Why I attended two monetization-resistant conferences

I spent the past two weeks betraying a basic rule of self-employment: Don’t go someplace without having enough work lined up to pay for the trip. Worse yet, I paid for a conference badge–twice.

I had my reasons. The XOXO festival in Portland promised a repeat of the mind-expanding, heartening talks I watched with rapt attention in 2013 and 2015, plus the side reward of getting to spend a few days in a city I like but hadn’t visited since 2015. The Online News Association conference in Austin, meanwhile, would bring its usual mix of professional development and catching up with old friends.

XOXO stageI had hopes of selling a post or two from each, but I’d still lose money from each trip (and then I wound up not selling anything at all). So what did I get for my $500 XOXO pass and $439 ONA registration, plus airfare and lodging for each?

This year’s XOXO was not the same independent-creativity pep talk as before, because most of the speakers didn’t address that theme. But there were some seriously compelling talks anyway:

  • Jonny Sun and then Demi Adejuyigbe talked with candor and hilarity about battling impostor syndrome;
  • Jennifer 8. Lee explained how she worked the emoji-governance system (yes, there is one) to get a dumpling emoji added;
  • Claire L. Evans retold some forgotten stories about female computing pioneers;
  • Helen Rosner spoke about being defined by an out-of-context tweet and having to defend her expertise, then led the audience in a recitation of this pithy, profane self-affirmation: “I am really smart, and I am really good at what I do, and you should fucking listen to me.”

Trust me, you will want to watch these whenever the organizers post the video to their YouTube page.

XOXO also had a day of meetups across Portland and endless conversations with fellow attendees. Somehow, this conference manages to attract some of the kindest, nicest people on the Internet; it’s a wonderful contrast to the acid bath that is Twitter on a bad day.

XOXO postcardThe people at ONA may not have been as uniformly pleasant–look, if we journalists had a full set of social skills, we’d all have real jobs–but that event had the advantage of being much more tightly focused on my professional reality. It’s not by accident that I’ve gone to every ONA conference since 2014.

There, too, the talks were terrific:

ONA was as great as ever for networking, I had more than my fill of delicious tacos, and I got to hear Dan Rather give a brief talk at an evening event and then shake his hand afterwards.

In retrospect, XOXO is an expense I wouldn’t repeat–although I’ve yet to go to that festival in consecutive years anyway. My takeaway from this year’s version is that instead of flying across the country to get these different perspectives, I should try harder to find them around D.C.

ONA, however, is pretty much guaranteed to be on my schedule next year–the 2019 conference will be in New Orleans. How can I not do that?

Advertisements

How to pick a panel out of a lineup

AUSTIN–Once again, ONA is bringing some serious FOMO. Like any conference with multiple panel tracks, the Online News Association’s gathering here requires me to choose between as many as 13 talks happening in the same timeslot.

ONA 18 badge backThe past five ONA conferences I’ve attended have featured few lackluster panels, so this choice is not easy unless I think I can sell a story from the talk.

Setting aside that mercenary motivation, when I’m looking at two or three panels of equal interest to me, I have to ask myself a series of questions. Does the talk feature people I’ve heard before and liked? Or would I rather hear from speakers I’ve never seen? Do I want to say hi to the people on the panel afterwards? Will the conversation make me uncomfortable? (That’s usually a good thing.) And will the panel I skip have audio or video posted that I can check out later on?

At least all of ONA’s panels occupy a few floors of the J.W. Marriott here, so it’s not like SXSW and its archipelago of venues. There, the panel choice is often made for you by your location.

As a last resort, I may pick my spot for the next hour on a simpler metric: Does the room have a power outlet open near a chair?

Weekly output: IFA oddities, Windows laptop trends

PORTLAND–I’m nearing the end of one work trip, after which I’ll get to spend a whole 40 or so hours at home before heading out for a second. No, I’m not heading to the Bay Area for Apple’s new-iPhone event Wednesday (I haven’t gotten an invitation to one of those occasions since 2010, which is fine); I will instead spend that afternoon flying to Austin for the Online News Association’s conference.

Like XOXO here, ONA is an event that has me paying for the conference badge. In a few days, I will try to write why I think it sometimes worthwhile to put this kind of dent in my business model.

Yahoo Finance IFA-oddities post9/4/2018: The weirdest, most interesting, and most unavailable gadgets from IFA 2018, Yahoo Finance

This illustrated recap of the oddest hardware I saw at IFA, including a robot dog and a “Solar Cow,” ran a couple of days after my return from that gadget show in Berlin. This sort of listicle has become a staple of my tech-trade-show coverage, because the gadget industry doesn’t seem to be getting any less weird. And after I’ve filed a few thousand words from a faraway city, stringing together a post from 200-word chunks feels exponentially easier.

9/7/2018: Laptops get thinner, lighter, more secure – and, in one case, audio-hostile, USA Today

This overview of laptop-design trends seen at IFA–most of which I like, one of which I absolutely hate–took a few more days to appear online. I can’t say that any of these changes made me feel bad about my almost-year-old laptop… which is fine! Most people should not buy a new computer every year.

 

Weekly output: iOS 11 issues, Super Cruise, SESTA, Tech Night Owl

In recent years, late September has seen me jetting off to one city or another to attend the Online News Association’s annual conference, but this time around my ONA travel will consist of taking Metro–the conference starts Thursday at the Marriott in Woodley Park. And I’m also on the schedule for the first time: I’m speaking Saturday afternoon with veteran freelancer Katherine Lewis about survival skills for the self-employed.

