The 140 Characters conference is a downright hugfest, as founder Jeff Pulver insists on giving physical hugs to the speakers and virtual hugs to the audience. The virtual hugs come in the form of carefully chosen speakers whose unique stories inspire, cajole and even move the audience to tears. Here is a recap of day one excluding five stories I included in my MediaPost article today.
Making Machines Smarter
Robert Stephens (@rstephens) founder of Geek Squad believes that we are moving from “automation to anticipation,” where apps will be able to talk to other apps. Stephens lamented that the autocorrection on Mac’s don’t currently learn from your input, something he believes could and should be solved with a little artificial intelligence. Another basic example is of the open garage door that automatically shuts after 20 minutes of disuse. Stephens explained that, “once is a hint, twice is a pattern and three times is a preference,” so if apps can observe this behavior then the “fourth time becomes a habit.” Stephens also offered a new model of privacy he called “prefacy,” in which the preferences we share via our social networks help services serve us in a more personalized manner–like a hotel anticipating our pillow preference.
Data Can Be Beautiful
Hjalmar Gislason (@datamarket), Founder & CEO, DataMarket, talked about creating a Google for numbers tat could find the best data available for your particular query. More importantly, Gislason pointed out how most of us can find much in the data unless it is transformed into graphs and charts that bring the story to life. Visualization is critical, explained Gislason, who didn’t not want his deeply insightful charts to be confused with typically useless infographics!
You Can Find Just About Anybody Via Social Media
Dan Lewis (@sesamestreet), Director of New Media Communications at Sesame Street, told a cute story how they tracked down the name of the actor who appeared in a pilot for the show four decades ago. And then Dan shocked the audience with his revelation that Big Bird is actually a puppet!
Social TV Is Probably Not About New Apps
Caroline Giegerich (@DailyMarauder), Founder/Editor of Daily Maraude, Ian Schafer (@ischafer), CEO of Deep Focus and Rishi Malhotra (@rishimalhotra), Managing Partner of Media did not express a lot of love for new Social TV apps like GetGlue. Instead, they felt networks like Twitter and Facebook would fulfill the “water cooler” need through the use of hashtags. Also, when discussing the long-anticipated convergence of everything on one screen, Schafer believes that we are more likely to see “everything on every screen,” and that we are likely to continue to live in a simultaneous multi-screen environment. As one of the speakers noted, “who wants to buy a 70″ TV and see Twitter trash or YouTube comments (lowest life-form!)”
iPads as Teaching Devices
One of my favorite sessions was with Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt), a teacher who is “out to change the world, one classroom at a time!” Honeycutt demonstrated how an iPhone could help teach kids basic chords thus getting them started with music, something he believes can help them see they can do just about anything they put their minds to. He then took an iPad, velcroed it to a cardboard guitar and proceeded to rock the house. Honeycutt, who uses his own humble origins as a continual punchline like “getting kicked out of his trailer park for thought lifting,” believes his highly entertaining teaching style can help prevent the “cognitive blisters” that impede learning. I have no doubt he’s right.
Revisiting The Scarlet Letter with Jack Abramoff
This would be a good time to thank my 11th grade English teacher Betty Orbach for permanently imprinting the meaning of the scarlet letter in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale. Just in case you didn’t have Ms. Orbach, Hester Prynne is forced to wear a big red A on her sweater after committing adultery. After years of social service, people begin to see Hester’s A as standing for “able” and then ultimately as “angel.” Jack Abramoff(@jackabramoff) might as well wear a big fat A on his chest, being among the most infamous of Washington lobbyists. Taking a page from Prynne, a humble and repentant Abramoff, is now trying to diligently drain the cesspool he used to swim in so effectively. Good luck with that Mr. A.
This One Made Most of Us Weep
Heather Hamilton (@tjzmommy) had most of us in tears as she told the tragic story of her son Zack whose life was cut short way t0o early. During his few years, Zack fought a courageous battle in and out of hospitals, finding joy in among other things Sesame Streets’s Elmo, who became “a fifth member of the family.” During this same period, Heather discovered a community of supportive friends via Twitter and Facebook. After Zack died, the York Central Hospital in Toronto asked Heather if she would like to name a kid’s play room after Zack and help raise the $25,000 needed to fund the room. Throwing herself into this project, Heather reached out to her newfound network and was astonished by their support. Total strangers held fundraisers and online auctions. Ultimately, Heather not only raised the funds but also she was able to engage the Sesame Street team to produce a video with Elmo called Zacky’s Song that now welcome’s visitors to Zack’s Dream Room.
“Knowing Where You’re Going is Irresistibly Attractive”
Liz Strauss (@lizstrauss), Founder, SOBCon, is a terrific speaker, telling tales of her childhood as a wellspring for inspiration and overcoming obstacles. Strauss reminded us that we need to train ourselves to hear opportunity which is usually on the other side of every problem. The challenge is to filter out all the negative noise and then focus on “seeing yourself where you want to be.” She reminds us that “everything you’ve succeeded at you decided you were going to finish before you started; that way when the roadblocks came; you didn’t drop back and say this is too hard.” Strauss talks of being in the moment and not worrying about the past; any opportunity can be a vehicle to get where you want to go. My favorite quote, “knowing where you’re going it is irresistibly attractive.”
Fighting Intergenerational Incarceration
Andy Dixon (@andydixn), a self-described, “ex-con with convictions,” told his remarkable story of over-coming “felonism,” an inherited inclination to commit crimes and go to jail. Andy simple message is that breaking the cycle is hard BUT can be done by helping the 2.7 million kids with parents in prison get a decent education.
Everything You Need to Know About Social Media, You Can Learn from a Small Town Liquor Store
Becky McCray (@BeckyMcCray) Co-Host of #140conf Smalltown and Co-Author of Small Town Rules, made a great case that running a successful social media program is not all that different from running a small town liquor store. Since it can be intimidating to get started; spend time building 1:1 on connections at first. Then get involved in the community and support them anyway you can. In both cases, it is important to think long term and to be helpful to anyone and everyone. Honesty is essential. Word spreads fast in a small town (and online.) McCray recommended personalized attention and sharing information, even if it means carrying a wine for just one customer. While McCray doesn’t recommend giving your product away, giving advice for free is a no brainer, helping to build trust and loyalty. Cheers to that!
Finally, a Few Shout Outs
Hank Wasiak (@hankwasiak), believes this is an amazing time for marketers to do well by doing good. Wasiak presented research that suggests most marketers spend 90% of their energy on product claims when the real persuasion happens by focusing on brand values, explaining why a brand exists and the impact it seeks to make in the world. Adds Wasiak, while ideals are not proprietary, how you bring them to market is and he backs this up with Jim Stengel’s research that concludes that ideals-driven companies outperform others 3 to 1.
Greg Corbin (@JustGregPoet) is the Executive Director of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, a program that inspires high school kids to write and perform spoken word poetry. Two of his students performed and they were awesome!
And that was just some of the highlights of Day 1. I’m afraid I had to go back to work and missed Day 2. (If you enjoyed this post, feel free to subscribe to my blog.
Great overview – great introduction to some interesting people and activities!)
Drew is the CEO of Renegade, the digital & guerrilla marketing agency from New York City that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service." Twitter: @DrewNeisser