Here is another in my series on SXSW events. I am pleased to be attending SXSW for the first time. I am grateful for Adobe Acrobat for enabling me to attend. I will be attending some of the Adobe sponsored sessions. As I do with other events I will be posting my notes from most of the sessions I attend. This is the session on Content As a Means for Social Change led by Biz Stone, CCO/Co-founder, The Obvious Corporation and Brian Sirgutz, SVP, Social Impact, AOL/Huffington Post. Here is the session description.
“As social and Internet entrepreneurs search for ways to effect IRL social change by using online tools and platforms, the focus has been on social media. However, while social media has been the Internet's buzzword for some time now, research shows that content consumption actually represents 53% of all time spent online. Given that content takes up most consumers' time on the web, it's time to harness it as the most effective way to drive social change in the real world.”
Brian began the session by defining content. The definition is expanding to include many forms and is becoming richer. There are new opportunities with this mass volume of content. Now there are personal curators, both at the Huffington Post and with individuals. His story began by being a 9/11 volunteer. He wondered how can you spread the stories? He found firefighters coming from Chicago to help find their brothers. His life has changed as a result on the need to impact social change.
Biz Stone was a co-founder of Twitter. In June of 2011 he co-founded an organization to help change the world. Biz is sure the next great thing is being launched here at this session. Biz said he is going to talk about 5 stories. One is the origin of Twitter and how it was helped by SXSW in 2007. He has not been back since to not jinx it. There is a lesson learned with each story that he did not realize at the time but shared with us today.
The first story is Twitter’s origins. He quit Google and joined Evan Williams to make a start up around doing MP3s and linking to pod. Others were already doing it as podcasting. It did not work out as Apple put podcasting in iTunes. They were also not using their own content. You need good audio production. Evan had a plan to be kings of pod casting but they did not want to do this.
Instead all twelve paired up in twos to work on their new ideas. Biz’s partner did software for cabs and you can see the pulse of the city through it. At this time text messaging was becoming popular. Biz wondered can we push text messaging with the idea of dispatch to make it more social. They got a luke warm reception from their colleagues. They said that text messaging was on all phones and not used much. One day when Biz was working hard, he got a text message from Evan about a cool thing he was doing. It brought Biz joy. Everyone still critiqued his idea of bringing joy as not useful. Evan said ice cream is also not useful should we ban it and all joy? People said Twitter was about nothing. But they were having fun doing it. It turned out to be useful for little things.
When they came to SXSW in 2007 it became a big deal. He was in an audience and he saw people get up and leaving. People were using Twitter to say that there was a better panel across the hall and so they were going there. This blew him away. There were only 5,000 people on the system at the time and most were out at SXSW. This guy tweeted to go to a certain pub and 800 people converged there in 8 minutes. It reminded him of a flock of birds. It allows a group to act as one. He could not think of any service that allowed for this.
This was party but if it was a disaster. At the same time it showed the power of the service. Two days later they called it Twitter, Inc. and began to work hard on it. SXSW gave them a lot of press. Twitter stated to be part of all the major stories around the world. The top papers were asking him about his involvement in distant events like a student revolt in Muldolvia. It became very fulfilling. It helped Twitter to have a culture of doing good.
He learned that change is not a product of technology but of people but technology can help. Their role is to help build tools that enable people to do what they do best.
The next story comes from his childhood. He was enrolled in a program called boy rangers modeled after native Americans. He was voted him chief. They had to pay to join so he did chores at home. It took up many of his weekends as a little kid so he did not do sports like others. When he got to high school he wanted to get involved in sports and he was naturally athletic. He did not like most sports. He found that lacrosse that was not supported at his school. He asked if he found a coach and kids could he form a team. He was able to do this. He became captain and was high scorer and they won the majority of their games. The lesson was opportunities can be manufactured. You do not have to wait for the right thing to come along. We can create them yourself.
After high school Biz went to college as an artist but did not like it because he was being told want to do. He got a side job at Little Brown in Boston where he lived in the late 90s. He moved boxes around. At this time they were changing to desktop publishing and using Macs. He designed a book jacket while everyone at lunch. The art director liked it and asked him to be a book cover designer. He won some awards. He apprenticed with his manager for several years and learned a lot. This led him to becoming a Web designer and founding his first company. The lesson was creativity is a renewable resource. You can always try again if the first thing is not liked. This makes challenges into a game. How can you try a different thing or not do something that is assumed to be necessary? Restore yourself.
The next story is about someone else. It is from a movie in the 80s called Wings of Desire. In the movie there are two angles who look over Berlin to help people. One angel falls in love with a human. This will cause him to lose his immortality. He falls to earth and becomes human. He meets up with the woman and it ends happily. The lesson applies to startups. You need to be willing to try it all the way. You have to put it all on the line. You cannot go half way
The next story has to do with empathy. When he was young he felt it was a good thing to contribute to things. But he never expected any feedback. Then he discovered a group that gives pills to HIV positive people that transforms them back to health and the ability to do things. They work in one region and stabilize it and they go on to other places. There is real impact. The lesson is that you do not have to be rich to contribute. If you start early there is compound effect. If you are jobless, volunteer someplace. You might get confidence, you are helping out and you might even get a job there. This has a big role for startups. Twitter had a social responsibility person before they had a salesperson.
Doing well by doing good is a real thing and the world needs it to survive. Ask questions of older people and take time to walk in other’s shoes. If we all do this we can change the world, make money, and have fun. You need all three to be successful. Great session.