I was one of the presenters at our 2WAY conference in New York City this week and was glad that I had an opportunity to meet so many movers and shakers as well as old friends. I wanted to give you some impressions from an enterprise IT perspective, and apologize in advance for filling this post with almost as many links as a Frank Rich column.
One thing is pretty clear to me: running a modern corporate Web site isn't getting any easier. It isn't just keeping up with the latest HTML5 tags and what features Microsoft and Mozilla are adding to their latest browsers (although both are worth tracking) - it is maintaining a complex ecosystem of a myriad of software tools, updating your corporate policies as new technologies take over the marketplace, finding people with the right skill mix and personalities to leverage new social media. (Oh, and also understanding how the Web has infiltrated just about everything that we do these days as Fred Wilson made abundantly clear during his speech).
Gulp. And you thought you had this one covered with just putting up your corporate blog?
Andy Carvin and the deep Twitter dive into new journalism
I had an opportunity to spend some time with Andy Carvin, who was our opening speaker and works for National Public Radio. If you want someone to really take advantage of using social media for doing their job, you should see what he is doing. Carvin works 18-hour days and is rarely off-line, but he does find out things that few others do, including breaking the Syrian blogging story of "Amina Abdullah" over this past weekend.
The reason Amina's name is in quotes is because she is really a them. It turns out that Amina, who wrote a blog under the identity of a lesbian Syrian living in Damascus, was really a couple living in Scotland: Tom MacMaster and Britta Froelicher, the latter an expert on Syria.
What is intriguing to me as an online journalist (who never went to J-school like Carvin) is how he has taken the modern Web tools and used it to delve into the stories of our era. Carvin uses Twitter, Storify, Facebook and just dogged research to track stuff down and create amazing stories for NPR. Ironically, with all of this technology at his disposal, he hasn't checked an RSS reader in two years. He thinks of Twitter as his assignment editor to find stories to follow and research, based on trending topics and just keeping his ear to the Twitstream. It is both simple and effective.
Here is his Storify archive of the whole incident, where you can see him building a case that Amina was phony and how he tracked down who "she" really was -- whether anyone actually met her f2f or over video chat, and how the pieces in uncovering the hoax gradually came together. You'll want to scroll down through the massive archive to see the final resolution that was posted to NPR's blog earlier this week.
Key takeaway: With all his brilliant reporting, Carvin isn't necessarily the ideal role model for a corporate Tweeter-in-residence: as his following builds, it is his brand and not NPR's that is being enhanced. We still don't have the best models for how businesses can transfer the street cred of these superstars. This troubles me.
The changing nature of publishing, according to Jason Calacanis
Always provocative and never dull, Jason Calacanis was interviewed by our own Abraham Hyatt about his views on the Web and the world, managing to dis just about everyone in under an hour - including journalists in general ("J-school is a waste of time"), AOL (who bought his company and made him a VC), plugging his own conference (bad form!) and saying that blogging is dead. Calacanis has recently returned to long-form email newsletters as his chief communications mechanism and found that it re-engages his audience, not to mention his massive ego. As someone who has written a weekly email newsletter for more than 17 years, I can attest to the power of email marketing. But blogs being dead? Hardly.
What I found amusing and powerful is how Calacanis talks in sound bytes that are perfect for the Twitter age: I had numerous Tweets from his session, talking about how smart publishers will find people who can host, shoot, and edit videos. (Calacanis' latest effort is to curate and publish thousands of how-to videos, coincidentally.) He spoke how "just being a writer is not enough, you have to have some depth of knowledge and be an expert or you'll be run over by one of them. Journalists have to compete against the experts, who go direct to their readers and have their own brands and audiences," not something that is startlingly new but still noteworthy to hear again.
The key takeaway from the Jason dis-athon is that video is here to stay and that corporations who are looking to extend their reach and keep their Google rankings will need to have a serious video effort on their sites in the near future.
Twitter as an art form
Perhaps the funniest session was filled with 'tude, Baratunde Thurston to be specific. He works for the satire site The Onion, and his description of pranks, meet-ups, and other oddities that they pull off was most amusing. Twitter has become the enabler for a new street performance art form that combines the best elements of flash mobs and old-time yellow journalism. He creates new Twitter identities and hash tags as effortlessly as putting on a new black logo t-shirt, and builds them into elaborate gags, such as "live-hating" Tweets of Twilight movie openings to becoming mayor of a trendy New York deli on Foursquare, conducting his campaign over 30 days - and ultimately losing out to his arch rival.
Key takeaway here: branding isn't just about accumulating followers and friends, but being in the moment and capitalizing on what is new right this nanosecond. And unlike the Amina hoaxsters, Thurston knows how to use identities for good, or at least for our amusement. Think about how your company can leverage more humor to support your brand. The trick is to be able to harness this power for good rather than evil.
I'll have lots more thoughts about the conference tomorrow in Part 2 of this post. And feel to leave your own comments, especially if you watched our stream or were at the event and had different impressions.