I had the pleasure and honor of being interviewed yesterday by the fabulous Miss Lilycat on Pirate Cat Radio about blogging and gender — two very different topics which somehow blended together nicely. The interview was two hours long, interspersed with some music, distractions, and other neat stuff. With Lilycat’s permission, I’ve edited it down for you into easier-to-digest segments:

Interview on Pirate Cat Radio: Segments

  1. Part 1 (15 minutes) – Overview of my blogs, discussion about Twitter, Internet karma
  2. Part 2 (21 minutes) – My history with blogging, my history with poetry, privacy and secrets on the web, my gender identity
  3. Part 3 (18 minutes) – Transgender issues, my sexuality, gender in the media, “hitting bottom”, pronouns and etiquette with genderqueer people
  4. Part 4 (4 minutes) – Gender fetish, queer community, Genderfork.com, “My mom is awesome”
  5. Part 5 (6 minutes) – Wrapping up: “Relax about gender and go get yourself a blog.”

And while I’m still using my fifteen minutes of identity politics fame, I should mention I was also interviewed recently by Dr. Karen Rayne about my experience growing up as queer. Please take a look at Part 1 and Part 2. Then share Dr. Karen’s blog with everyone you know who is raising a teenager. It’s an excellent resource for perspective.

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twitterific_logo_enlarged.pngI’m hearing more and more confused questions about Twitter. People are on it, but they’re not quite sure what they’re doing here, and what’s up with these weirdos they don’t know who are suddenly following them? Relax. Twitter is a good thing. And it gets to be pretty much whatever you want it to be. Here are some more tips from my angle on the tool (there are a bazillion more out there, so please comment with yours).

Get Perspective

If you’re new to Twitter and baffled, start with this plain-english video by Common Craft. No one, to date, has been able fully to explain Twitter. But this comes close.

Get Pings as they Happen

By default, you’ll see your replies by clicking the “Reply” tab and you’ll get Direct Messages in your inbox. I’m having both of those sent to my phone as text messages so I can see them as they happen. Here’s how I did that:

  1. I went to Settings -> Phone & IM, set up my phone, and turned Device Updates to “On” (not to “direct message”. You’ll see why in a second.)
  2. I went through each person I was following and made sure I had Notifications set to “Off” (cuz I don’t want everyone’s tweets coming into my phone. Fortunately, “Off” is the default when you add someone new, so you might not have to do this.)
  3. I went to my phone and sent “track sarahdopp” to the Twitter number (404040 in the U.S.) This means that every time the string “sarahdopp” shows up in a Twitter message, I hear about it right away. 95% of the time, it’s an “@” reply. (I’m fortunate that that my Twitter name is unique enough to do this.)

Voila. Direct Messages and Replies straight to the cell phone. Bonus tip: When you’re at a big event like SXSW, switch your favorite friends’ Notifications to “On” so you’re also finding out what parties they’re going to right away, as they twitter about them. Then turn them back “Off “when you go home.

Get a Grip on Your Goals

If you’re using Twitter as a…

mini blog, then don’t feel pressured to join in on the constant “@ reply” conversations, and keep your content in your style. Keep an eye on your Twitter profile page and make sure your “face to the world” is representing you. Be appreciative of the strangers who follow you and don’t feel obligated to follow them back. Follow the people whose content you care about, and try to ignore the background noise without criticizing it. People will appreciate the quality of your posts.

...community-building tool, then stay aware of what other people are writing and be consistently present for them. When someone messages or replies to you, respond right away. If you do it with an “@ reply,” you’ll give them public props and they’ll appreciate that. If you’re trying to welcome new people, then consider following the people who follow you (here’s a hint though: if they’re following 800 people and only 3 people are following them, you can probably write them off as “spam”). Be extra respectful and extra helpful, and people will take care of you.

way to stay in touch , then be there for your friends and ignore everything else. Post about what your friends will care about, try to post with about as much frequency and “@ replies” as your friends use, and don’t feel obligated to follow anyone who’s not your friend. If it creeps you out when strangers follow you, then switch your posts to private. If you don’t mind being a little bit “on stage” with your life, then let them watch but just pretend they’re not there. Or picture them in their underwear.

