SXSW Interactive from 30,000 feet

I just returned/recovered from attending my second South by Southwest Interactive, and I must say SXSW has really solidified its place in my heart as one of the very best tech conferences one can attend these days.  The content is broader and and more innovative than I get at my typical nonprofit tech gatherings, but still has a place for discussing the social uses and implications of always-evolving online communication.  Most of the panels and speaker were top-notch, bringing not only informed ideas, but clever and engaging presentations.  Each session came with it's own official Twitter hashtag, which functioned as both a backchannel and a Q&A tool (for the more wired facilitators).

There is always too much to do at SXSW, and this year was no exception for me. Even though I eschewed the famous parties, I still found myself exhausted after four-and-a-half days of learning, meeting, thinking, and talking with a wide variety of people from around the world.  The best way to learn from HASTAC's participation at SXSW was to watch our Twitter stream (especially since Twitter's archive is shockingly meager), but I will do my best to encapsulate some of my favorite sessions here.

First, my favorites:

Here are some more sessions that I attended but don't have time to describe in detail, roughly in order from my favorites to least. (Thank goodness for those Twitter hashtags! Check them out for reportage, links, and conversation on each topic.)

And of course danah boyd (@zephoria, #danahboyd) gave an opening keynote on privacy and publicity which really captured the minds of everyone at SXSW from grassroots organizers to programmers to dot-com entrepeneurs. She posted the entire text online. Part of her closing is excerpted below:

Just because a large percentage of people engage in public does not mean that they don't care about privacy. Pew found that 85% of adults want to control who has access to their personal information. You can read numbers in any which direction, but it's dangerous to assume that people who share PII don't care about privacy or people who make their data public don't care about privacy. Doing so erases the context in which people are operating and the expectations that they have.

Wanting privacy is not about needing something to hide. Its about wanting to maintain control. Often, privacy isn't about hiding; it's about creating space to open up. If you remember that privacy is about maintaining a sense of control, you can understand why Privacy is Not Dead. There are good reasons to engage in public; there always have been. But wanting to be in public doesnt mean wanting to lose control.

Ages ago, Angelina Jolie was interviewed and asked about why she felt comfortable exposing her whole life to the public. She smiled and said that the more she put out in public, the more people stayed out of the things that she wanted to keep truly private.

What we're seeing is extremely messy. Observing peoples data traces gives no indication of whether or not they are trying to be public or private. You need to understand their intentions, how theyre interpreting a technological system, and what theyre trying to do to make it work for them. Each of you - as designers, as marketers, as parents, as users - needs to think through the implications and ethics of your decisions, of what it means to invade someone's privacy, or how your presumptions about someone's publicity may actually affect them. You are shaping the future. How you handle these challenging issues will affect a generation. Make sure you're creating the future you want to live in.


Ruby Sinreich

A Lounge with a Conscience

I just realized that I forgot to mention one of the best things at SXSWi this year: The Beacon: Lounge with a Conscience. Lots of huge corporations sponsor these lounges where people can take a break, get free stuff, and learn about Microsoft Silverlight/Pepsi Zero/insert-product-here. But there was also a more modest, but still very comfortable, lounge sponsored Beaconfire Consulting, who do great online strategy work with nonprofits (I worked for a client of theirs many years ago).

The Beacon Lounge offerred FREE breakfast, lunch, or beer (depending on time of day) and simply encouraged visitors to learn about and donate to worthy nonprofit causes in return for enjoying their hospitality.  This space was my default stop to recharge and connect with colleagues in between sessions, and we even used it for our HASTAC meet-up!

This is another aspect of the growing nonprofit presence at SXSWi, and I am all for it.