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More SXSW notes: collaboration, social space and science fiction

From looking at product design through the eyes of science fiction to searching for the most influential people using your product, topics at this year's SXSW are as varied as usual, and they're almost as thought-provoking as the queso is delicious. (Which is to say, very.)

A couple of main themes to talk about so far, from my perspective as Emma's product manager.

1. Collaboration, innovation & expectations. As we all know, consumer expectations have changed. Not only do we want access to the latest information and support when we encounter problems, but as consumers we also want to be a part of the product itself. To that end, it's important that companies don't create new products in a vacuum. After all, we're creating and building something that we hope will bring value to our customers, so we should get them involved early in the process and let them help shape the final result.

We're also learning that releasing new products or features is just the beginning of the process. New technologies to collect and respond to feedback, paired with iterative development techniques, are giving users a more active voice in how products evolve over time. As product builders, our role is to listen to lots of single voices and ideas, and then synthesize and reshape that information to create innovative solutions that do more than just solve problems – they create value.

It's not quite a haiku, but:
Collaboration leads to innovation…
Innovation is shaped through iteration…
Iteration validates the vision…
The vision inspires collaboration.

2. Social space trends: reach & influence. So if reach indicates how wide your network is and influence indicates how much your endorsements matter, it's time to rethink what's actually more important. Reach used to be all the rage, but influence is measurable.

And as for the science fiction, one session about "design fiction" emphasized that story-telling, including science fiction, can do things that science itself cannot. Imagining people in the future keeps ideas focused on how we'll work and play, buy stuff, communicate with friends and coworkers and so on. As the stories of people emerge, the objects and gadgets and interfaces that they'll use start to magically appear right along with them. And sometimes those objects look very different than if the conversation starts by trying to envision the "future version" of the gadgets we use today. People use products, so the more clearly we can visualize how people will change, the more clearly we can aim the technology to support those new stories.

And with that I give you the future of note-taking – maybe.


With Emma, you're in good company. Meet our Customers.

From SXSW: What’s your email’s ah-ha moment?


We heard Daniel Burka (of Tiny Speck, formerly creative director at Digg) and Rob Goodlatte (product designer at Facebook) give a talk about how important the first fifteen minutes of your experience with a product is. It was great content for us, of course, as we're always trying to make Emma's service easy for folks to use from the moment they first log in. But among the many great points they made, one seemed as relevant for email marketers as it did for software developers.

What's the ah-ha moment?

Goodlatte told the story of Facebook's user testing as they tried to improve the registration process. Their research and development team recorded the eye movements and faces of folks as they signed up for Facebook for the first time. In one woman's case, they watched her have a not-so-great experience. She got lots of error messages. She had an invalid email domain. She was confused. That was all before the ah-ha moment. She got to the point in the registration, after she'd filled in her high school and college information, that Facebook showed her pictures of folks she might know. When she recognized an old friend from high school, her face lit up, she leaned forward in her chair and she grinned for the rest of the registration process.

It was an ah-ha moment for the Facebook team, too. They got to see this woman realize how their technology was worth her time. In fact, she stopped relating to Facebook as technology altogether and saw instead the value of reconnecting with old friends. With her in mind (and a lot of other users), they redesigned the setup process around that notion and eventually saw a 5% lift in the registration process.

So, what's the ah-ha moment in your email campaign? It's the moment folks stop relating to your email as just another email and instead find something that's worth their time. Have your ah-ha moment in mind when you first start your email design and content, so you can introduce it in a way where your subscribers will find it in the first few seconds of reading your email.

Maybe it's an article that speaks to a problem they're dealing with at work. Maybe it's a discount or a special offer. Maybe it's hand-drawn illustrations that accompany each news story. Or it's something less tangible, like a certain tone you write with or the unique way you personalize your campaigns. It's different for every organization, and it may change from email to email, but it's about connecting the point of your email to the delight of your subscribers. After all, you're not just sending an email. Like the team at Facebook, you're designing an experience, connecting with people and inviting them to engage more with you.

Top 5 words heard repeatedly at SXSW so far

One thing's for sure: It's a lot sunnier here in Austin at SXSW than it is back at Emma's Nashville office … also, they have lots more retro neon signs here than Music City. And don't even get me started on the cool bike cabbies (think overgrown tricycle, with room for three passengers). As for what's happening inside the conference, here are the top five words I'm hearing so far (and a few other words to go along with them).

1. ITERATE: Don't just do it once; keep reworking it. Daniel Burka, formerly of Digg, and Rob Goodlatte from Facebook talked about making iterative improvements to their products. One interesting point for us at Emma is that they talked about redesigning the registration process all the time – in most situations, users will only go through registration once, so it doesn't affect everyone already using the product.

2. EXPERIENCE: Get to know your users, their needs and motivations. And do it early enough that what you learn can influence your design decisions.

3. FAIL: It's OK to make mistakes — just be sure to learn from them. One person said that failure is when you don't feel proud to show the work that you've done, while another described it as the thing that keeps him up at night because he didn't do enough. A big theme is that all of the people who create something feel like it's their fault if it doesn't work. There's no blame game here — it's about taking personal responsibility. In a different session, the Gmail engineers talked about when Buzz launched: Many of the engineers felt so personally responsible for the problems that they slept in the office until the job was complete.

