I spent the bulk of the week in Barcelona, Spain, covering Nokia World 2008 for CrunchGear (you can find all of my CG posts here). I was the odd-man-out in several respects on this trip: partly because I didn't already know any of the other bloggers there, but mostly because I was the only one there not carrying at least two mobile phones at all times. Thankfully, most of the people with which I interacted were all great people, and I felt like I got on extremely well with them. There were no real prima donnas in the group, there was no drama at all on the trip, and most of the bloggers were interesting people with a broad range of experiences, making for interesting conversations. Of course, the dominant subject of discussion throughout the weekend was still mobile devices, but it was nice to know that the folks I was with were capable of talking about more than that! Finally, the Nokia folks did an absolutely stellar job in coordinating and executing Nokia World.
I generally don't like to travel alone, and I really dislike site seeing on my own, but I didn't let that stop me. After checking into the hotel AB Skipper on Sunday morning, I set off for a brief walk to reconnoiter the neighborhood. Despite my dad's caution that Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of the world, I felt extremely safe and comfortable my entire time in the city. I wandered past Sagrada Familia, the gigantic cathedral in the heart of Barcelona, and on my way back to the hotel nearly ended up trapped in the Barcelona Zoo. Sunday night the bloggers had tapas for dinner, and then most of us called it an early night.
Monday afternoon we had lunch at Cal Pimxo, where I had my first real paella. Mom used to make paella a couple times a year, and I always enjoyed it. I've long yearned to have honest-to-goodness Spanish paella, and the real thing did not disappoint! The lunch conversation was interesting, and prompted me to post Is Print Dead? at CrunchGear. Monday night we had a terrific dinner, and were joined by a number of Nokia employees involved with the new Nokia N97 device that was to be announced the following day. We got a lot of hands-on time with the new phone, and a fantastic opportunity to ask questions from the folks directly responsible for it. It was an entertaining and informative evening. Afterwards, Eric, Kevin and I set off looking for a bar that they thought was in the area. We never did find it, and ended up at the hotel bar, where I stayed up way too late talking to still more Nokia folks.
Tuesday morning I was up early (painfully early, given how late I had gone to bed!) and off to Nokia World, where the N97 was formally announced. After the keynote sessions, we retired to the Social Media room, where the Communications team at Nokia arranged for a series of conversations with even more Nokia folks, covering the spectrum from research to environmental affairs and more. It was an information-rich day, but the Nokia team did a great job scheduling sessions so as not to completely overwhelm us. After a brief rest back at the hotel, we all shuttled over to the Nokia World Party. Highlights include lots of free beer, the Nokia House Band, an air guitar competition, and karaoke.
Wednesday morning I slept late, wrote up a few pieces about stuff from the day before, and then set off back to Nokia World. I browsed around a bit more, looking at stuff I'd glossed over from the day before, and then took a cab to Park Güell. A couple minutes into the cab ride, something started beeping. The cab driver reached between the front seats and -- I presume -- pushed something to silence the beep. A few minutes later the beeping resumed. Again the cabbie reached between the front seats and the beeping stopped. She then made a call and spoke for a long time with someone. She hung up, and then used her CB to speak to someone else for a long time. At the end of this conversation, she pulled over to the side of the road and said "You must get out." I was too surprised to ask why, or to inquire whether another cab would be dispatched to take me to my destination, so I merely exited the cab and watched her drive away. I had been deposited at the outer edge of a very busy roundabout, and didn't see any other cabs approaching. I turned around and was surprised to see a large flea market in full swing behind me. Beyond this I could see several other roads. It was with a sense of adventure that I struck off through the flea market toward some other road from which I might hail a cab. I should also mention that I had left my map in the hotel room, so I was absolutely clueless as to which direction I should walk in order to get at least a little closer toward my ultimate destination.
I finally did hail another cab, and made it to the park. Although it wasn't quite what I had been expecting, I'm really glad I took the time to go. The architecture is wonderful, and the view of Barcelona and the coast from the top of the park is simply stunning.
My time in the park was somewhat curtailed because I wanted to join the others for a trip to Sagrada Familia, and I didn't want to miss that. We gathered at the hotel, took a bus to the cathedral, and spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering about the premises. It is absolutely huge. It was probably the second most awe-inspiring church I've seen, second only to the Duomo in Milan. Our group splintered as we wandered about taking photos. The view from the tower was breathtaking, and was made all the more amazing when we realized that where we stood would eventually only be the halfway point for the entire edifice!
After the Sagrada Familia we returned to the hotel to collect those who opted not to join us, and then went to a closing dinner with the Nokia folks. It was a nice cap to an excellent week. Afterwards, I joined Eric, Molly and Mayme at an Irish pub for a few pints, and some off-the-record discussion. Molly was surprised to learn that she was, in fact, a "handler" rather than a "social media communications" professional, but she seemed to take the title change in good stride. We retired late, got up early, and spent all of Thursday traveling. Thankfully, the travel was uneventful, and I returned home safe and sound.
Molly's Barcelona wrap-up is a pretty good overview of some of the more entertaining highlights from the week, too!
The value proposition of social media sites like Twitter has always been somewhat vague to me. I've stated before that I'm skeptical of social media, and that I'm not one to jump on social network bandwagons. I recently purged a bunch of people from the list that I follow on Twitter because I wasn't seeing any value to reading what they had to say. There's only so many hours in the day, and I'd prefer not to spend them reading about what other people had for lunch.
