Tag Archives: SXSW

Gamifying the road trip


Extraterrestrial Highway

I’m driving through the desolate desert of Nevada, blasting dancy tunes, when you pull onto the Extraterrestrial Highway, State Route 375. This stretch of road is famous for being the gateway to Area 51, a secret and well-protected government location deep in the desert that is rumoured to house alien spacecraft and possibly even life forms from galaxies far, far away. If there’s any place to have a close encounter, it’s here. The mystery and conspiracy theories that surround Area 51 and the ET Hwy attract sci-fi geeks and outer space nerds from all over the world.

Excited, I whip out my smartphone (thankfully there’s 3G service) and check in via Foursquare to the venue “Alien Research Centre,” located at 100 Extraterrestrial. Chris G is the mayor and there is 1 tip: “I Highly recommend this place for real close encounters. Also there is good beer.”


Alien Research Centre

Alien Research Centre


Then I check into Area 51 and the Alien Fresh Jerky (Middle of Nowhere) “It looks closed.”

The road trip: a great North American tradition. A group of friends stuffing themselves and their worldly possessions into an old Chevy something and hitting the open road. Just you, your buds and some inspiring tunes in search of adventure. And now… throw social media gaming into the mix and you have yourself a very interesting social experiment.

The emergence of the “game layer” is clear after watching Seth Priebatsch’s keynote at SXSW Interactive Conference last week. Gamifying adventures like the road trip is, perhaps, a new and fun trend that will only grow as wireless service spreads through North America like wildfire and smartphones become ever more popular. Imagine collecting digital badges and points for hitting the key landmarks along your route or sharing your tips and suggestions with fellow travelers. All the while you’re sharing your experiences in real time with friends and loved ones back home.

I’ve been on a Chevrolet-sponsored road trip from Vancouver, British Columbia to Austin, Texas for SXSW Interactive and then back – a total of more than 5,000 miles. Check out the Eh Team’s misadventures.

Along the way, we used Foursquare, Yelp, Twitter and Facebook to source all kinds of information about locations we were visiting. We were social media machines: from finding a place to dine to sourcing must see tourist attractions to checking into and bragging about famous destinations.

I-10 Van Horn Rest Area is somewhere in the middle of Texas, but it has free wi-fi – and a Foursquare check in.

“Watch out for the bum that asks for change! How’d he get there????!” says the sole tip at the venue. We never did see the bum, but thank whoever left it for the warning. Brian V. is the mayor of Great Salt Lake State Park.

“Um so happy hour starts at 11:30am. No. I’m not lying. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to start at that time,” says one Caden B. of The Jackalope venue in Austin, TX.

In every small town, great and small, there is a Facebook Fan Page or a Foursquare venue to interact with. Even in the tiny town of Ely, Idaho, there are 3 Foursquare Specials.

As the game layer begins to saturate more of our daily life experiences, gamifying adventures great and small will become a part of the mix. Earning rewards for hitting landmarks might just inspire a whole new generation of road trippers to seek out adventure and challenge themselves to explore.

Dennis Crowley himself said at his SXSWi panel that Foursquare’s ultimate goal is to link people’s “bucket list” items with the check in to create a digital time line of all the fun, quirky and exciting things we’ve done in our lives. Foursquare will add value to the experience by helping you literally check things off your list and ping you when you’re near an experience you’ve flagged as a “must do.”

I only hope that one day soon, Crowley and the Foursquare crew will make an Extraterrestrial Highway badge – among others!

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SXSW Interactive 2011: Geeky Beachy Good times

SXSW 2011, originally uploaded by John Biehler. 

Party like a rock star, Tweet like a geek. Live off Cold FX, Emergen C, Red Bull, coffee, an assortment of free booze and food. Socialize with the Twitteratti. Never in bed before 2am. Meeting the who’s who of the digital space from Ben Huh of the I Can Haz Cheezburger network to Dennis Crowley of Foursquare to Chris Heuer, founder of Social Media Club House. Come home with a boatload of schwag, a pending cold and sleep deprivation.

When my good friend, blogger John Biehler first teased SXSW Interactive to me last year, I was intrigued. He had just returned from the event and was absolutely raving about the amazing networking opportunities, parties, panels and sheer volume of big players in the interactive space.

“SXSW Interactive is a summer camp for geeks,” he said back in 2010 as he showed me his brand spankin’ new iPad. I knew I needed to listen to him.

