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:
- Universities in the "Free" Era #universitiesfreeera
These presenters, Glenn Platt @glennplatt and Peg Faimon @pegfaimon, won me over immediately when they started by sharing URLs for the slides (http://tinyurl.com/sxsw2010edslides) and list of links (http://tinyurl.com/sxsw2010edlinks) they would be discussing. The presentation was well thought-out, aesthetically effective, and very very close to HASTAC's heart. They did not shy away from some pretty serious statements about tenure and institutions' inability and/or unwillingness to change, for example.
- 2009 Iran Election: Women's Revolution? Twitter Revolution? #SXSWiran
This session was led by Shireen Mitchell (@digitalsista) and featured HASTAC network members @monaism and @academicdave on the panel. They offered some valuable context on last summer's seemingly-Twitter-powered uprising for democracy in Iran. We learned that the pre-existing Iranian women's rights movement served as a foundation for the emerging democracy movement, and that blogs have been a key medium for expression and organizing around women's rights in Iran for years. I also noted that the man considered the founder of the Iranian blogosphere, Hossein Derakhshan, has been imprisoned by the Iranianian authorities with little explanation for over a year now, which is a telling sign of the state of discourse there.
- Crowd Sourcing Innovative Social Change #crowdx
This session featured some of the leaders in the field of nonprofit tech, such as Holly Ross of NTEN (@ntenhross), and was a fast-paced roller coaster ride through the brilliant mind of Beth Kanter (@kanter) who serves as a venerated mascot/guru/consultant/cheerleader in the world of innovative nonprofit technology. While discussing the panelists' favorite case studies of crowdsourcing campaigns, the session also attempted to eat it's own dog food, with Beth running frenetically around the room with a microphone to capture the good ideas of the hundreds of people in the standing-room-only crowd. There has been a real emergence of nonprofits at South by Southwest and I was glad to see the strong interest in this session (and others) that indicates the community will continue to grow at SXSWi. See presentation and notes on Beth's blog.
- In Code We Trust: Open Government Awesomeness #incodewetrust
This session led by Noel Hidalgo (@noneck) included some actual practitioners of open government, who are using social media to increase transparency and engagement in local, state, and national government bodies. There are some great examples to be found in the the New York State Senate (a Drupal site!), for example.
- And of course Visual Problem Solving: 5 Diagrams in 15 Minutes (#visualproblemsolving) which I already blogged about.
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.)
- Social Justice and Video Games #gamingjustice
Slides and video at http://www.racialicious.com/2010/03/17/social-justice-and-video-games/
- ActivityStrea.ms: Is It Getting Streamy In Here? #gettingstreamy
With my open standards hero, Chris Messina (@messina). The presentation can be seen at http://www.slideshare.net/factoryjoe/activitystreams-is-it-getting-strea... and you can learn more about this idea at http://activitystrea.ms.
- Selling Your Milk When the Cow is Free #sellingyourmilk
- A Brave New Future for Book Publishing #futurebook
- Accountability's Hot, Anonymity's Not: Trumping the Trolls #trumptrolls
- Networked Love, Bonding, Intimacy: Our Interactive Culture Clouds #SXintimacy
- Microformats and Government #microformatsandgovt
- BAM! An Entire Statewide University System Goes Virtual #univgoesvirtual
- My Three-Year Old Is My Usability Expert #3yroldexpert
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.