Recap of SXSW Interactive 2009

As I sit here in a daze induced by 4 crazy days of interacting with geeks the world over, sleeping little and attending party after party after party, I find myself nostalgically looking back at SXSW 2009.

It wasn’t as good as previous years, in my opinion. Maybe it was the huge number of noobs. There are always newbies, but this year it seemed to be more than ever. And that’s not a bad thing. I am happy when new groups and segments of the internet community are introduced to the wiles of SXSW, however this year seemed to be extravagantly more than normal. And it did affect the way the festival went off.

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan

Interestingly, over 7000 people registered for the Interactive festival, up some 25% from last year if I recall. However, the actual attendance seemed to be down. In the context of conversations, I think I realized what was really at play. Despite no one mentioning it out right, it was clear that the economy had people in funky moods. Last year at this time, we were discussing venture capital, web startups and Facebook’s expansion, as an example. This year, however, the tone and look on peoples faces was a little more stark. It was a very interesting dynamic.

Of course, that didn’t mean people were in sour moods. They weren’t. The parties flowed. The long lunches happened. People laughed and talked. In some cases, we sang.

Alex Hillman at Cogaoke
Alex Hillman, IndyHall

Sorry, if you missed me perform Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at Cogaoke. I did not win the karaoke competition but at least I had fun trying.

SXSW always is a must attend for me because it represents, much like Facebook does for my real life, a confluence of all of the circles of my geek life.

For instance, my Boulder peeps were there:
Jeremy Tanner
Jeremy Tanner

My Silicon Valley peeps were there:
Rick Klau
Rick Klau, Google/Blogger

And, of course, a very large (largest in SXSW history, maybe?) DC representation:
DC Peeps at SXSW

I am hardly impressed by celebrity and most of the “celebrities” that were there are not people that are anything more than friends for me. For instance, Chris Pirillo and Loic Lemeur were there. Friends doing great things, like Gnomedex and Seesmic

Chris Pirillo and Loic Lemeur

My only really true geek boy moment was meeting Drew Curtis of Fark, a guy who built his company the old fashioned way (without VC money) and is not prone to jump on technology bandwagons just because everyone says they are cool.

Finally, as a bonus, I give you Julia Allison, the woman that so many love to hate but geek guys fawn over anyway, Brittany Bohnet and Randi Zuckerberg, the Facebook Director of Market Development, and the sister to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Julia Allison, Brittany Bohnet and Randi Zuckerberg

Twitter Phishing: Protecting Yourself

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Or at least, a funny thing happened over the weekend with regards to Twitter, spam and phishing (from Chris Pirillo). I really had no plans to outline my thoughts on the scam, because it is already being covered ad nauseum. However, I feel like I have to anyway.

The scam operates like any typical Windows worm and begins with a DM from a victimized Twitter follower. That direct message contains a link to a malicious (and unnamed) domain that screams “password stealing”. Nevertheless, gullible Twitter users click on the link and enter a page that looks an awful lot like the Twitter.com login screen (okay, it looks identical). The user enters login information thinking they are logging into Twitter and, in the blink of the eye, a malicious site has access to your Twitter account information.

215693116_8e4a24d11c_mThis is a very important concept to get. The user inadvertently gives Twitter account login information to a malicious site. I will rail more on this concept in a bit. Keep it in your mind.

The malicious site then proceeds to send DMs with the infectious link on behalf of the user. I have gotten seven of these in the past 24 hours.

Folks, Twitter is like email. You can be infected by the innocence of friends, Please be careful. You really don’t want a malicious sites having access to confidential business ideas, your common and unchanging password that you use everywhere, or intoxicatingly passionate messages to your lover. Be wary of this scam and tread lightly. If you get a message like this, contact the sender and advise them to change their password immediately. Unlike email worms, you cannot be affected by merely looking at the DM – only by clicking the link.

