Cafe Witness

Friday, March 30, 2007

Video on the Net: The Personal Recap

As with all things web media, it seems like the residual energy from a major event like VON is yet another "snack-based" item, something that dissipates quicker than it should.

It's logical, considering there are another 20 items vying for my attention the day I step off the plane and return to my "normal" life. But, fortunately, that residual energy doesn't fade away completely; it just wanes, ever so slowly, while my attentions are diverted.

So, before the memories fade completely, let me regale you with my personal recollection of the event. Will this be instructive? Doubtful. Will it make you wish you were there? Quite possibly.

I Love People

I'm a social guy. Drop me in a room full of interesting people and I'll find a million ways to amuse myself.

I'm not always the chattiest guy, nor am I someone who feels compelled to meet everyone within eyesight, but I do enjoy finding out what makes people tick.

At VON, I was fortunate to spend most of my time with people I either already knew and valued, or people I met and grew to appreciate in a very short amount of time.

Old Faces

- Chris Brogan, who made the world go 'round

- Jeff Pulver, who provided the gravity (and the raison d'etre)

- Steve Garfield, who continues to pioneer strange and wonderful new ways to use new media

- Brian Conley of Alive in Baghdad, who continues to strike fear in the hearts of insincere videobloggers everywhere

- Jim Kirks of The Clip Show, who remains one of the web's best "undiscovered" personalities

- Michael Bailey of MobaSoft, who has become nearly ubiquitous on the new media social scene. If there's a podcasting event, chances are Michael is on the guest list.

New Faces

- Clintus McGintus, who went from complete stranger to "my roommate" in the span of five minutes. One of the nicest human beings I've ever met, and without an ounce of pretense to muddy the picture. Great guy.

- Sarah Atwood, one half of Nontourage and co-star of the short-lived (but perhaps resuscitatable?) Vloggy-winning podcast Almost There. The female foil for many male egos in San Jose, Sarah proved her worth to the firm time and again.

- Grace Piper, whose Fearless Cooking podcast is truly the work of a woman to be reckoned with. Especially if you're a squid. (AKA Winner of $200 in a hit-and-run poker game at the after-party...)

- Jim Long, whose 17 years of experience as an NBC cameraman have prepared him well for this world of on-the-fly information gathering. Smart, friendly and self-deprecating to a fault.

- Casey McKinnon, the female half of Galacticast. (We'd actually met at PodCamp Boston, but I wasn't in the business of being memorable at that time.)

- French Maid TV's Tim Street, whom I'd also met at the Yahoo Halloween party in October. (Again, I tend to blend in quietly unless provoked.)

- Roxanne Darling, star of Beach Walks with Rox, who is every bit as calming and visibly wise in person as she is when following nature's paths in Hawaii.

- Schlomo Rabinowitz, "enabler to the podcasting stars of tomorrow." Also knows the right time for shots of Jameson. (Answer: always.)

- Toronto podcaster Vergel Evans, who was easily the silver medalist behind Clintus in the "nicest guy / happiest to be here" 100 metre dash.

- YouTube juggernaut Mark Day, who's nowhere near as blood-curdlingly intimidating as I expected him to be when left alone with him for the better part of an hour. Turns out all he needs is a good chaperone through the technological landscape and he's content.

- Nick Douglas, vlogstar of Look Shiny. We thought for quite awhile that we knew each other. Nope. Just turns out I'd seen Look Shiny recently and thought I knew him. You get that a lot in web video...

- Scott Simpson of iTunes, who -- in addition to being generally hilarious in a completely deadpan manner -- told what shall go down in history as, easily, the most paralyzingly funny story at the VON "after-party" circuit. I've tried replicating the moment with several audiences myself and failed; Scott sets a new bar for "dry delivery."

There were dozens of other folks I had a great time with, and whose brains I picked endlessly for some truly fascinating conversations. But many of them are executives or lawyers or other "behind-the-scenes" people, so I'll spare them the association with a blog post that's shaping up to be more "Entertainment Tonight" than "Inside the Actor's Studio."

If I've failed to mention any of the other wonderful people I met and enjoyed the company of at VON, by all means, consider yourselves lucky to remain anonymous.

The Inside Stuff

So, wondering what exactly goes on among a group of half-drunk pseudo-celebrities such as ourselves at an event like this? Here are, in no particular order -- and in no way guaranteed to make complete sense -- what I recall as some of the highlights of my week in San Jose:

- Arrive in San Jose. Make my way to the hotel. Bump into Steve Garfield, Blip TV's Dina Kaplan and others in the hallway outside the "beta party" suite. Dina talks to me for a few sentences before we both realize she doesn't recognize me. Last time we hung out, my hair was about 6 inches shorter. It takes Garfield, who'd lost his voice after SXSW, to explain who I was in pantomime.

- Pulver party suite: booze, piano, poker. Lots of food. Lots more liquor, mostly in people. People who are playing Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero...

- I'm supposed to share a speaking slot with Garfield and Conley. We ask each other what we intend to speak about.

Garfield? The ease and impact of videoblogging with consumer-level equipment.

Kownacki? How to create engaging, sustainable episodic content.

Conley? "I'm just gonna walk up there, kick over the podium and let them all know they're full of shit."

Sounds like a well-rounded presentation...

- At VON, looking for a plug for my laptop. The only one I can find is being occupied by BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis. I momentarily consider asking if I can share his outlet, but some obscure form of "don't talk to the A-listers" stigma prevents me from doing so -- which is odd, considering Jarvis is quite a normal guy. Instead, I blog from the presentation room floor until my battery dies, while Jarvis makes small talk with VON honcho (and raconteur) Andrew Lipson -- not even using the computer that's plugged in.