I know that part of my problem with aggregating too much information is the workflow I use. I'm extremely linear when I process things: I work from oldest to newest when reading news in Google Reader. It's only in the last couple of months that I've started marking whole categories as read, even if I hadn't read them: "if I'm not reading them, why am I aggregating them?" is the question I ask myself. When I reload the Twitter home page, I scroll down to the last thing I read (or the bottom of the page, if I'm that far behind) and then work my way up. I rarely page back to see items pushed off the home page. I use the Twitter home page because I haven't found a dedicated Twitter client I like.
But the thing that's really stuck in my craw right now is duplication of information. Most of the people I follow on Twitter are also people included in my list of feeds in Google Reader. Whenever someone posts a new blog entry, there's almost always a Twitter message declaring that fact (our software automates this for us). I almost never click the link from the Twitter message to the blog post, knowing that the post will eventually be picked up by Google Reader for me to review. Most of the people I follow on Twitter also tweet enough other stuff to make it worth continuing to follow them on that service. A notable exception is, interestingly, CrunchGear: the overwhelming bulk of the CrunchGear tweets are simply the new posts that have gone online. Since I'm aggregating CrunchGear in Google Reader anyway, what's the value in following them on Twitter?
I could, of course, aggregate the Twitter feed(s), so that Google Reader is my sole source of incoming information. But I've noticed a pretty big lag in Google Reader most days, such that a tweet posted early in the morning by someone might not be displayed to me in Google Reader until mid-afternoon. Most of the time, this might not be a big deal, but every now and again someone will tweet something that merits an immediate response: either a question for which I know the answer, or a request for a recommendation, or even an invitation. These things can be time sensitive, and I'll have missed the window of opportunity if I rely on Google Reader catching them and displaying them to me.
It's this delay that also prevents me from using something like Yahoo Pipes to create some kind of filter to weed out the extraneous bits, so that I can focus on the compelling data from each disparate service I use.
The thought that started this little tirade was the idea that I might integrate my Twitter posts directly into my blog, in a fashion similar to Chris' lifestream. Rather than a dedicated page, though, I would simply grab my tweets and store them as a new Habari content type for display alongside my normal posts. I could then also include my Flickr photos, and whatever else I wanted, making the front page of my site the complete clearinghouse for all my online activities. Then folks could simply aggregate one site to follow what I'm doing.
It's a nice idea, but it fails in execution. In addition to the delays noted above for feed readers acquiring new data, the convenience of replying on Twitter is made more complex: a reader would have to see in my feed what I had posted to Twitter, then go compose their reply either at the Twitter site or in their Twitter client. Similarly for commenting on my blog, or on any Flickr photos I posted: following the lifestream is just one piece of the puzzle. Interacting with the information presented in that stream is the next hurdle.
What do you think? How would you like to simplify and integrate interactions with aggregated information?
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was preparing for a trip to Europe. That trip has come and gone, and it was a great experience. I spent two days in Amsterdam and Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and four days in Berlin, Germany. I was traveling as a freelance reporter for CrunchGear, a gadgets and technology website that I've been reading for a while. While in the Netherlands I visited a Philips Research center in Eindhoven; and in Berlin I was covering the IFA consumer electronics tradeshow. You can read all my CrunchGear posts published so far.
Amsterdam was fun, as always. It's been a couple years since last I was there, but very little seems to have changed.
I'd never been to Berlin before, so I was very much looking forward to that portion of the trip. I'd been in Ampfing and Konstanz, both in Southern Germany, so this was my first time in Northern Germany. Our hotel was literally right next door to the Brandenburg Gate, which made for a fabulous site to see every morning.
Late Thursday afternoon, after attending press conferences all day, the small group of journalists with which I was traveling set off for Treptower Park, in search of the Soviet memorial there. We had little trouble finding it, and spent quite a long time there.
My sister has translated some of the Russian visible in my other photos, so be sure to click through my Flickr stream if you want to read what the memorials say.
Friday night a few of us went to the Reichstag, in order to walk to the top of the dome.
It's a beautiful building, and the view of Berlin from the top is quite something.
Saturday was my free day, and I spent most of the morning wandering around the Pergamon Museum, soaking up all the antiquities on display there.
I could have spent many more hours inside, simply marveling at the statues, vases, and pillars on display. Also inside was the Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon. Alas, no photography was permitted in this portion of the museum.
After the Pergamon Museum, I met Matthias, a fellow Habari Project developer who lives in Hamburg. He drove into Berlin to meet me for the day. After a great meal at a little Bulgarian restaurant, he took me to Hops and Barley, a microbrewery in Berlin.
An aside: I like to drink ales and stouts. Pale ales and India pale ales are generally my preferred beverage. I was quite distressed to learn that Berlin greatly favors pilsner, one of the kinds of beer I like the least. I was quite pleased to go to Hops and Barley in order to finally order a nice ale. And yet, for reasons completely unknown to me, I ordered the cider instead!
After a round of drinks, we made our way to the Berlin Victory column. where we took a lot of photos.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. I got to try my hand at a new skill, I met many extremely interesting professionals from around the world, and I saw an awful lot of very cool technology. I think I did a fair job on my first assignment, and I'd love another opportunity to improve upon what I've learned. And if nothing further develops, that's okay, too!