A group of Los Angeles friends who work in social media were kvetching earlier this month about the mountain of waste--such as branded T-shirts, stress balls, key chains, and other giveaways--that pile up at tech conferences.
They decided to turn that into an opportunity to sweeten the convention party circuit while benefiting charity.
Michael Liskin, Marjorie Kase, and David Preciado decided to cruise the Web 2.0 Expo in a "Schwaggin' Wagon," collecting excess knickknacks from vendors. They plan to send the souvenirs in care packages to U.S. troops in Iraq, as well as to the nonprofit InnerKids.
Eight sponsors, including Mashable, Dogster, and Girl Gamer, cover the rental and fuel. In exchange, their logos plaster the 15-person, Chevy rental van that the friends drove to San Francisco for this week's expo.
"It shows that once you get something going and it resonates with people, it can go far," said Liskin. "Even if we don't gather voluminous amounts of SWAG this time, we're raising awareness about the waste."
Last night I hitched rides to party hop in the wagon crammed with SWAG, colorful pinwheel lights, paper lanterns, and tipsy conference goers. All it's missing is a disco ball.
But at the Web 2.0 Expo, there seems to be a shortage of the primo SWAG, unlike the iPhone given to each attendee of Office 2.0 last year. So if all you got out of this conference was a lousy t-shirt, the Schwaggin' Wagon crew invites you to track them down via Twitter or BrightKite.
"If someone brings two or more pieces of SWAG, we could do a SWAG exchange," Liskin said. "In the tradition of user-generated content, it's a collaborative process. People can tweet us and tell us where to go."
He and the fellow "Schwaggineers" total six people, including Kyra Reed, Daniel Hartman, and my friend Andy Sternberg. They want to make the rounds of more tech conferences, but haven't decided on the next stop.
Aiming to reduce the project's carbon footprint, however, Liskin is pledging to use a natural gas or other "green" vehicle next time.