10 May 2011

I licked, therefore I won.

To those who have never been to SXSW Interactive, it is a crazy, crazy scene. Thousands of people everywhere down by the Austin Convention Center. There were almost 20,000 badge holders this year. If you include people like me, who were just there for the spectacle of it all, there might have been close to 23,000 people there.

This year, I went to SXSW Interactive badge-less. Due to a heavy workload in the months leading up to this year's SXSW, I decided it wasn't going to be worth it to get a badge, especially since I wasn't going to be able to make it to many sessions. Based on my experience from last year, a lot of people at SXSW are there mainly for networking purposes and could care less about the panels. There is a lot to do and see during SXSW Interactive, even if you don't have a badge. From the Apple pop-up store to the cheap/free food, there were still a lot of compelling reasons to try to make it downtown this year. And, by the end of this post, you'll see that I stumbled upon another great reason to fight the crowds and hassle and get to SXSW Interactive, with or without badge.

In recent years, SXSW Interactive has become the place to announce/debut the latest/greatest app. Twitter arrived on the scene at SXSW in 2007, while Foursquare made their big splash in 2009. As a result, now every up-and-coming company tries their best to tap into the SXSW vibe/zeitgeist in hopes of achieving the same results as Twitter and Foursquare.

I made it down to the Austin Convention Center around 2pm on Saturday, March 12. I had read that Mike Tyson was going to be making an appearance at Screenburn to debut his new iPhone app, and thought that would be as good a place to start as any. I grew up watching the rise and fall of Iron Mike, and thought it'd be neat to see him in person, maybe even get a photo with him, nibbling on one of my ears. Apparently, not only has he turned over a new leaf, but he's also turned into quite the renaissance man! When not developing iPhone applications, he's busy raising racing pigeons. He also helps people break their Angry Birds addiction, so if you fall into that category, give him a call! Unfortunately, I got the days wrong, and he wasn't scheduled to appear until the following day. I was disappointed at first, but it turned out for the best, as it seems his appearance drew a large crowd the next day.
Feed me!

After that, I dropped by the Circus Mashimus lounge and chatted with a couple of developers from Lulu.com. They offer a very cool Publication API that allows you to create your own web applications as well as publish your own books. They were running a contest. To enter, you just had to publish an eBook through their API. Gavin from Lulu and Ben, a developer who has used the Publication API to create Before I Grew Up both encouraged me to enter the contest. At that time, there hadn't been many people who took up the challenge, and they told me my odds at winning would be pretty good. They attributed it to most people were busy networking or partying, and not really interested in doing much else besides that after a long day traipsing around the Convention center. So after I got home that night, I went ahead and entered the contest. The Publication API was as easy to use as advertised. (If you're looking for an easy to use open-publishing platform, this is it.) It took me less than 30 minutes to complete the task, and I was done. I didn't think much else of it at the time and soon after that, met up with some other badge-less friends and went exploring outside the Convention Center.

That's when we ran into a tiger, parrot and jungle keeper/balloon artist who were letting people know about the Socialcam Challenge. Sponsored by Socialcam, Hipmunk and AirBNB, the grand prize was a trip for two to a private island! While intrigued by the prize, I didn't think much else of it at the time, as we were hungry and looking for free food. That being said my friend Vina got a very cool balloon hat from the jungle keeper!

Awesome hat!
While I was not familiar with Hipmunk or AirBNB before this encounter in the street, I had heard of Socialcam, due to my coworker Chris Cain (aka Captain Internet, for his ability to find the most random things online). From the folks at Justin.tv, Socialcam officially launched on March 7, and was referred to early on as the "Instagram for Video". The goal of the application is to provide an easy and simple way to upload videos from your phone to then share on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. The week before SXSW, Chris was aware that I was thinking of going to  badge-less, and suggested I should use the Socialcam app to broadcast my upcoming escapades. I thought that wasn't a bad idea at the time, and so I installed it onto my HTC Evo. Based on a brief test, it seemed like a pretty cool app, but up till that point, I hadn't done much with it. While waiting for the jungle keeper to finish his masterpiece, I remembered I had the app installed, and decided to test it out again. The app worked fine, but I didn't think the video I recorded of the making-of-the-balloon-hat was worth uploading and promptly deleted it. By this point, we were all really hungry, and thankfully found the free grilled-cheese sandwiches being given away by GroupMe.

Thanks GroupMe!
After that, we walked past the Glennz Tee's pop-up store, and we decided to pop-in (hah!). I've actually been a fan of Glenn's work for awhile now. He's a great artist and his designs are very humorous and clever, without being obscene. I was actually wearing one of his t-shirts that day and proudly showed it off to one of the guy's staffing the store. He then asked me if I would like to meet the man himself! I said of course, and out came Glenn! I told him how much I liked his work, we talked about some of his more recent designs and he told me that the store was doing well, and he seemed happy to meet someone who appreciated his work. After the obligatory photo with Glenn, we left the store to continue our quest for more exciting things to do. We hadn't gone far when one of the Glennz Tee's employees came out and handed me a couple of shirts, courtesy of Glenn. This whole experience has pretty much cemented Glenn's position at the top of my list of t-shirt designers. Do yourself a favor, and go buy yourself a tee from Glenn!

