I just came back from BlogWorldExpo, which reminded me a bit like Comdex meets SXSW but for the blogosphere. Held at the Convention Center’s south hall, it is still small enough for the networking and content value to be well worth the trip.
Through my first cabbie, who screamed at me when I asked for a receipt, I learned about “blocking the box,” which is apparently illegal in New York but fine in Vegas.
There was a campaign in the eighties to end the gridlock in New York, which pushed cab drivers to stay before an intersection with white lines painted across it. In Vegas however, you can get a $150 ticket for honking your horn since the locals consider it “road rage.” Go figure.
I always laugh at my European friends who compare Vegas with New York. While both may be bright, have great restaurants, loud people, tons of entertainment and rock all night, the cultures are very different. Where else can you sign up for a course that teaches women how to “dance the pole?” In the Las Vegas mall of course.
After a b5 Media advisory board meeting (Hugh MacLeod, Doc Searls, Jeremy Wright (CEO of b5), Stowe Boyd, and Robert Scoble, we fled to the streets for a photo walking tour led by Darren Rowse. Note b5’s new look-and-feel btw.
Darren brought along Jared Kohlmann who specializes in camera rentals so we could play with $150K worth of Canon and Nikon lenses. I shot the below with the Canon EF 35 mm (F1.4) from the strip at close to 10 pm.
Darren shoots the Bellagio water show.
Despite the umpteen times I’ve been to Vegas, I’m always amazed at how it all works amidst its chaos, color and emptiness. It’s a place where women’s nails look like they’ve always just been done. They wear complicated images on top of the bright pink or red nail paint, sometimes with glittered circles and squares on the tips. Hair is sprayed back, up, sideways, all so it can stay perfectly in place, whether they’re serving drinks, dancing or poised on a bar stool.
It’s a place that feels restricted at times. I observe people who look as if they have come here to escape for a little fun and madness and yet once they arrive, they wind up in this Disney-like cage. Thankfully, they’re either with a partner or a large group of folks getting drunk at one of the clubs so they don’t have to sit still long enough to realize and absorb the loneliness Vegas brings to the surface.
Vegas is a place where the dysfunction meets the rich and sometimes they’re one in the same. The rich come to gamble, take part what the top notch hotels and restaurants have to offer, woo women and drink high-end brands, all in a place that never sleeps. Retirees and half-time residents may have fallen into a decent property deal in the last five to ten years. Then, there’s my favorite, the purely dysfunctional.
They’re even on my plane. Sometimes there’s a few business folks or trade show attendees, but somehow they leave as one personality and land in Vegas as someone else. It’s the dysfunctional I pay most attention to because they’re often the most interesting. Every year, regardless of what show I attend, if one of my crew or I have not rented a car, I stand in an hour or more taxi queue that spans four or five lanes wide.
Living in Amsterdam turned people watching into an art form for me. It’s hard to get bored waiting in those cab lines and while a handful may be on their cell phone, you don’t see folks texting or twittering. 90% of them seemed to have a cigarette in their hand and no one was wearing Laura Ashley or Lord & Taylor.
The women wore scantily clad, tight clothing, almost all of them in open toed shoes – heals or the extreme – flip flops. Jeans, fuchsia dresses, mini skirts and dressy shorts. Alligator, leopard, red, blue and turquoise leather bags, a handful of furry shoes and decadent designer sunglasses with gold or diamond trim.
I walk through the casinos and they’re all smoking. The taxis reek of smoke, as do the hallways, the bathrooms and most of the hotel rooms unless you’re lucky enough to get a non-smoking one – not always a guarantee.
Then there are all the fascinating people you meet in between the noise and the dysfunction and you find yourself wondering over and over again, how on earth did they end up in Vegas? A bit like Venice Beach’s misfit energy.
A female cab driver in jean shorts with baby pink ribbons hanging from the pockets tells me about her moonlighting life six months ago. By night, she drove a cab, by day, she ran around for a disabled 50 year old woman, which largely involved shopping and sitting with her while she gambled, sometimes at a $6K loss in one day.
Most of this money she made from insurance and a successful legal claim after an accident she apparently wouldn’t talk about. “Sometimes,” this attractive gently spoken cab driver tells me, “I would take $6K out of the bank for her in the morning and the next day she would ask me to go back for more. What happened I’d ask her and she’d say something like, ‘well, I kinda lost myself at the bar with the view,’ a place over near Henderson. I don’t even like to gamble, but was paid to run errands and yes, even gamble with her. Once I won $3K with her money on blackjack and she told me to keep the profit.”
Why don’t you work for her anymore I ask. With her habits, I learn she can no longer afford her.
I accidentally share a coffee with a bi-sexual Buddhist author and musician who also happens to be a race car driver. This one doesn’t like to gamble either and we talk about attraction and abundance strategies, related to both spiritual and monetary gain. It was a great segue to the last session I attended at the conference called GODBLOGCON: On the Art of Online Conversation, led by John Mark Reynolds. The one I missed I really wanted to see was entitled: Election 2008 & the Godblogosphere Impact.