There are several problems here, as there are with most internet security problems. One is the technical problem (site can login and perform actions on your behalf). The other is a psychological problem (Twitter users giving away their username and password to untested, unvetted and untrusted third parties).

Twitter promises that they are working on a solution to the technical problem and that it will look like some form of OAuth, an authentication protocol similar to OpenID for application to application authentication. OAuth, when instituted, promises to provide a passwordless trust and authentication framework that should solve the problem that requires third party Twitter apps to request a users login information. However, for all their promises and the urgency that is increasing among developers, Twitter does not seem to be in a hurry to provide this protocol.

Additionally, computer users have been relentlessly brainwashed by anti-virus companies, corporate computing policies and other persistent reminders, to adhere to basic security practices. Don’t open attachments from unknown users. Run anti-virus. Use hard to guess passwords and change them often. And so on. And so forth. Folks, these concepts are basic life-guiding principles and apply on the web too. Don’t give away your username and password to anyone. Ever. Unless they are vetted and trusted by you and you understand what the ramifications are.

In the absence of an OAuth-style technical release from Twitter, and the lack of consistent user discipline, it is my recommendation that Twitter users no longer provide third party apps with their login information, regardless of how compelling the app is. It is not safe and it is an unwise security practice that flies in the face of everything you have been learning for years when it comes to your own personal computing practices. Twitter apps are defined as anything Twitter related that is not directly on the twitter.com domain.

Maybe Twitter will get serious about their security here.

Photo Credit: dinobirdo

The Scoble Train Derails

I like Robert Scoble alot. I wish I knew him better. I’ve met the guy at a variety of industry events and he’s a very personable guy. Disarmingly so. His contagious laugh is sure to put everyone at ease. And he really has a firm handle on social marketing. Just ask him about “starfish marketing” (I don’t know if thats what he calls it, but it fits) – an approach to marketing that involves promotion across social networks.

So don’t get me wrong, I really, really respect the guy as a thinker and as an early adopter.

However, I think he lost his Valium at Gnomedex. Since Gnomedex, I’ve been, well, uncomfortable with him. He’s been way over the top obnoxious and critical. It’s unlike him, in my opinion. Let’s look at a timeline:

  • Aug 9, 2007 – Chuck Olsen floats rumor of Scoble leaving PodTech on Twitter. Andrew Baron jumps on the story (unconfirmed, later retracted)
  • Aug 13, 2007 – Scoble takes a week off after some depression. Cites rumor-mongerors about PodTech departure
  • Aug 16, 2007 – PodTech CEO John Furrier steps down. The COO, James McCormick, replaces him. Scoble is passed over. To be fair, I don’t know if Scoble would even want a CEO job. Doesn’t seem to be “him”.
  • Aug 22, 2007 – Exchange over Twitter between Chris Pirillo and Scoble. Scoble smacks Pirillo by saying Gnomedex was a mediocre event that didn’t have TED-quality speakers (one of many Tweets that night). But, it also doesn’t have a TED-like pricetag. Chris is already on the defensive due to events transpiring in and at Gnomedex and in the back channels. Scoble piles on the man who he stood with at his wedding as Best Man just a few months ago. This doesn’t communicate objectivity in criticizing a colleague, it demonstrates “ass-like” tendencies.
  • Aug 27, 2007 – Scoble acknowledges the backlash he is receiving in a flippant sort of way.
  • Aug 29, 2007 – Today. For good measure, I throw in one of his articles where Scoble continues his “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms” routine.

Now remember, I like Scoble. I don’t want to see him trashed, nor do I want to see his professional impulses damaged. But if I were Scoble, I’d be stepping back and wondering if I were doing something that was alienating his supporters. It seems like there is a general swing in opinion that is not in his favor and he can take the “everyone else is wrong” approach, or he can re-jig his gears and tweak whatever it is that he is doing wrong. If I have to guess, he’s talking too much and listening to little. Ego will kill.