlights how out of touch hospitality access is still lagging behind. When you can get a better online experience at an Arby’s than you can at a $450 night Hilton… something is not right.

Related to this, the high speed internet experience is going to be the new standard for expectations. The tiers will justify the symetric desires of the few that need publishing ability. Content creators and personalities will want to push as hard or harder than they pull content today. Ask 1938 Media what it’s like trying to push up an episode on a highly over saturated wireless connection. Okay, don’t ask unless you want to laugh until your sides implode. Note: I’m admittedly slow and had to research back to understand the joke. I’m okay saying I didn’t get it but now… oh man. Comedy GOLD.

Microblogging and the microformat is sms via web with rebroadcasting to all parties that care to see it. This means the service provider SS7 links will feel it if many of your subscriber base follow with SMS updates. Edge IP offloading will have to find its way further into the rural provider chain to take on this load.

VoIP pricing for calls is just a race to zero and kids will see mobile provider features increasingly apply “jump the shark” style mindless approaches to billing or concocted feature plans each passing year.

It will go something like this:

Hey kids! Just enable this code to talk to your friends by inverting your arm into a pretzel and SMS 2234501 and pay for each minute you stand on one leg to get a video pushed up to the website that we control and will delete at random if you don’t continue to pay into us.

The history of online video starting with CU-SeeMe and the requirements back in the early to mid 90’s and timelines that brought us to the Flash enabled interfaces that appeal to webcam standard laptops and desktops using Yahoo! Live or camera phones with unlimited data plans enabled for use with Qik.

Icanhascheezburger and other LOL sites show that no matter how silly it might be… it could be the next big thing[tm].

OpenID and the new relevance for the service provider to not be the proprietary lock in for the consumer will shift expectations of service levels and what the subscriber takes with them when the shift to new providers.

Crowd wisdom (wiki) vs. mob (see elsewhere) vs. insular control by the few (Digg) will evolve as more study is done with these great social experiments in massively connected groups that wade into various pools and experiences that have interactive one to one, one to many, and many to one concepts.

Specifically, I am still reflecting on the impact of a high profile flame out of Lacy and how her celebrity profile might match Ferriss post Today show (bad press = good press?).

Point of fact, I walked up to Tim Ferriss after his presentation and said that I had no idea who he was until I saw a YouTube (now deleted?) of Donnie Deutsch spanking some kid on TV. I think Tim said he’s been invited on Donnie’s show now. I don’t know how this relates to strongly regional and localized services but it is still interesting what fame is or what crafts it.

What does this mean for people (kids) that are soaking in Palmolive now?

From the raising web 2.0 enabled kids round table there were some very polarized opinions.

I noted that courseware from MIT and other education on demand initiaves make the brainy kids into self paced marathon runners of the mind. That’s great. Okay, now what about the kids that don’t have Internet access at home or that “have” to work after school?

I don’t have kids but I learned that library systems are the home ec class and shop class of tomorow. I took shop and home economics. We made wood desk weights and rice crispy treats respectively. This has served me well in life.

Is a forced computer literacy vs luddite approach at age 3 a question of communication readiness on the part of the child or another hurdle or enforcment of poor practices? i.e. Tiger Woods might have been born with a putter in his hands… So does this mean computing early equals jwz? Is that good? Scary?

Bringing it back to the concerns of service provider: Are the defaults for the ISP router firewall OS and application an indicator of neglect on the part of the parent or the provider charged with giving a kid friendly service option? And frankly, who defines “kid friendly?”

One pervasive theme is that critical research and pattern recognition and coroboration via secondary sources have unlimited potential for varied aspects of the online and offline world. Kids have to be healthy skeptics. Perhaps parents that forward along notes without reading could learn a few things themselves?

Rounding out the areas of concern for the connected childhood is that this is all fine and well for the echo chamber but beware those outside or across the divide — connected is not always the norm and the US has a long way to go towards equal and ready access for all citizens in the great connectivity experiment that is underway.

Thoughts from taking back muni wifi panel:

This was the only softly lit to dim room I found. It was quite nice really.

In general, a common theme was that business models are the issue with wireless initiatives today.

Vos detailed the comparison early on between how everywhere but the US has figured out the way to get this going and to understand cost structures. She was very clear on how structural separation of network elements in the US have to be opened sooner rather than later.

Mac highlighted what Austin WiFi is from the design for political crisis to keeping nodes their own business model no matter how small that model might be. He regarded financial crisis and SBC and the initial threats — not RF studies and technology. Technology works itself out but human agreement an territory is old business turned over each day. His vision of a less invasive “Minority Report” approach to geocoding wifi hot spots and using social profiles to enable targeted advertising was a consistent theme that resonated with the panelists.

Bonewald’s hammer was the free and open social network. She described the lobby for muni wifi that requires heavy networking and bringing a viable business model first and foremost — get the advertising and cooperation with providers in place early and often. She highlighted that tools for the people prop up the community interest — and ultimately bridge gaps that are known and agreed upon or that manifest in the wake of service creation. i.e. did you know you needed it before it was available across the street? To get the jump from “willful political dissidence” to acceptable use is work with the AUP/ToS constraints of the incumbents to enable the user, the community, the project to prosper and raise all ships in the economy.

Mac gave an overview of cities that get it: Montreal used wrt54g instead of PC’s for hot spot creation. Berlin has the best mesh networking but was crippled by patents. This raised the discussion again around how mesh may not jive with AUP/ToS conflict — and again this takes the user into willful political dissidence. Lastly, Barcelona is connecting villages using point to multipoint wireless lan. The goal isn’t to focus solely on Internet — rather the closing of the gap and creation of the connectivity first and foremost.

My only stand up and ask a question of the entire conference was in this session. I wanted to make sure that someone could highlight why community access exclusivity clauses are so important in rural muni environments. You have people come in that want to overbuild and prey upon a market or community — it is up to the people to understand that the road that is built quickly becomes a toll road if they are not paying attention.

End Transmission

One thing I found by using twitter as a tool for taking notes is that I was often taking down condensed wording to fit into 140 characters. I don’t know if this is good or bad but I did manage to write some really bad poetic verse:

A swollen digit on the hand of creativity is marked by the immobile attack of the problem and is rendered a mere blunt instrument of goals

Yep. That’s pretty much how my thumbs felt after the heavy twitter activity of the moments at SXSW.

I can’t wait to stress them out again next year as I defend The Taco Thesis once again.


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