If you have one of these styles, and some of the people you follow have different styles, that’s okay! You’re both right! Respect the differences! If you don’t like watching their tweets, then unfollow them. Simple as that.

Get Convenience

First thing’s first: make sure you can post from your cell phone. It will change your life. Then figure out how you want to see your friends’ tweets.

If you like living in your browser and you want to minimize distractions, use the Twitter.com site. It’s pretty awesome.

If you’re on an Intel Mac or using Vista and you want to keep an eye on your tweets as you work, get Twhirl. (It’s a two-part download. Just follow the instructions.)

If you’re on an older Mac, use Twitterific. (I also have this set up to update my Skype profile with my latest tweet.)

If you’re on an iPhone, try Thincloud or Pocket Tweets.

If I didn’t list your machine (or if you just want more choices than this), check the list of apps. There are a lot. A lot. A lot.

Get More Tips

I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface here. But these guys dig a little deeper, so if you want more tips, start here: http://twitter.pbwiki.com/

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Dear Vista,

vista-logo.jpgIt was all worth it. Despite what you may hear me say to other people, I really don’t regret a day of our time together. From the moment I picked you out at Circuit City — you clean black HP Slimline, you — to this moment, right now, 12 days later, where I’m burning my data to disk so I can leave you for good… I want you to know it was all worth it. I wouldn’t trade our time together for all the Macs in the world.

I needed to know the truth, and this was the only way.

I’d heard them talking about you. Everyone. Your friends were all calling you sleek, cool, and elegant. Friendly. Easy. My friends were calling you clumsy, arrogant, and greedy. A poser. Sleazy. I needed to know for myself.

I needed to know what it felt like to boot up to your pretty gradients and rich colors, to see how you organized things, to see if you really did learn a thing or two from your intelligent hipster cousin, the Mac. I needed to see for myself that you missed the boat. That you force Yahoo! Search in your toolbar instead of Google. That you boot up with more crap programs than I know how to clear away. That your “Arcade Games” folder actually takes the metaphor so far as to charge me each time I want to play them.

Have you learned nothing about how to treat people?

I was hopeful. I opened up IE 7, your teenage son who’s had a lot of growing up to do over these years, and I really thought for a minute that maybe you were on the right track.

But it turned out, I just needed to see for myself that you still make HTML-constrained images look pixelated and terrible, and that you force your kind Uncle Firefox to behave that way when he’s in your house, too. I needed to viscerally experience that you’re still politically opposed to anti-aliasing. And I’m not sure if I was relieved or appalled to learn that there is one browser that can now show beauty on your system. Only one. And it’s Safari. Did it sneak in the back door when you weren’t looking? Are you being infiltrated against your will? Should I feel sorry for you?

Oh, Vista. You try so hard. And I think maybe we could have been friends. But my Mac came back to me today, after its all-expense-paid vacation to the repair spa, and you know where my heart belongs. You know I could never really love you. And you know that I would have been happier if I’d bought a Mac Mini and run parallels to test my websites on you. You know it would have cost about the same. And you know that if it weren’t for the majority of Internet users being sucked into your monopoly and forced by goaded ignorance into viewing my websites in Internet Explorer, I’d forget you existed altogether.

You know it’s not me, it’s you.

And you know we’re not going to be friends after this.

But also I want you to know it was worth it. Because now the doubt in my mind is gone, and I know the truth: You’re still not ready for me.

Until we meet again…


p.s. In case my prose here was too flowery to sink into your cluttered head, here’s all you really need to know: I’M LEAVING YOU FOR YOUR COUSIN.