Later, I sat next to a gray-haired CEO of a company that specializes in phone systems for American jails. I had to ask twice. “Seems limiting,” I say, “why not go for other vertical markets?” Clearly a ridiculous question.
I learned from my hoarse-voiced friend with amazing karma and a hand-made old-fashioned black leather briefcase crafted in Brazil, that there are intricate matters and issues specific to inmates that don’t really apply elsewhere. The stories begin.
Imagine you’re on the inside and want to threaten a witness. You place the call using one ID, then you hand the phone over another inmate who makes a threat and then swap out again so its hard to figure out where, what and how.
I learn that LSD is smuggled in on the back of postage stamps and that inmates crash glass on RFID swipes and somehow later, this translates into another inmate’s mouth filling up with blood. I couldn’t quite figure that one out, but then again, this isn’t my expertise so perhaps someone can explain what I missed if they halfway know what I’m talking about here.
He talked about racism in Alabama, the 1930s-like jail infrastructure in Tennessee, insanity in Detroit, the list goes on. I’m thrilled when he gets to his recent golfing trip with his brother-in-law to Michigan – my brain is tired albeit absolutely yearning for more.
This man has been everywhere so clearly business is going well. We swap stories about Thailand, China, South Africa, Zanzibar, Italy and Scotland. He gives me tips on how to finagle the unheard of deals on Las Vegas hotel rooms mid-week even if you’re not a gambler.
This was all within an hour of jumping into a cab with Everywhere POW Joe. It’s amazing what you learn about people in Vegas, even if you only have five minutes with them. I had more time with Joe but this man could have probably revealed his entire life story in five as if it were a rehearsed pitch he used to release the pain, so did it over and over again every time someone would listen.
He was stabbed twice in El Salvador, shot in his right leg in Cuba in ’65 and three times in Vietnam in ’70. Joe has a heart condition and has had skin cancer four times. The man has seven daughters and four sons, six of which are adopted. That equates to 24 grandchildren and the man’s main source of income comes from driving a cab.
Joe was also a POW in Vietnam from ’71 to ’74 and has no toes. “They cut them off when I tried to run,” he says. He has tremendous respect for McCain who stayed with his men when he had a chance to be released and yet still says, “he’s not the right man to vote for.” Joe was incredibly articulate given his 10th grade education and yet, he can’t understand how McCain could have allowed Sarah to stand by his side.
“What was he thinking?” he complains. “He’s a smart man. I barely have an education and can tell she has no substance. Could this nation be that stupid?” he asks. “Even if you’re afraid of black people, how on earth could you let McCain/Sarah get in?” I shake my head showing my empathy as clearly he needs to vent. “Let’s hope our man gets in,” he adds as I get out of his cab.
What a switch in imagery from that conversation and monetizing your video content ten minutes later on the show floor. I notice a pigeon running up and down the hallway in the 600 block. Client Photrade’s Andrew Paradies is intrigued and grabs my camera to shoot.
What else is lurking? It doesn’t appear that a vendor has brought a cobra to lure the crowd. The big mining show starts on Monday and I couldn’t help but think what one of their vendors had that could spice up the blog vendor’s booth trimmings, even if for a few hours.
Photrade’s VP of Marketing Krista Neher’s heart is so big, she tells Australian blogger/author Suzie Cheel that she can launch her new book at our booth on Sunday afternoon, so a few folks with cameras and camcorders show up to ask questions. Successful-blog.com’s Liz Strauss joins in the promotion.
Guy Kawasaki took a photo of Photrade booth as part of his BlogWorldExpo series on the first day although he hasn’t started using it (yet – hint hint). Below, Adrants Steve Hall with Andrew and Jennifer in the Photrade booth.
This year, I met reps from Gannett, Ford and others who have been sent by their companies to learn about social media, what the tools are, how to use them and also how they can be integrated into their own customer programs. Ford’s head of social media programs Scott Monty was on a Sunday afternoon panel on Establishing Blogger Credibility.
He spoke up at the PR panel on the first day about the importance of being creative about how you define your audience. In his case, he says, “anyone who drives a car is a customer.” That means lifestyle, women, those who care about the environment and parents who want safety tips. They brought a mishmash of bloggers in across all of these areas for a test drive and feedback. It’s a great grassroots idea and we can do this kind of thing online as well as off.
At lunch, Hugh MacLeod personalized cards for a few of us. While he knows enough about us to be dangerous, we all wondered whether its enough to capture our true essence in a cartoon. He does remarkably well and went for my “invisible/impossible” mantra.
Stephanie Agresta, who was after extra olives at lunch, threw a top-notch TechSet party on top of the Mirage.
Evenings were insanely busy as paths (and might I add, interests, vary significantly) – everything from privately hosted dinners, smaller cocktail soirees, and the hosted exhibitor party to vendor sponsored parties at Planet Hollywood, the Luxor and the Mirage, where Zapos sponsored a party. I was hoping they’d do a drawing for women’s shoes – it would have been a smart move.
Where are the giveaways for women? Nearly twenty years into this business, I’m still finding boxy t-shirts with logos, pens, business card holders and unusable rubber squeegee things that stick to walls on people’s tables.