Glennz fan!

 After that, we stopped by the Pepsi Max Stage/Lot, played some actual foursquare (sponsored by the folks from Foursquare), grabbed a few free drinks, and then decided to call it a day. I was satisfied with the day's events to feel like that was enough SXSW 2011 for me, and didn't go back on Sunday.

On Monday, I was at work when I found out via this tweet from Lulu that I had won the their api contest! I had one of my friend's who was still at SXSWi that day (SXSW Interactive ran through Tuesday) pick up the the prize for me. The fact that I won actually reminded me of the video contest by Socialcam. I went ahead and visited the Socialcam Challenge contest page again, as well as viewed some of the other entries that had been submitted. The fact that I wasn't impressed by any of the entries up to that point (kissing the tiger, really?) made me think I still had a good chance of winning the contest, if I could just come up with a clever enough idea.

Basically, the goal was to come up with the most interesting, funny, ridiculous, goofy, entertaining video recorded using the Socialcam app that would meet one of the following five challenges:

1. Lick something
2. Sing like a rockstar
3. Do your best dance move
4. Barrel roll
5. Find the animals
6. Choose your own adventure

Out of the above challenges, to me, the one that is inherently the most funny, is licking something.

Thanks to countless viewings of A Christmas Story, and the fact that I always cringe and laugh when I see the above scene with Flick, Ralphie and the frozen pole, I decided that was the challenge I should go for.

Since I didn't want to involve the fire department, I knew I had to lick something that was less hazardous to my health, but funny and relevant at the same time. That was when the light bulb went off, and I thought, "iPad 2!" It wasn't that hard really to think of it, since it had just come out and was in the collective geek/nerd consciousness. I think just about every article in my Google Reader made some mention of the latest and greatest must-have gadget from Apple, and so it was definitely on my mind. I went to bed that night, knowing that I had the general idea for what could be a decent video.

The next day, Tuesday March 15th, I woke up, unsure of my idea and whether I should proceed with it. It would actually be quite convenient, since I work within a 5 minute walk from an Apple store. I went ahead and asked the Socialcam folk via Twitter whether it was worth entering the contest still. See their reply here. Based on that encouraging tweet, I asked a couple of coworkers if they could assist me with a non-work related task during lunch. The first person I asked who agreed to do it ended up being unavailable, which was quite fortuitous, since the other person turned out to be the best videographer/producer/partner-in-crime I could have hoped for. When I told Jonathan what I was planning to do, he thought it was a great idea, and we immediately started bouncing ideas off each other. Jonathan actually came up with the catchphrase I use at the end of the video.

By the time we walked over to the Apple store, we had formulated a plan. Since neither of us had actually seen the iPad 2 yet, we decided that we would first go in, check out the iPad 2 and the store layout, do a dry run of the video, then leave the store and come back and actually record it the second time.

However, the perfect opportunity presented itself as we were about to leave the store. The person using the iPad 2 closest to the end of the display row against the wall had just walked away. Jonathan and I both looked at each other and I think we realized it was now or never, so we decided to go for it. In case you haven't seen it yet, here it is....

I don't think Jonathan expected me to actually go through with both the licking and the shouting, "I licked it, it's mine!" at the end. Thankfully, he was able to keep recording through his giggling fits. I was also surprised at the lack of reaction from the people in the store. I guess people have come to expect crazy shenanigans in the Apple store these days. My stunt seems pretty tame by comparison.

Jonathan and I returned to the office, pleased with our "accomplishment". One of the cool things about Socialcam is that it uploads the video as soon as you are done recording it, so the video was already up on the interwebs by the time we returned to the office.

That same day, I found out that the folks at Socialcam liked my video, via a tweet, going so far as to declare my video "awesome". Since the contest ended that night, I thought to myself that was a pretty good sign. In the meantime, Jonathan went into full "PR" mode and started tweeting the link to the video.

I was resigned to waiting until the 31st, since that was when the contest rules said they would announce their decision. So, I was greatly surprised to read this on the following Tuesday afternoon, March 22 -

As you can imagine, I jumped up and down with glee, to the surprise of my coworkers sitting nearby, then ran over to inform Jonathan. He was genuinely happy for me, and to his credit, did not immediately ask to accompany me to Fiji. For the rest of the day, it was pretty difficult to concentrate at work, I must admit.

Why did my video win? According to Socialcam on their blog, it was for "audacity, viral success, nerd cred, and for the fact that it made our entire office laugh our butts off". Mission accomplished. ;)

The entire video contest turned out to be a great success for Socialcam as well, as described in this Mashable piece that came out the next day, entitled "Man licks Ipad 2, Wins Trip to Fiji". They created a lot of interest in their app with the contest, and had around 150,000 new accounts created during SXSW.

Whew, after this long recap, I think I'll just end this blog post with a tweet from my friend upon hearing the news that I won the contest.

Moral of the story: go to SXSW next year, and enter every contest you can. Who knows, you just might win yourself a trip to a deserted island, and in the process, make your spouse very, very happy.

PS. I think I started a new fad.