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0711twitter.jpgA new-to-Twitter friend just emailed me asking what she should do about the strangers who are suddenly following her tweets.  And I don’t think she’s the only one who’s experiencing an influx of spotlight attention because of SXSW.

Like any social networking website, people use twitter for different things, so no one suggestion is going to fit everyone. Here are my Personal Twitter Policies:

  • If someone follows me, I will click the link to their profile and see if I recognize them. If I don’t, I will see what I can learn about them in less than two minutes, silently thank them for caring about what I write, and leave it there.
  • If I do recognize them, then I check in on the following things:
    • Have I met them?
    • Am I ready to put energy into nurturing a relationship with them?
    • Do I want to read what they’re tweeting?
  • If they get a “yes” on all three of those, then I’ll follow them. If not, then I have to stop and think about it a little more.
  • If I’m not sure if I recognize them and I can’t figure it out in two minutes, then I usually won’t follow them.

This is all a function of how I use my incoming twitter stream: as a feed for ongoing conversation. There’s a murky grey area downside in my policy: there are real people who watch my twitters and care about what I have to say, and I’m not returning the favor. This makes me wince a lot, but still, for me it’s more important to protect my relationship feed than to look like everyone’s best friend. My policy is less open than some and more open than others. For the most part, it works for me.

But this does bring up another one of my Twitter Policies…

I use my most recent tweets to update my Facebook status, Skype status, and the “Last Splash” which appears at the top of this blog. Because of this, I try to avoid using the popular “@” reply convention unless I can articulate a thought that will stand alone. Otherwise, I’m just as annoying to the outside world as someone talking loudly on a cellphone; displaying only half of a conversation is a disservice to eavesdroppers.

There are lots of ways to use Twitter, and I know a bunch of people who take completely different (and totally legitimate) angles on the “follower thing.” For example:

“I’ll follow anyone who follows me and who is clearly not spamming people. If they take the time to read my content, the least I can do is show them I care about theirs.”

Or, “I’m not trying to pick up stalkers, so when people I didn’t know started following me, I switched my tweets to private.”

Do what works for you.

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Unless you’ve been following my twitter feed or partying in Austin, TX, you haven’t heard much from me in the last week. That’s because my laptop died a horrific logic board death in Oakland Airport, just before I boarded my flight to SXSW. Emails and blogging quickly became a thing of the past, and I resigned myself to in-person interactions and text message documentation. Now I’m back online with a cheap desktop PC while the Apple store continues to try to fix my baby, and I’ve got a week’s worth of epiphanies and adventures to blog about. So here’s the abridged version.

What’s SXSW?

SXSW (pronounced “South By Southwest”) is actually three different festivals that happen all at once in Austin every March. Most famous is the Music festival, where every band who’s any band comes to town and plays a show. Then there’s the Film festival, where all the top independent films of the year screen their glories. And there’s also the Interactive festival, which no one except us geeks actually knows about, because Music and Film are far more glamorous. It’s all one big 5-day party of brilliance with exceptional speakers and wild nightlife and the most fun many geeks get to have all year long.

What did I learn?

Here were some of my major “Aha!” moments from the panels and conversations.

From Kathy Sierra on wooing users…

  • A successful website is one that makes a user feel like they are awesome.
  • Adding randomness to a situation increases the chances for serendipity, which increases the chances that people will think an experience was perfect and was meant to be.
  • Since lots of people still think the Internet is a “totally lame waste of time,” a successful website will give its users an easy way to defend their use of that waste of time to friends and family.
  • The iPhone is awesome because its animations replicate the laws of real physics.
  • A successful website will enable people to do something really cool really quickly. Minimize the learning curve for experiencing gratification.
  • There are no dumb answers. Encourage people in your organization to answer questions, and keep encouraging them if they don’t give the right ones. A culture of answers is a culture of support.
  • Jargon is valuable — it’s a rich language that passionate members of a community use to talk with one another efficiently and effectively. Don’t insist on not using jargon in order to make newbies feel more comfortable. Instead, create a space for newbies that is separate from the jargon users.