Lo and behold, a few weeks later I’d managed to convince my boss (over beers) that sending me to this event was the right thing to do for my company.

And last night as SXSWi came to a close, I found myself at the Serverbeach Geeky Beachy party wearing nerd glasses with tape wrapped around the rim and a pink t-shirt that said “I Love Geeks.” It was summer camp good bye and electro funk solo artist Neiliyo was sporting Harvard-chic geek attire as he sang us out of one of the most fun and dynamic conferences on the planet.

A large contingent of Canadian digital space players descended upon Austin, TX for the 5-day conference/festival hybrid. Michelle Leroux and I were proud to be the only Whistler representatives. Canadian media outlets, and companies like Radian 6, Hootsuite, tech start ups, as well as prolific bloggers and photographers, social media managers, public relations professionals and other le geek so chics were in attendance. The Maple Leaf Lounge – sponsored by the Government of Canada’s economic development ministry – rented out a space on Trinity Avenue to provide a haven for Canada’s digital community to hang out, participate in panels and meet potential clients.

SXSW was everything I hoped for and more. Thankfully staying at the very central location Courtyard Marriott Downtown saved us a 30-minute drive into the city each way and we were able to do quick wardrobe changes and drop off gear before the evening party sessions began.

The beauty of SXSWi is the inclusiveness and the meeting of great minds. It’s OK to bury your head in your Android or “check in” at a Foursquare venue because you’re among your people and they’re doing it too. In fact, if you’re not wired in at all times – you feel impotent. If you’re not wearing your big old SXSWi badge, you feel uncool.

My biggest take aways from SXSWi 2011 were:

1) the game layer is here and it’s bigger than we ever imagined, as per SCVNGR founder, Seth Priebatsch

2) there is a place for anonymity on the web, according to 4Chan Founder Christopher “Moot” Poole

3) Gamification giant Foursquare is where you want to play if you’re a brand

4) Group texting is the latest big thing (GroupMe)

5) Watch for Hashable

6) Giving is not only heart warming, but it’s also profitable (Tom’s Founder, Blake Mycoskie).

I can’t wait to return to geek summer camp next year, where I’ll celebrate with my new and old friends in chic le geek style. Stay tuned for more tales from the road. Yes…the Eh Team is still on the Chevy SXSW Road Trip.

Here are some great blogs and coverage that I’ve been reading as a wrap up to SXSW Interactive:






* Book your badge and accommodation early

* Bring extra power converters, plugs, batteries, chargers

* Wear comfortable shoes at all times

* Pre-SXSW do a cleanse

* Post-SXSW do a cleanse

* Pack ColdFX, Emergen C, headache pills

* Leave extra space in your suitcase for schwag and lots of it!

* Buy a US sim card with data if you’re from Canada. You’ll be glad you did

* Bring a portable USB or AA powered charging doc for your phone

* Bring multiple phone batteries

* Take notes at the panels (iPad suggested)

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Day 1 Chevy SXSW Road Trip Challenge: The Muff Centre

It’s Day 1 of the Chevy SXSW Road Trip Challenge and we’re in Boise.. We’ve traveled a long way, check out the On Star GPS map.

Passing through the beautiful “ski hills” of Snoqualmie Pass, we made our way to the small town of Yakima where we encountered a Sonic Burger for the first time. Fun little burger joint with roller skating carhops.

Check out the full Flickr Gallery for photos.

Sonic just happens to be directly across from The Muff Center. The hilarity and irony of this name – given that there are 3 girls in the Eh Team pack – inspired us to call our Chevy Traverse by the very same name.

The good old fashioned road trip is almost a rite of passage for every North American. There’s something about breaking free of the confines of the rat race and just…well….driving. And driving we are doing: Today is an 800+ kilometer drive.

I’ve been on a few road trips before – both times with a group of close girlfriends. It’s been fun getting to know some new friends from scratch – and some old friends better.

On every road trip, there are a few common denominators:

Junk Food

Funny Inside Jokes

Music (good and mostly bad)

Random Moments

To keep the inspiration alive, here are my favourite Road Trip movies of all time.


Today’s Info Drop – which we’ve affectionately called “Chrissie Mail” as an ode to Tyra Mail on America’s Next Top Model – indicated that we need to be in Twin Falls, ID tomorrow by 11am, where our first challenge will be commencing. They’ve told us to download the Group Me app.

Stay tuned to the Eh Team Blog for further updates and follow along with the hashtag #ehteam.

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