Saturday, March 24, 2012

IA Summit New Orleans 4 - New ideas, new friends, & Bourbon Street

I don't know where to begin. My mind has been blown so many times the pieces are still all just shifting around, trying to come back together to make a new sense of the world.
I'm just going to start with pictures and go from there.

Donna Spencer teaching "IA Theory and Practice"
 The Thursday workshop was a mixture of enjoyment, disappointment, and affirmation. It was my first opportunity to meet people and I very much enjoyed getting to know my table mates over the course of the day. The teacher was also very personable, knowledgeable and well-prepared. It's amazing that 8 hours flew by with no fatigue, concentration loss or antsiness - for me that is a huge accomplishment and it is to Donna's credit that she kept us all engaged by mixing theory, case studies and hands-on application. The disappointment was in not learning as many new things I expected to. But on the other hand it was very affirming in that I knew more about the field than I realized. A library education is a real asset in this industry because it gives a lot of theoretical basis that people picking it up on the go don't get.

"IA Theory and Practice" card-sorting exercise
 Card-sorting was probably the single biggest takeaway for me. Well, besides knowing more than I thought I did. This is a very flexible exercise to conduct with clients/stakeholders where you represent pieces of content with cards, then ask them to categorize the cards, and create labels to describe the groups. You learn more from the discussions about why things do or don't belong together than you do from the actual sorted stacks.
Then, with that knowledge and user research all sort of rattling around your brain informing you, you construct an information architecture to organize a website. This step is best done alone. Then the IA is extensively tested, discussed, and revised. And, when you're not a freelancer like Donna, but rather, stuck long-term with a site like me, periodically revisited.
Scott Root
 Scott was at the IA workshop with me.
I perked up when he made some comments about document libraries and content types. He works with Sharepoint, which is a document/data/content organizational system that I don't entirely understand. But it seems to be pretty high on the list of marketable skills so it may be worth looking into. Scott and I ended up hanging out for a big chunk of Thursday evening. You'd never guess from his fresh-faced demeanor that he has played in a punk band for years. He's also recently picked up piano. I had been dying to play the Steinway in the lobby for days. I wheedled and begged and got him a drink and he finally agreed to come play some of his new compositions on the piano. He had never played a real piano before. It was a pleasure to introduce him to one. And a Steinway at that. He ended up being very glad I convinced him.  Of course the hotel staff had to ruin our fun. "The piano is not for playing." What kind of line is that?
Karen McGrane talks about "Adaptive Content."
To a packed house.
 This is one of two talks that absolutely blew my mind. The session room was PACKED. I mean, people were sitting on the floor in front and crowding in to stand at the sides. And Karen deserved it. She talked about changing our entire perception of content - it's not about print, web, or mobile it's about the presentation of words and images in cohesive units independent of any channel. It's hard to make clear what she's talking about without examples, which she had plenty of. Conde is a magazine publisher that does Wired and Glamour, among others. They have been working very hard to get on the iPad bandwagon, building special apps for the device for each magazine. So now, when they go to lay out a magazine, the same designers have to lay out 3 different versions of every single page - print, iPad portrait and iPad landscape. These behave basically like giant photographs of a page - no ability to search, resize text, or really interact meaningfully. Their graphic designers are staying up after everyone else goes home, working three times as hard, for what? For a screen facsimile of a print experience. And then, what about desktop and mobile content? What is that, an afterthought?
In contrast, NPR has been gathering content using a database-like content management system with many clearly defined fields and metadata associated. Things like event title, photograph, name, time, teaser, long description, are all broken out and their API generates a clean version of this content that can be used by a hugely diverse number of devices - phones, internet radio stations, web sites, apps, feedreaders...they build the content once, and let the platforms decide how to use it and how to present it that makes sense for the very unique contexts and constraints of each channel. NPR can focus on what they do best - quality content. Saves them an awful lot of work and gives a better result for end users.
When you're using mobile, you usually don't want the fluff, you want clear, actionable data and photos. When you're browsing on your iPad, you want a visually rich experience that you can engage with using your fingers. The content generators should be aware of these contexts and constraints and organize and build their content accordingly, without trying to be an expert on implementation for each individual setting. It's all about making the content as flexible, reusable, and well-described as possible, so that you and others can use your content in ways you maybe haven't even envisioned yet. I know I'm rambling, but it's exciting. Find out more about Karen McGrane.

My dinner party linked up via Twitter.
 So in the evening, somebody tweeted about getting dinner, and the next thing I know, we've got 11 (mostly) former strangers meeting up in the lobby to set off for an adventure on Bourbon Street. We had great chats while we walked.
Mike Xu, entepeneur and ex-Apple employee
 I met Mike at the pre-conference workshop yesterday and invited him to join us so we wouldn't all be strangers. He's from Cupertino, that's in the San Fransisco Bay Area. Kind of the "genius kid" type, very smart, a little ADD and usually excited. We hit it off from the beginning because we are both intensely interested in applying user research to our sites. He "stalks" his users, and gave me some great tips on a user tracking product called Mixpanel. This actually lets you follow individual paths so you can get a sense of how users really interact with your site.
Mike used to work at Apple, but he got bored, and his friend wanted to start up a business to do an online marketplace for used manufacturing goods so he quit and is now doing the startup. I really admire them for taking a great idea and running with it. And judging from Mike, they are serious, long-term thinkers who are committed to research and using what they learn. They seem to have a great beginning and I'm excited to follow their progress.
The corner of Bourbon and Canal
 So this is our first view of the French quarter on a Friday night. As we got into the narrow streets it was packed, ridiculously loud, and full of partiers stumbling or dancing around with giant containers of booze in hand. No open container laws in Lousiana. It's a very different place.
Carol Smith, dinner at Mr. B Bistro
 This was the first restaurant we found that could seat all of us, and it had also gotten good reviews on Urban Spoon. They ended up seating us across the room from eachother, which was not what we had in mind. But the food was amazing.
The other half of our dinner party at Mr. B
I had braised rabbit, a seasonal salad, a Sazerac, and a white chocolate brownie. It was divine. And 50 bucks. Totally worth it.

