Random conversations with strangers at SXSWi

Day one of SXSWi and though the conference hasn’t started yet, I ended up by accident in the same place as the “open coffee” SXSWi meetup. I asked to share the only table that my wheelchair could get to at Jo’s Coffee House on 2nd Street and had a nice chat with Bob Summers. He was wearing a Friendeo tshirt so I asked if Friendeo was his company. Duh. Yes. (On the other hand I am wearing a Hackmitin Mexico City tshirt just because I think it looks cool… so go figure.) What I really wanted to know was, did he come to SXSWi with a suitcase full of like 5 Friendeo tshirts so he could advertise his company every day? (I asked him that just before I left, and… YES.)

Friendeo is like Dropbox but for streaming video. They have a player you download and can use across all your devices, and you get a terabyte of storage to keep your stuff. It also has friending so that you can watch your friends’ videos. I asked if he expected licensing trouble and he replied it was fair use. Then I asked what kind of data they keep on users. You can sign up for a free account with nothing but an email address but your IP is logged and kept. Free accounts can watch 3 hours of video free. Over 3 hours per month, you pay $10 for 30 hours and $30 for 300 hours a month. An interesting model!

Bob was part of the CUSeeMe team early on, and we talked about how GLBT and disabled people end up being heavy and key users of video chat and similar community spaces.

We then talked a bit with Greg Nielsen who is the VP of biz dev for Data Foundry and was trying to get Bob to go today to tour the Giganet data center, or colo, I guess. (correction… Giganews, host of the world’s awesomest Usenet provider.) He talked a bit about Golden Frog and Dump Truck which provide “massive online storage” that is encrypted and does not do deep packet inspection. I thought it was interesting that he mentioned DPI right away. He told a little story about the name Golden Frog — a frog which lives in Panama and which doesn’t make the usual frog noises but uses some sort of multimodal communication technique involving “hand” waving and deep vibrations. I assume this signifies that the company is super committed to super encrypting and protecting their data and we should think of the mysterious signals of the frog as a sort of amphibian VPN. That would work better if anyone knew what a golden frog is beyond David Attenborough. But hey, it’s a fine story.

Austin skyline at night

I had read that morning about the Homeless Hotspot project, which hired some folks from downtown Austin shelters and gave them Hotspot tshirts and some kind of mobile wifi providing device to let people get on a 4G network for a fast net connection. The idea is they are supposed to donate with Paypal. I ended up telling everyone I talked to about this. I haven’t seen a person in the tshirt yet, but it’s been raining hard all day.

As the restaurant cleared out a little and I had finished my huevos rancheros I headed towards what looked like the nucleus of the coffee meetup. There I met Dave Michaels from Tech Ranch Austin which I have vaguely heard of as an incubator or something vc-ish for startups. I babbled to him about hackerspaces and my thoughts on how what startup incubators and VCs should be doing is providing community centers and low cost or free housing for hacker entrepreneurs.

I went on about how Noisebridge in SF has been a tech startup magnet/incubator in many ways, motivating people who visit to pick up and just move to San Francisco because they meet people with good ideas and get excited about doing a startup. Because of the cost of housing they end up couchsurfing, airbnb-ing, in an SRO or flat out homeless and people have been banding together to get housing. So I talked about how there should be hacker barracks or some sort of hacker housing beyond “hostels” and more like community centers and hackerspaces with attached places to sleep and a shared kitchen. Old motels would be good for this.

I think that start up incubators and VCs should be making safe, cheap spaces for smart motivated people to live as well as work — then let a hundred startups bloom…. It is not like putting a foozball table into a coworking office is going to cut it these days, since no one has the money just to survive.

Then I talked with John Reece from the National Breast Cancer Foundation. I asked him if they actually provide some kind of services or if they are about research and “awareness”. He got a funny wry look on his face and replied that the Komen thing was an opportunity for them to explain to everyone what NBCF does. They fund mammograms for underserved populations in all 50 states and their policy is to only provide that funding if the detection programs are also tied to getting people into treatment and care programs. Their founder’s cancer was detected early when she was 34, which she credits to her 8th grade PE teacher who taught the class about breast self exams.

He also gave me a card for Beyond the Shock which sounds like a forum for education once you know you have breast cancer. He also told me about a sort of soup kitchen project called Convoy of Hope which NBCF partners with to find people who might need a free or low cost mammogram. I think that NCBF should talk with people at BlogHer and come to the BlogHer 2012 conference!

I resolved to try and spend most of my time at SXSWi talking with people I don’t know and taking notes on what they’re doing and why they’re here. I have plenty to say myself, and I know a ton of people but I already know my own thoughts and would like a break from them. And rather than try to chase down the people I know in order to feel comfortable and/or popular and cool I am going to talk to just whoever whether they have a badge or not because usually the “lobbycon” is the most fun part of conferences anyway. I would also like to see my friends obviously but not cling to them. And would love to go see the ATX hackspace if it has any events going!

That was my morning — and by the way if you need a rain jacket, the Patagonia shop on Congress between 3rd and 4th streets has expensive but very nice jackets.

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One Response to Random conversations with strangers at SXSWi

  1. Grace says:

    I am impressed with your willingness/ability to talk to strangers. And you found out so much interesting stuff! Makes me wish I were there.

    I have a friend who has been fighting breast cancer for the last couple of years and she’s a big advocate of the Nat’l Breast Cancer Foundation. Unlike Komen, she says, they are actually doing something. Good to hear the guy you spoke with has the same message.

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