- Wednesday morning. 11 AM. Garfield, Conley and I are due to speak in 15 minutes. My cell phone rings. It's Conley.

"Where are you?" I ask.

"Walking over from the hotel. I never set the alarm. Where is everybody?"

"Waiting for you to speak."

"Oh... Is there any juice?"

- Walking to a nearby Mexican restaurant on a beautiful spring evening with Kirks and Atwood. Says Kirks, apropos of nothing and with complete contentment, "We're gonna die tonight." This strikes all three of us as being perfectly agreeable.

- Never one to look a gift premonition in the mouth, we later find ourselves (and several of the others mentioned above) standing in a Jack-in-the-Box at 2 AM in the part of town that, it can charitably be said, "is where you get shot."

Never before has Michael Bailey taken SO LONG to open a straw wrapper. Seriously. The entire time, all that's going through my mind is the donut shop scene from Boogie Nights. Fortunately, we escape unscathed...

- A cheerful homeless guy asked us if we had "$100,000." As Jim Kirks noted, that's a bum with aspirations.

- Discussing (and toasting to) agnosticism with Conley and McKinnon as the "little people" at VON -- the actual service workers at the convention center, who REALLY make the event happen -- worked their tails off around us.

- Clintus's shrewd manner of ordering rounds of tequila shots when no one's looking. (Somewhere, never to be Flickr'd, there's a photograph of Atwood doing the tango with a parking meter...)

- Upon cashing out from the Mexican place (Chacho's, I now recall), we eyeballed the check. $1,400? $1,200 of which was for alcohol? Our stomachs dropped.

"How many tequila shots did you ORDER?"

"Who's got Pulver's number?"

Fortunately, the error was soon spotted: the cashier had accidentally cashed out the ENTIRE OPEN BAR to our party. Whoops. Situation amended, no bail money needed.

- Observation from Scott Simpson: "If a plane is allowed to fly lower than 500 feet above your downtown, you don't actually live in a city."

- When I die, I want to come back as Jim Kirks's hair. It's uncanny. That sh*t could survive a wind tunnel unscathed.

- And, of course, my now semi-legendary "drunken fan moment" involving the Pitt men's basketball team.

In Closing

Perhaps the signature moment of the entire week came at the end, when the roll call was down to me, Sarah Atwood and Grace Piper as the only three entities left behind after the masses had flown home.

My flight wasn't until 10:45 PM, so I crashed in Atwood's hotel room and watched some NCAA basketball while she labeled Flickr photos. We'd agreed to grab Grace for one final drink before I hit the road to the airport.

At halftime of the Pitt / UCLA game, we headed down to the bar. I texted Grace on the way:

"Drinks @ Fairmont."

Within seconds, she texted back:

"Already in bath with martini. Good luck!"

Rock stars. We may not yet be them, but for a few weeks every year, we can certainly live like them...

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  • Truly one of the funniest conference recaps I have ever read. This is great! There's a reason I love you, and it's not the one you're thinking about. Grape soda!

    By Blogger Chris Brogan, at 6:54 AM  

  • That blog post captured and shared fletting moments, just like vlogging does. Maybe one day, these moments will all actuallly be little video clips?

    The reason that they are not, is that the equipment is too big, logging and capturing is a pain, and having a camera on your head all the time is a little awkward.

    I'm taking my Nokia N95 and doing some Steve TV experiments, where I just record 10-20 minutes during the day. It turns out that I can edit on a title and credits and even add a music track if I want, and then upload via WiFi to my blog.

    It's like Justin.TV, but it's not live. AS I said in my presentation, the N95 can also stream live, but that requires either WiFi or cell service. I'll have to get cell service at some point to try that out some more.

    I'm also thinking about rigging up some type of harness for the camera so I don't have to hold it, but I'm not going to attach it to my head.

    By Blogger Steve Garfield, at 7:26 AM  

  • YouTube juggernaut and C-List videoblogger, that's me. But let's keep up the mystique that I'm some intimidating bald man-machine, and not a skinny Scotsman with an unfortunate beer belly. As for technology, I'm pretty damn sure that my namey-linky-thing goes nowhere interesting. Why don't Wordpress and Blogger have some sort of crossposting linkage thing?

    By Blogger Mark Day, at 10:01 AM  

  • NOKIA N95.

    I just wanted to start my comment out right by mentioning NOKIA. Now that is out of the way.

    Justin there were tears in my eyes as I read. I agree with Brogan, funniest recap of an event to date. It was as if I was living it all over again.

    Thanks for the good times and the friendship. Can't wait till next time!

    By Blogger theclipshow, at 11:34 AM  

  • I am extraordinarily disappointed that the first time our paths crossed at VON was a startingly sober moment so you remember the long-hair-inspired-who-is-this moment! Great to hang out, and great recap - look forward to seeing you soon I hope!

    By Blogger dinarebecca, at 1:31 AM  

  • Dude it was awesome to meet you and to room up. Can't wait to catch up on some STBD. Look forward to seeing you again at the next event.
    PS are you getting my emails I send to your gmail account?

    By Blogger Clintus McGintus, at 8:08 PM  

  • I love reading this blog over and over just to relive the good times! PS. I do believe that photo was flickr'd.

    By Anonymous Sarah Atwood, at 8:36 PM  

  • Seems like so long ago, yet, when I come by here again, it could have taken place last weekend - fresh memories from time past -

    By the way, I'm not any faster unwrapping a straw today, than I was back then - be careful if you roll with me in the hood from now on! ;-)

    By Anonymous Michael Bailey, at 6:36 AM  

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