April 1st, 2008


My first Social Media Breakfast

[Happy birthday to cvirtue!]

One of the things that's cool (if slightly insane) about bootstrapping my own company is wearing *all* the hats. (With the notable exception of CIO, which is being handled by Aaron.) Today I was out playing CEO in my first networking outing, at this month's Social Media Breakfast.

The SMB is a rapidly growing phenomenon that was sort of accidentally created by Bryan Person a few months ago. He explained to me today that he'd simply had a free morning, and had Twittered that he was looking to go out to breakfast and talk with folks about all this Social Media stuff. A bunch of people showed up, had fun, it turned into a kinda-sorta monthly thing, and now it's gradually spreading worldwide. (This will sound eerily familiar to those of us familiar with SCA history.)

Breakfast was at the S&S in Inman Square; I got there ridiculously early, having taken msmemory's recommended (and extremely effective) back route into Somerville. (For future reference, at 6:40 it only takes 40 minutes to get in via Route 3.) That was fine, since it gave me some time to relax and collect my thoughts before 8am, when I launched into three hours of high-intensity networking.

I'd kind of expected the thing to be full of fellow geeks, but that was *far* from true -- indeed, the most useful aspect of the visit was to remind me of how much life there is outside LiveJournal. This crowd was young (probably 3/4 younger than me, many *much* younger), hip to all kinds of cutting-edge technology (less an LJ-centric crowd, much more into Twitter), and *remarkably* diverse. For example, look at the business cards I wound up collecting:
  • A geeky accountant who is changing careers, and trying to understand the state of the world outside the big corporation she's working for;

  • An open source/media/protocols evangelist who tries to help big companies make use of the open tech that's coming online;

  • A designer who is trying to set himself up as the premiere design blogger in Boston (and maybe someday make some money doing so);

  • A high-school senior with a deep passion for podcasting, who skipped classes to come to this;

  • A big-company conference manager, focused on educational systems for adults;

  • A hardcore vlogger, up on the latest tools for using video to communicate with the rest of the world.
And that's not counting the dozens of people who I didn't get cards from, especially the college students. These ranged from the passionate BU student who is about to graduate and is trying to find ways to use new media to make the world a better place (I gave her shava23's name -- Shava, if you get a contact out of the blue, that's where it came from), to the gaggle of eight girls who are all interning at a PR firm and came as a group. All told, it was a big group -- about 80 people, which is probably partly attributable to the presence of big-name blogger Jeff Pulver.

There were actually a lot less business cards exchanged than I was expecting, and a lot more Twitter handles. (I need to get my head into Twitter -- like it or not, it matters to the geekerati, and I need to understand it better.) But I managed to give out a dozen or so of my cards, and was complemented a couple of times on the design. (Which amused me enormously, having whipped them up yesterday based on a stock MS template, without the real logo yet.) Several people remarked with amazement that I managed to get a domain name that didn't totally suck.

The most interesting person I wound up networking with turned out to be none other than Kee Hinckley -- Nazgul, to those of you old enough to remember pro-angmar, the late, great, original BBS of the Boston area. Naz has also wound up going entrepreneurial in this space: he's putting together a system to unify and manage your identity across these manifold networks. I gather that this is even earlier-stage than CommYou, but we agreed that there are some very interesting possible synergies between the companies, so we're going to talk more.

Anyway, I went into Full Demo Mode, for those of you who have seen me do that. (For those who haven't: I become intensely but politely garrulous, shaking everybody's hand, hearing what they are interested in and giving a constantly-varying spiel.) Fortunately, between SCA demos and years of LARPing, I have some skill at dealing with a situation where I am surrounded with a crowd of strangers and have A Mission -- in this case, to get to know who everybody was, and talk up CommYou to anybody who seemed like they might actually care. Actually, it was *remarkably* similar to a demo, or the early stages of a LARP, all about lots of little brief conversations, getting to understand the lay of the land socially, and share information. Once again, I find myself feeling like the universe has steered me into having exactly the skill set I need in order to be able to pull this off.

The amusement of the day was Jeff Pulver's "Personal Social-Networking Toolkits", as described in this video. This is one of those ideas so goofy it's brilliant. Everyone, on entrance, is handed their "toolkit". This consists of a personal communicator (a Bic pen), an identity and feed system (a "Hello, My Name is" badge, whereon you write your name and a slogan), and a tag cloud (another badge). You were given little stickers with which to "tag" each other on your tag clouds, as well as a pad of Post-It notes so you can leave notes on each other's "Walls". (Their shirts.) Frankly, the tagging thing is a genius of an icebreaker -- my greatest compliment of the day was when someone tagged me with "Interesting". While Jeff presumably won't be hosting the next one (he flits all over the world doing all kinds of get-togethers; the SMB is mainly Bryan's baby), I'm going to encourage Bryan to keep the tag-cloud idea. The only problem with the toolkits is that the Post-Its tend to fall off of shirts -- however, this can be solved in the next revision.

Overall, the thing was a blast, and I expect I'll keep going to them. I love my friends dearly, but it is a bit of an echo chamber here: we're all very LJ-centric, and can easily miss the larger movements in the rapidly-evolving social space. I need to get out more, and this is a fun way of doing so...

Recommendations for Contact Management?

Having had my first major networking foray, I find myself in need of some way of keeping track of the people I've just met. Anybody have any suggestions of good software for this? I have little desire to use Exchange, for a variety of reasons. I'd frankly prefer something online, so I don't have to worry about having my contact list be dependent on the vagaries of a single hard drive, so long as the site I host it on is halfway trustworthy. I might just use Gmail, but I haven't tried to do anything *serious* with that, so I don't know if there are particular strengths or weaknesses there.

So -- anybody have any favorites? I'm especially interested in advice from consultants and suchlike, who need to juggle significant and constantly growing lists of contacts in a manageable way...

Ah, you always have to love Google Labs...

If you haven't already, check out Google's newest service, Gday. It really redefines cutting-edge. This time of year always seems to bring out the most innovative ideas from Google...

ETA: And then, of course, there's the nearly-as-ambitious Project Virgle. Which feels to me like one of those terribly dangerous magical incantations that may be more powerful and uncontrollable than the sorceror in question realizes...

Succumbing to the trend...

Okay, there -- after putting it off for a year, I've finally signed up for Twitter. (Under the usual "jducoeur" handle.) Now, out of curiosity, is *anybody* here on it?

I have to say that I'm very happy about my first impressions: specifically, that *boy* their UI is bad. Clumsy CSS, unacceptably slow (worse than my current state, which I'm not willing to go to alpha with), really pretty awful all around. This is comforting to me, in that, while it's still better-looking than CommYou right now, it's not nearly as good as I intend CommYou to be by the time I get to beta. It's a fine reminder that yes, if you're in the right place at the right time, function does still trump form...