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Five lessons from the Webvisions conference

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Linda Baker
Friday, May 18, 2012


Web BlogFive lessons from the Portland Webvisions conference held at the Oregon Convention Center this week.

1.    Baratunde Thurston is a genius 

The director of digital for The Onion delivered a hilarious keynote describing how the satirical publication is extending its brand across multiple media platforms.

• “I do a lot of service activities. Like live hate-tweeting all the Twilight movies.  I live hate-tweet the movie in real time, with hatred in my heart.”

• After the Onion published the article, “Planned Parenthood opens $8 billion Abortionplex,”  readers took the story and ran, eventually launching a Yelp site of the abortionplex. The site now boasts 273 reviews, including, says Thurston, a “pro and con discussion of the rock climbing hall… people were very excited about the salsa bar,  one person was just frustrated because there were too many stairs. “

• Thurston’s new book, How to Be Black, features a video trailer in which he asks “experts who had been black their whole lives…critical questions about identity," such as "when they first realized they were black" and, "can you swim?”  

2.    Not all social media futurists are so ironic

Alessandro Madeddu and Miquel Guri, two earnest-looking Barcelona natives, talked about The Love Comes, a foundation that works with corporations to develop socially and environmentally responsible marketing and branding campaigns.

• “There is a lack of love in society,  a lack of love in communication and marketing industry so we try and put some love into it,” said Maddeddu.  In a previous life, the pair deployed their communication smarts  “to help companies to sell soup and cars.   But maybe you realize that’s not so ethical, or you can use your knowledge… to ensure everybody on this planet has a future.”

•  “The key is to apply creativity.  Everything is happening through social networks, the Occupy movement, Arab spring. If people can turn out a dictator in North Africa, what they could do to a brand?”

3.  The user experience dominates, except in health care.

Today's consumers have access to restaurant reviews, hotel reviews, even reviews of people's homes and living rooms (on couchsurfing.com and airbnb.com).  Meanwhile, customer oriented companies such as Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines soar, while Netflix, tone deaf, says presenter Peter Merholz, falters.

Then there's the health care industry, where, mired in the 20th century, it’s next to impossible to get reviews of physicians, hospitals and health care services. “There’s still a cultural context where the doctor can do no wrong, “ said presenter Peter Jones, a faculty member at Toronto's OCAD University and author of the upcoming  Design for Care.

4.  Lectures about sex and technology are not always sexy

Interaction design experts Chris Noessel and Nathan Hedroff delivered the afternoon keynote on sexual interfaces in science fiction.

Their presentation featured clips of “sex-related technologies” from Star Trek, Logan’s Run and other television shows and movies.  

The presenters, authors of Make it So (sexy), identify four patterns: “augmented coupling, sex mediated with technology, sex with technology, and matchmaking technologies.”

The conclusion: “What we’re seeing in this category is there aren’t a lot of expectations about having sex with technology that aren’t moralized.  It’s kind of a shame…there is a lot of opportunity to extend some interesting explorations. Could you have sex with a computer?  Could you have sex with a network?”  

Inquiring minds want to know.

5.    Techies are too white, except for Baratunde Thurston

“The world doesn’t look like this room.” In a rare serious moment, Thurston said technology companies need to do a better job recruiting minorities into the fold. “It doesn’t have to do with being good or doing the right thing; it has to do with being smart. It’s just good business.  To not have a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives makes you less relevant.”

Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.


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