I wish I had pictures of the events that followed, but my camera battery was dying (Thus the blurriness of the last several) EDIT: Thanks to the magic of camera phones, I have both a picture by Fredrik of me dancing, and one of Fredrik.

 After dinner we splintered into those who wanted to party and those who wanted to get back and rest. So I started back toward the hotel with the majority. But back on Bourbon Street, there was this crazy awesome brass band playing and a huge party in the street. People were dancing and singing. I did not want to just pass through that experience. Luckily, neither did one of my companions, Fredrik Ohlin. So the two of us tarried while the rest went on.
Oh, how do I describe the feeling? The music and the cameraderie was the drug. Yes, many were intoxicated, but the music...the music, it just lifted our spirits and made us ridiculously happy. It was boisterous and sometimes raunchy and so catchy you just couldn't help but move. As usually happens when I encounter good music, I began just tapping, tried to stay in my little corner and sway some more, then my feet just start going and my hips start shaking and it's all over. Next thing I know they are dragging me into the center of the ring and I am doing the Charleston and people are wide eyed and cheering and taking videos.
Me dancing the Charleston in the crowd - by Fredrik
Then they are all congratulating me and hi-fiving me saying "Nobody's got footwork like that that these days!" I thoroughly enjoyed the attention. But also people are patting me on the back and this one tourist is sidling up to me trying to make moves and this one woman is trying to pull me by the arm off somewhere and I'm trying to keep my hands on my purse. I was very, very glad Fredrik was there.
So eventually the band stops playing and we start off again to the hotel. Guys were hawking CDs and I wanted one but I had already given them all my cash, but Fredrik gave them a 10 and wasn't even going to take a CD and I was like hey, buy it for me! So now I have a treasured memento. I listened to it this morning, it's the same song I was dancing to, with that same energy, and it puts me right back there.
Fredrik and I had a great chat on the way to the hotel. He is Swedish (I totally didn't know it at first he sounds like he's from Connecticut) and is working on his PhD and lecturing at Malmo University. So we were planning to go to the Boxes and Arrows birthday party but it started at 8:30 and it's about 10:30 before we're leaving Bourbon Street. By the time we get to the hotel bar where it is, it's just a clump of people deeply involved in conversation, there is no booze to be seen, and we just didn't know how to plug in. So we drifted across the way, following the scent of music, and discover a live (and very talented) band is playing at the main Hyatt restaurant. So I'm leaning up against the wall in the corner admiring the skills of the torch singer, and she sees us, sings to us, even waves at us. Fredrik is like "we could park here and listen" which sounds great to me, so he gets a gin and tonic, I get a water, and we find a spot on the upper level in front which is literally feet from the singer. She was so captivating. She had a solid musicality and voice, but what made her a great entertainer was her stage presence. She danced, flirted, bantered with the audience, and her face was marvelously expressive. It was hard to take your eyes off her. I kind of want to try that. It looks like so much fun.
I eventually caved and got a Kahlua and cream. Mmm. The bum thing was, our drinks arrived about midnight, they were on a song I didn't care for so much and I went to the bathroom, and when I came back, they were packing up! The star was nowhere in sight! It was so depressing. But I did get to chat with the other musicians a bit. The bassist played an acoustic. That's pretty rare.
So there we were with new drinks and no music. We wandered down to the piano, but didn't dare play it with the  hotel staff patrolling like hawks. But it ended up being very pleasant, just having a quiet and thoughtful chat into the early morning hours.
Fredrik, my Swedish friend
Well, I have been writing all morning and now if I don't throw some clothes on and head downstairs I am going to miss an amazing free lunch. If you read this and enjoy it, please leave a comment because this is hard work and sometimes I wonder if it's worth it.

IA Summit in New Orleans ||  1 - Getting There || 2 - French Quarter Buskers || 3 - Rain on My Parade || 4 - New Ideas, New Friends, & Bourbon Street || 5 - The Festival, the City, & the Way Home


  1. Enjoyed reading your post and glad you are having so much fun in new orleans. :)

    1. Thank you, Buddy! Have you started your Stories of a New Orleans Cab Driver blog yet? (Haha maybe you can think of a better title.) I would love to read it.

      To the Readers: Buddy drove me between my hotels one day. He is an awesome tug-boat-driver-turned-cabbie who told me a lot about the city. He aspires to one day own a taxi business and travel the country in a motor home. Wish him luck!

  2. Wow Lydia! Glad you are having fun and that you have a mother who prays! :)

  3. Sounds like a vivacious experience. I'm happy to hear about it. And you should blog more, not less. (well, you're blogging plenty during the trip, but I mean during normal life.)

  4. Waiting to hear about your experience at the Congo Square. You were having a blast there.
    Reading this was wonderful Lydia. Keep writing. You are a free spirit and you always do what you love and believe in the most - I loved that about you :)

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