4. PSYCHOLOGY: We've heard so many examples of how to influence people and how they feel as they use your site and product. Referencing books like Nudge and Buyology, presenters talked about creating trust and using positive reinforcement in this ad-saturated environment. (They said we may be exposed to 5,000 branding messages a day.)

5. OUTLET: As in, "Have you seen an outlet? My battery is dying."

And as a bonus round of SXSW info for you, people are all abuzz about the iPad and issues about mobile. As the mobile business grows, of course, people expect to have smooth, desktop-like experiences on their phones and in other mobile environments. One way for user experience teams to think about this is to pay attention to all the things that will make someone not want to use your product ever again. A speaker from Google UI mentioned that he believes mobile Web will be bigger than apps, even though everyone is more excited about apps now. If you really want to think freaky mobile thoughts, think of all things the phone could do without ever coming out of your pocket.

Emma’s third SXSW sponsorship

We're at SXSW this week, meeting interesting people and helping backpacks mobilize to fight hunger. We've been proud SXSW lanyard sponsors for three years now, each year launching an initiative asking SXSW attendees to join us in doing a little good for a cause we care about.

If there's such a thing as lanyard memory lane, we are now going to walk down it. In 2009, folks at SXSW helped Emma fund 40 classroom projects through SXSWers weighed in on their favorite regions and subjects, and we chose the projects accordingly. In 2008, Emma asked lanyard wearers at SXSW to vote YES for trees, because they're tall and leafy and why would you vote no? For every vote we got — up to 5,000 — we planted a tree with our tree-planting partner, Plant-It 2020. (Of course, we decided we like trees so much that we haven't really stopped planting them since. We plant five for each new customer who joins Emma.)

This year, we're focusing on one of Feeding America's national programs, the Backpack Program, which provides food-filled backpacks to hungry kids, giving them a convenient and discrete way to take food home to their families. Started in 1995, it now serves nearly 200,000 students a year through 3,600 individual Backpack Programs across the country.

Even if you're not joining us at SXSW, you can click to turn an ordinary backpack into a super-awesome, hunger-fighting backpack. After 1,000 clicks, Emma will donate 1,000 backpacks filled with food to Feeding America's Backpack Program. If you're ready to super-awesomify a backpack, visit

More from SXSW soon…

Where in the World is Emma in 2010? March Edition

Emma napkins

Pictured above: As part of our sponsorship for Marketing Sherpa's Email Marketing Summit in January, we provided Emma-branded napkins for the afternoon break.

If you're near one of these events in March, stop by and say hello. If you're planning on attending the National Rubber Band Exhibit instead because you've had your heart set on it for, like, ever, now's your chance to reconsider.

Podcamp Nashville
March 6 :: Nashville, TN

Podcamp is built on the same un-conference format as Barcamp, but this version focuses on all things new media. This is one of those events that allows us to support our local technology community in Nashville. Oh yeah, and the event is free. How cool is that? Very cool.

eMarketing Principles
March 9 :: Austin, TX

This event presented by Austin Community College focuses on bringing quality content to local business and non-profit professionals. Our very own Jonathan Gesinger will be running our booth, so please stop by and say hello to Jonathan if you attend.

If you register before March 5, registration is $99, and you can use the discount code INSIDER to take a friend for free.

SXSW Interactive Festival
March 12-16 :: Austin, TX

SXSW started out as a music and media conference in 1987, and they added festivals for the film and technology communities in 1994. This is Emma's third year in a row as lanyard sponsor at SXSW Interactive. Through our sponsorships, we've had some fun while we've done some good, rallying support to plant trees and provide for underprivileged classrooms.

This year's campaign will focus on hunger, and the conference is already blogging about us. (We're blushing.) Check back on March 12 when we unveil our new campaign.

TEDx Nashville
March 21 :: Nashville, TN

We’re fans of really big ideas, so we're thrilled to announce our support for TEDx Nashville. TED started in California in 1984 as a way to bring together ideas from the brightest minds in technology, entertainment and design and has become quite the phenomenon. We'll be attending during the day, so if you're in the area and like possibly world-changing, mind-blowing ideas, that's enough reason to hold off on that Rubber Band Exhibit for one more year. Tickets are on sale for $20.

AIGA Y Conference
March 25-27 :: San Diego, CA

This is our fourth year sponsoring the AIGA's Y Conference. (You could say we're fans of not only big ideas, but also all things design.) The 15th annual Y-Design conference is hosted by AIGA's San Diego chapter. This year's conference, titled SHIFT will provide designers with ideas on adjusting to ever-changing business methods. If you register by March 10, you can receive a special discount — just click here and enter the reference code EMMA.


Creative Freelancer Conference
June 5-6 :: Denver, CO

The third annual Creative Freelancer Conference kicks off in June, and if you're in the business of freelance — whether you're a graphic designer, copywriter, illustrator or photographer — this event is one to consider. I know what you're thinking: Why is this June event on the March update? Well, I'm glad you asked.

If you sign up here by the March 12 early-bird deadline, you'll save on registration. Also, use the promo code: "11k" to receive an extra $25 off. Now, I bet you're glad we mentioned this June event in March, right?