An interesting Zapos choice……they asked us to write our first names down and our Twitter ID’s – nothing else, no last name and no company name. Chris Carfi over at Cerado customized an easy-to-get organized at BlogWorldExpo mobile-friendly widget called Ventana that allowed people to quickly access the schedule, speakers, and buzz.
The first name/twitter name only badge made for weaker networking, particularly since the venue was so dark. It made it harder to match companies to clients and vice versa, not to mention wanting to track down some of the social media companies I didn’t hit on the show floor earlier in the day.
I think the idea was a good one and obvious a public way to embrace social media and say to the crowd – we get it, we love and use these tools and Zapos apparently has close to 450 employees actively using Twitter and they even offer training sessions on how to tweet when you join the company.
At least there was a consumer brand more well known by women than men. Speaking of women, Elisa Camahort-Page organized an informal unstructured BlogHer dinner at Italian Battista’s Hole-in-the-Wall across from Bally’s on the strip. I showed up with Doc briefly just for laughs before we headed over to B5 Media’s celebration with friends, family, partners and team. Below, Jeremy thanks the troops.
I met some interesting woman bloggers I had only known in my online world, including WeSeed’s Jennifer Openshaw, Women & Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein, TheMakeupGirl’s Lianna Farbes and Successful-blog’s Liz Strauss.
Back on the show floor, Six Apart was prime and center, a large central booth as you enter the exhibit hall. Partners hung out giving demos, including Widgetbox which apparently supports other blog platforms as well. As a blogger, sign up, create a widget, choose a category you want your blog to be listed in, add widget to blog and voila, you’re part of a new network. The golden promise is increased traffic, exposure and new friends who follow your interests.
I played with a few other social media plug-ins and tools I haven’t yet started using, such as comment enhancement add-ons like Disqus, Intense Debate and JS-Kit. I spent the most amount of time with the Intense Debate guys.
The whole notion behind these new “comment” tools are that comments on blogs are also your voice and currently, that voice goes into an endless void of anonymity. Intense Debate and other tools like them brings your identity into the light by providing you with a user profile and comment history. You can also opt in to have comments containing certain keywords automatically deleted or have them held in your moderation queue where you can approve or delete them. They integrate with Google Reader, Bloglines and others as well as Twitter.
A way to make a little extra cash on your blog is to embed popular videos from Commission Video. Your traffic obviously dictates whether you make any money or not — $7 per thousand impressions, but its easy-to-use and you can throw up a video that already relates to a topic you might be writing about.
I saw Sarah Lacy briefly at the tail end of the Zapos party – she’s in a fabulous patterned dress – below taken by Brian.
Late evening, blogosphere women danced clutching their blackberries and iPhones since these devices are now their means to all forms of conversations – their tweets, emails, voice mail. More women than men at this conference glanced at their devices periodically while dancing at a dark nightclub where the bass is louder than gun shots.
Sometimes they paused to send a message or do a tweet. Pistachio proudly showed me her screen with where we should all go next. (Vegas is a tough call at show time; are there no quiet lounges in Vegas with tasteful entertainment after hours?). She dressed to kill and why not? It’s Vegas baby, a place to pull out your dots, stripes, diamonds, glitter and silver.
I’m one of those rarities who want my phone to just be a phone and have one device do all the rest. I’m too worried I’m going to leave the device somewhere that does it all somewhere if its attached to my phone. I also care about SAR radiation levels which no one seems to talk about much anymore.
I couldn’t seem to feel a pulse with the music but frankly rap and house have never really spoke to me. That said, I tried to move like gravy on a sticky dance floor and looked around for inspiration. Two women were riding each other near me. Whether you’re heterosexual, gay or bi, its erotic as hell but I couldn’t quite tell whether they were into each other for real, for play or simply to entice men to pay more attention to them together, individually or both.
Earlier that same evening, a few male colleagues started the “spot-the-hooker” game, each of them scoring points if they find a sure match. Somehow, the east coast and midwest guys found this more game more interesting. A few were dead giveaways but others could have been escorts or wing girls. Everyone in Vegas looking for attention, trying to make money or be part of someone else’s fame.
On the first afternoon, the producer of His Highness Hollywood walked up to Susan Bratton and I in the hallway and handed out a card about their world premier showing that same evening. He wore dark glasses with thick silver edges inside and was about as LA as it gets. He spoke in shorts – a bit like tweets, but divide them in half, translate into a new language and that was a bit a bit like our initial conversation.
This new release is a humorous and controversial film about a man who goes undercover as a gay actor in Hollywood and infiltrates the film business and The Church of Scientology who try to cure him of his alleged homosexuality.
I never saw the film. For a change, Vegas during ‘show time’ was actually so warm at night, we were able to run around in skirts and sleeveless tops, something you can never seem to do in San Francisco. And I gotta admit, I can see the water show on the strip several times before getting bored, particularly because the music constantly changes. From Elvis to Tony Bennett, you can dance with the spray in real-time, or shoot. Or both.