More brilliance…

  • Parents need to realize that “TV time” and “Internet time” are as different as “TV time” and “reading a book.” Don’t lump it all into “screen time.” (Henry Jenkins)
  • The best thing you can do for your health this year is see a therapist. Instead of forcing yourself to go to the dentist (or eat better, or exercise more, or meditate regularly), get some help on unpacking your unconscious avoidance of it. (Kathryn Myronuk)
  • True anonymity on the web is not a realistic goal. Whatever you do under a pseudonym, you should accept right now that someday it may be attached to your real name. (Sex and Privacy Panel)
  • Marketing is the price you pay for creating mediocre products. (via Tara Hunt)
  • “Social gestures beget social objects which beget social markers.” (Hugh McLeod)
  • You’re only going to execute on 10% of your ideas, so give the other 90% away for free. It shows people that you have them. (Jeremiah Owyang)
  • If you have a startup with a small user base, now is the best time to put energy into answering every question personally and convey that they matter to you. Don’t just put up an FAQ. (Deb Schultz)
  • Don’t treat users like they’re stupid. Explain what your service is going to do for them, not how it works. (Leslie Chicoine)

And epiphanies overheard by others…

  • Drupal is like getting a dump truck full of legos.
  • You can’t control the information that’s out there on the internet about you. But you can curate it.

I’m also honored (no wait, that’s not the right word…) to have witnessed the Zuckerberg-Lacy keynote trainwreck and ensuing analysis. I’ll let the other tech pundits give you their analysis on that one. (Or you can just watch it here.)

The panels were brilliant as usual (especially if you picked them by speakers rather than by titles). But the real focus for me this year was the partying. I was out until 3am every night (except for that last night when I was out until, um, 7am) laughing and dancing and feeling alive and revived among “my people.” This is, arguably, what makes SXSW so special. If all you want to do is talk about technology, there are plenty of opportunities to do so that don’t involve getting on an airplane. But for a whole bunch of geeks to show up in one place equally inconvenient to New York, LA, Chicago, and Silicon Valley and create meaningful experiences with people who do what they do… that’s juice of what matters.

And frankly, I’m pretty sure that when geeks party, the Internet becomes a better place.

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Just in time for SXSW, I am really excited to announce that Cerado (the firm I consult with) has launched a handy “Unofficial Pocket Guide” for SXSW. It’s a mobile-friendly widget based on the beta of Cerado Ventana, and it gives you quick access to:

– People (who are here)
– Agenda (of panels and parties)
– Books (that authors will be signing in the book lounge)
– FAQ (‘cuz we all get confused sometimes)

It looks killer on the iPhone, and other devices are reporting sexy UI as well.

For the People tab, we’ve built a self-reporting directory (instead of scraping the registration database for everybody’s information). Adding yourself is like adding a blog comment: enter info, click submit, see it immediately. No email addresses; just your name, photo, and URL.

If you’re here at SXSW and fancy yourself an Early Adopter, go ahead and add yourself to the People listing. Just click to the People tab, and hit the “+” button — that’s it. I’m a big fan of posting your blog or twitter stream URL, but you could also post your Facebook or LinkedIn or company website (or whatever) — however you want your SXSW peeps to keep tabs on you.

This is a clean and classy way to get some exposure and remind people that you’re worth checking out.

The homepage is here: http://sxsw.cerado.com

And you can jump directly to the “Add Yourself” form as well.

Takes two minutes. Tops.

Check it out. Here’s what it looks like:

SXSW Unofficial Pocket Guide - PeopleSXSW Unofficial Pocket Guide - AgendaSXSW Unofficial Pocket Guide - Shop

However, when building this, we also realized that the whole world isn’t mobile. (Yet.) So, it’s also available as a widget that you can put on your blog. You can get that here.

