Last Monday I went down to the world wide web Washington conference here in DC with a couple of colleagues. This was the first of its kind in the area and drew a large crowd, which was great to see. The organizers are going to bring the one-day event/quick-speaker (15-30 minute talks) format to a bunch of other cities, if it's in your town definitely worth the trip.

The CEO of Washington Post/Newsweek Interactive, Caroline Little, led off the day with a talk about the stuff they are doing to deal with all the changes in the news industry. One of the cooler things happening is that they have given 50 reporters video cameras to help with storytelling, and if a reporter is out there uncovering a great story they can break out the camera and upload the video to the web alongside the text article. At this point, they should go ahead and pass out video cameras to everyone on staff.

An example of using video to help tell a story was a piece they ran back in April on a famous violinist being virtually ignored by a DC metro station audience. The story just took off to a national audience, and a key part of that was the video footage. A question came from the audience that was interesting to think about - is the web a place for social experiments like this to become more and more popular? On a side note, I remember an intro psych class where we had to walk across campus with a jacket on backwards or something like that, to see how people would react... would have been fun to tape it and put up on the web.

Brian Crooks of Avenue A | Razorfish, Philadelphia, talked about how the explosion of the "post-html" world was a sign that "we got it wrong the first time." As a web designer working with companies back in the late 90s, he felt that the previous nature of the web was too much like the previous media available closest to it, print. Back then no one really knew what was happening so they just took something they were familiar with and reworked it for the web... and in the mad flurry to get sites up the real purpose and opportunities got lost.

He took partial responsibility for "breaking the web" - and the users flooded in to fix it by driving the popularity of digg, myspace, etc. He also talked about the idea of cultural snacking and how information is being broken up into little bits and pieces here and there, and people are asking for it that way. This presentation also had the two coolest slides of the day which I've tried to recreate... comparing the old way of doing business (very orderly, neat, "we tell you")...

...vs. the new way of doing business/marketing (very messy, but a good messy).

David Belman of Threespot Media talked about the last 10 years online. After some general talk about the growth of the web (# HH online then vs. now, # sites, etc.), he then took a hard look at branding online - how if you remove the logos from the NYT, Washington Post, and Miami Herald websites (and almost any other newspaper out there) you can't easily figure out which one is which:

Another way to build a brand online is through all parts of a site, including functional pieces like navigation bars. He compared Microsoft, IBM, GE, Intel, and Apple sites and how the navigation feels very similar between all of them. In Apple's case, the .com navigation doesn't sync up with the OSX navigation. Even with all this sameness in functional web design, people still don't know where to find info, as 43% of web users go to a search function immediately upon visiting a site.

One of the worst culprits of throwing information at a user with a "here's everything including the kitchen sink, good luck with all of that..." attitude is msnbc.com - a site that you can scroll down for what seems like an eternity and still find links to click on. It just screams that "we have no idea who you are and what you want" to the user. Examples he gave of brands doing things right online: Disney, VW, Altoids, Starbucks, Kayak, and JetBlue.

The other talks of the day were for the most part excellent but I felt like the ones above were really above and beyond what's expected at these types of events. An all-around energizing day.


asics vs. mizuno

Asics is one of my answers when I'm asked what my favorite brands\companies are - I've had about 25 pairs of these asics running shoes over the last 12 years or so - GT something or other. I hurt my knee last year, first serious running injury so far and I had to take the winter off.

So now it's time to get back into the running mode and I went over to one of those running shops where they watch how your feet hit the ground and recommend shoes based on that... they used a video camera placed behind a treadmill at the bottom where my feet hit, that was connected to a monitor screen so I could see it along with the salespeople.

They ended up telling me that the asics are a bit too structured for me, and had me try on a few pairs. Adidas didn't feel right, New Balance were a little too snug in the heel, Montrail trail shoes felt too hard, so I went with the Mizunos below, they felt perfect. Abandoning my asics was sheer agony - I thought that if I went with another brand injury would be inevitable. They've treated me right for so long, why would I switch now? One of the salespeople sensed my hesitation and commented, "it's not like you gave asics a wedding band... you're not sponsored by them... just drop them like a bad habit and move on with it already."

Even with the pep talk, I walked around for several days with the new shoes on without going out and getting them dirty just in case I had a change of heart. Jury's still out on how they'll feel after many miles but for now they feel like clouds on my feet, better than the asics have recently felt. I still have enough old asics pairs to outfit a cross country team, so every now and then they can make an appearance... but going with the Mizunos for my fresh pair was an incredibly tough, almost gut-wrenching experience. I wasn't aware of the bond that I really had with asics until I switched.



I've temporarily misplaced my notebook from the adtech conference, but wanted to get some thoughts up in the meantime... more to come soon. Overall the conference had its ups and downs, but for the most part was great. Lots of buzz-like words and acronyms were dropped ("behavioral targeting") but looking past that the emerging themes were helpful.

Main theme of the breakout sessions I went to was the idea of engagement - providing value to your customers before interrupting them with a message to "buy, buy, buy." It's a good thing that a lot of clients seemed to be walking around - several people from Xbox, Microsoft, Yahoo! - for them to have an understanding of all this is a good way to get the sea change jump-started.

There were a few excellent sessions - viral/WOM and left coast creative sessions especially. Benjamin Palmer of The Barbarian Group stated that a lot of their work and alot of other out there viral, like the Milwaukee's Best Light beer cannon, is done when there's not much more choice - when companies are losing market share and think, "ok, there's nothing else we can do, let's put something together and see what happens." I enjoyed hearing about the Rolling Rock work from Goodby - how they created a controversy with their fictitious CMO Ron Stablehorn apologizing for ads that were distasteful, etc. to move the conversation away from the Latrobe, Pa. plant closing down. Great use of available tools.

more to come...