Highlights from XML Melbourne presentations

X Media Lab presented a collection of insightful speakers from around the world.   My brain was nearly overloaded by the end of the first day.

Below is a summary of some highlights.  I did not manage to take notes on all of the speeches, however.   For comprehensive reporting on XML, check out LagrangePoint where Brad Howarth diligently live-blogged the entire conference.

  • Stewart Butterfield‘s presentation included a bunch of Flickr photos from people in the audience at Obama’s speech at the Siegesaule in Berlin.  In every photo, you could see dozens of hands waving tiny digital cameras and camcorders.  His point:  everybody has a digital camera now, and when these cameras are connected to sites like Flickr, they serve as “the eyes of the world.”   It’s a freaky cool idea.   The internet has transformed into a global nervous system and now digital cameras and cameraphones have sprouted like billions of digital eyes.   And so the Web can see! Photo uploading is a huge draw on social sites like FaceBook.  Next phase will be layers of meta data and commentary provided by others who wrap a layer of context around the basic image.   I immediately thought of that cool video from TED that showcased Microsoft’s PhotoSynth.    Stewart offered a concise summary on the shift to social media:  “Content and media objects become the locus of interaction rather than things which are passively ‘consumed’.  This is a trend that is unstoppable.”
  • Stewart made another point that most major media companies miss when they attempt to foster user interaction around their big branded shows.  Namely, the motivation for user-created content differs greatly from the motivation to watch or “consume” linear video.  User-created content is fueled by the desire to create relationships, to keep in touch, to gain some kind of acknowlegement or recognition, and the desire to share personal views and persuade others.
  • Ken Rutkowski of KenRadio.com spoke about how the now-cliched 4C’s of the 1998-era Internet (community, content, commerce and communication or whatever) have been superseded by the 4 M’s, namely:  movement, management, measurement and monetization of audience.    This is a neat idea that Rutkowski frequently explains in his public speaking.  He’s a terrific speaker and it’s fun to hear him expound on this idea.  Like all models, the 4M concept may seem a little abstract but it provides a useful framework to evaluate why some web initiatives work surprisingly well.
  • Ken also rocked my world by demo’ing a live version of Qik right from the conference.   I was sitting next to him while he streamed live video from his mobile phone right to his laptop via Qik.  I was thrilled to see the video run roundtrip halfway around the world.  This is a topic that I am personally passionate about, since I spent a couple of grueling years traveling around the world to evangelize the prospect of mobile video in 2000-2002 to skeptical mobile operators and clueless handset manufacturers.   What PacketVideo invented has now become easy to use and nearly ubiquitous. Services like Qik close the gap between mobile and Internet.  Today it’s not unusual to have an audience of dozens or even hundreds watching a live Qik stream.  The implications for newsgathering and citizen journalism are massive.
  • Mohamed Nanabhay of Al Jezeera New Media gave a splendid talk about the challenge of UGC to a broadcaster and shared a long list of lessons for TV companies.   Al Jezeera presents a radically different perspective on new media as well as traditional TV, representing a vast audience that frankly was underserved and underrepresented in the past.  No surprise that they have taken a proactive stance towards their viewers.  Main point:  the viewer must be in control and the programmer must constantly think of new ways to empower the audience.  Example:  if I must watch an advertisement, why can’t I choose which ad to watch, the one for the car, or the truck, or the SUV?
  • Mohamed has a great sense of humor.  He included a funny clip from Jon Stewart which got the biggest laugh of the day.  In the clip, Stewart mocks CNN’s incredibly lame appeal to the audience to upload videos of natural disasters like hurricanes and fires.  It struck me as very shrewd for Nanabhay, a representative of a news company, to skewer both the idea of UGC news and a big competitor with a single video clip (which was downloaded from YouTube!).
  • Herb Wang of Cisco China’s Internet Business Solutions Group revealed the insights that Cisco shares with their telco customers about service differentiation and how to build an ecosystem.
  • Herb is also Cisco’s representative to the Shanghai World Expo, scheduled for 2010.   The scale of this event is mindboggling.   The site is 1300 acres (larger than all of the theme parks in Orlando Florida together), more participating countries than the United Nations (!) and an expected attendance of 80 million people.  Cisco is sponsoring an ambitious virtual world for the Shanghai World Expo.
  • Mike McGraw of BigFuel agency in NYC gave a great talk that was filled with examples of online marketing that truly succeeded in engaging an audience in a way that most TV shows cannot manage.  He cited some obvious examples (Elf Yourself) and some less obvious ones (such as Mashup Huruhumi and also an example of “dark marketing” by McDonald’s which sponsors cool sites with minimal sponsor branding). Mike’s point is that both advertisers and audiences seek to cut through the “data smog” to a deeper level of engagement, and the advertisers are willing to work with anyone who can make this happen, not just the big agencies.  BigFuel, a boutique agency, is taking advantage of this opportunity to score some big clients.
  • Jae Won of Korean VC firm Skylake Incuvest provided the kind of crisp, numbers-driven presentation that investors love.   In a day of wooly conceptual talks, it was refreshing to see Jae focus on facts and some well-reasoned analysis that points to the likelihood of the fabulous 10x return.   He pointed out that most digital media companies have failed to solve the biggest problems with rich media delivery on the web, such as the huge costs of content acquisition, storage, delivery.  Example:  YouTube still loses $1 million a day.   Jae showed examples of two companies, VMark and PeeringPortal who are tackling these big problems.
  • New Zealand’s Helen Baxter (aka “Ms Behaving”) is the source of some incredibly high energy.  When she’s not starting a new company she produces and stars in the G33k show.  She did a neat presentation using the new FlowGram format that showcased a huge number of cool projects and some of the neat new tools for DIY media creation and distribution.
  • The other presenters included: Chris Adams (co founder of Participant Productions with an impressive track record for companies like Facebook and Glam);  Canadian web producer McLean Mashinadze-Greaves; Australian producer Louise McElvogue; Scott-Bradley Pearce of Addikted.TV;  Gary Wisniewski of Second Life Cable Network; Dominic Carosa, founder of Dominet; Dan Fill of Australian Broadcasting Company; and my friend Nick DeMartino of the American Film Institute.    These speakers also gave terrific presentations.