Meanwhile, the Nationals host the Cubs sometime Friday and Saturday in the first two games of the division series, ensuring that I will be completely hoarse and sleep-deprived by Sunday. Go Nats!

9/26/2017: How to fix Apple iOS 11 battery and Outlook problems, USA Today

My editor opted to hold this post for a day to reduce the odds of it getting lost in USAT’s other iOS 11 coverage.

9/28/2017: What it’s like riding in Cadillac’s self-driving Super Cruise for 350 miles, Yahoo Finance

This account of having a 2018 Cadillac CT6 drive me along much of I-70 and the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes was the most interesting transportation-related piece I’ve written since this spring’s post about advances in Gogo’s satellite WiFi. The long drive from Washington to Cleveland also let me see parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio that I hadn’t glimpsed in years and take a detour to pay my respects at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

9/30/2017: Why the tech industry is worried about a bill targeting sex trafficking, Yahoo Finance

I should have had this post about the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act written earlier, but the delays allowed me to add some useful quotes from a panel I attended on the Hill Thursday.

9/30/2017: September 30, 2017 — Rob Pegoraro and Kirk McElhearn, Tech Night Owl

I talked with host Gene Steinberg about my Cadillac test drive, my iOS experience, and the macOS High Sierra install that was going on in the background but had not wrapped up by the time my roughly hour-long segment ended.

Weekly output: ECPA reform, Facebook video, iOS 10, Outlook’s “J”

My fourth Online News Association conference wrapped up last night. This event stands as an outlier in my travel schedule: I pay for my conference badge in addition to my travel costs. (That’s also true of XOXO, but I’ve only gone to that twice.) I think it’s a justifiable expense in light of the things I learn and the connections I make. Plus, ONA allows a rare chance for a work-from-home writer like me to hang out with a large group of non-tech journalists, much as I once did in the Post’s newsroom.

9/14/2016: Congress could blow an opportunity to fix a major email privacy issue, Yahoo Finance

This story about the prospects for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act is one I could have written at any point in the last few years–my 2012 Disruptive Competition Project post linked to in the piece, sadly enough, still holds up.

yahoo-finance-facebook-at-ona-post9/15/2016: Facebook outlines its plan to insert ads into Live videos, Yahoo Finance

The onstage interview of a Facebook executive that opened ONA yielded some news about the social network’s intentions for live video–but did not offer much practical help for journalists trying to avoid invisibility on Facebook.

9/16/2016: Pros and cons of iOS 10, WTOP

I did this interview via Skype from my Airbnb lodging at 7:10 a.m. in Denver, which may explain why my voice sounded a little scratchy. Note that while I answered the host’s question about downgrading from iOS 10 to iOS 9 by saying that’s not worth it, you can do this for a limited time. But I still don’t recommend taking that step.

9/18/2016: If a sentence in an email ends in ‘J,’ it’s OK, USA Today

For years, I’ve been wondering why sentences in e-mails that looked like they were supposed be funny ended with a “J” instead of the obvious “:)” emoticon. The answer was a long-lived Microsoft Outlook bug that–maybe!–the company will fix now that it’s gotten a little more exposure.

Weekly output: ads and the consequences of blocking them, misplaced places on Facebook

I’m back from a few days in Los Angeles for the Online News Association’s conference. In addition to getting some wheels turning in my head about the state of my profession and doubling as a Post reunion, my first trip to L.A. for work since 2012 gave me my belated intro to the subway there. (The Red Line’s stops feature some magnificent architecture.)

9/22/2015: Will Ad Blockers Kill the Internet as We Know It?, Yahoo Tech

I’d had a version of this column in mind for a while; originally, it was going to stop at explaining why you see so many crummy ads, even on this very blog. Then Apple’s move to make it App Store-easy to block ads in iOS 9, followed by the quick withdrawal of the leading ad blocker from the store, provided a timely angle.

USAT Facebook places column9/27/2015: How Facebook places you where you’ve never been, USA Today

My weekly column took a food-centric turn this week when I got a question about Facebook magically placing a user at a restaurant she’d never visited and that wasn’t even open yet. The answer revealed some interesting wrinkles to Facebook’s rules for local businesses marketing themselves on the site.

Post-travel to-dos

Cards and card

I’m through the worst of what I’m not-so-fondly calling Conference Month, and all of this travel is reminding me of the tasks that await each time I come home and finish unpacking.

Let’s see:

  • Do laundry.
  • Catch up on other household chores: sweep the floors, do the dishes, bake bread, reaffirm my earlier decision that the late-summer lawn is a lost cause.
  • Go over my e-mail to see which messages I should have answered three to five days ago.
  • Tag and categorize business expenses in Mint, then verify that I didn’t forget to record any cash transactions in the Google Docs spreadsheet I use for that purpose.
  • Send LinkedIn invitations to people I met on the trip, assuming their profiles show signs of recent life. (Go ahead, call me a tool now.)
  • Throw the latest set of press-kit USB flash drives onto the pile.
  • Scan business cards into Evernote.
  • Download, edit, geotag and caption photos, then post them to Flickr (for public viewing) or Facebook (for friends).
  • Make sure I got the proper frequent-flyer credit for the last round of flights.
  • There’s probably some other chore that should be on this list but that I will only remember when I’m on my way to National or Dulles.

As I write this, there’s a stack of business cards on my desk and several dozen pictures in iPhoto that have not been edited, geotagged, captioned or shared. And I only have five days before my next work trip, the Online News Association’s conference in Los Angeles, so you can imagine how well this is going.

Conference organizers, maybe you could find other months to host your events?