I’m really excited about this project, and it’s already been a lifesaver for me in getting oriented to my week at SXSW. So check it out, see if it’s what you need this week, and grab the free publicity opportunity. People wanna know who you are.

Oh, and if you want to see any features added, just send me your wishlist. :)

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Tomorrow I will get on a plane and fly to Austin, TX for a week. I’ll be staying with some friends from high school and joining in the city-wide celebration of Spring Break for Geeks, aka SXSW Interactive. I did this last year and it was an extraordinary event… but one person made it extra special: the homicidal drunk rocker who sat next to me on the flight there.

I didn’t blog this story publicly when it happened because it was too close to the event. But now it’s “that time of year” again, and I’m starting to feel nostalgic for my angry seatmate. And I think enough time has passed that the story can be told.

So here’s what happened….

I had just boarded my flight to Austin and was quietly celebrating the fact that I had an empty seat beside me. The doors to the airplane were closing and we were getting ready for takeoff. That’s when I saw him — pushing his way onto the airplane at the last minute. He was wearing sunglasses and his dirty hair was pushed forward on his face. With his dirty tan coat, hard suitcase, and pinstripe pants, he looked like a 70’s rockstar. He was walking recklessly close to the person in front of him and whacked my shoulder hard with his suitcase as he passed by. All of the window and aisle seats were taken, and the flight attended asked him to choose a middle seat. He did a quick scan of the people around him, locked eyes with the bald girl in the black leather jacket, pointed to the seat beside me, and said, “I’m sitting there.”

I broke the ice by asking what time zone Texas was in, and he quickly became kind and friendly. Twitchy, though. A little nervous and angry about something. Depressed. He got to talking and some mentioned family issues, and then quickly added that he didn’t want to talk about them. But he wanted to talk, so I put on my best “attentive listener” face.

Within an hour, I learned that he was flying to Austin to kill his brother-in-law and then kill himself. But not in so many words. He tip-toed around it, giving references to the Godfather and shooting me knowing looks. His brother-in-law was his “best friend in the whole word,” but the dude was mistreating his sister and threatening to leave her, and my airplane buddy didn’t tolerate people messing with his family. He repeated Godfather allusions over and over, and told me he “might not be long for this world.” He was conflicted. He didn’t know what to do. “There’s no rulebook for these sorts of things,” he mumbled. I accepted this information the same way I would if he had just told me he was an accountant.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve worked the last two years in the branding industry, and I’ve learned what an impact your reputation has on your ability to get stuff done. Please listen to why I support Barack Obama for president:

If you agree with me for the same reasons, please go make a badge, explain your perspective, and post it on your blog or your profile on social networking websites.

If you agree with me for different reasons, please go make a badge, explain your perspective, and post it on your blog or your profile on social networking websites.

If you disagree with me for any reason, please go make a badge, explain your perspective, and post it on your blog or your profile on social networking websites.

Right now. I’m serious. Go.

Thank you.

(hat tip: Chris Heuer)

As part of my consulting work over at Cerado, I’ve been helping the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) market their new certification program through community-building tools on the Internet. This has involved a whole lot of stuff, and my favorite piece just launched yesterday: The PAMA Global Challenge.

The PAMA Global Challenge is an online quiz that uses questions similar to the ones on the certification exam (which means they’re hard). For each question you get right, you keep your 747 in working repair so it can fly to the next city on its trip around the world. For non-mechanics (like me), it’s not a question of “Can I make it all the way home?” so much as “Where will I get stranded?


This project was extra-fun to work on because:

  • I got to collaborate with Jordan Eisenberg on the PHP code.
  • The maps were built to emulate the style used in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • We were creating something fun for a serious industry.

Christopher Carfi has a nice writeup of the project if you want to learn more.

Here’s what really gets me, though: Despite the fact that I created the quiz and inserted the test questions, I still seem to only be able to make it to Tokyo. Seriously, now, I think I should be able to do better than that.

Do me a favor and give the challenge a run-through. My ego wants to know how far you can get.

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