sxsw 2012 notes mbu

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A 14-page personal, subjective, selective summary of my SXSW 2012 (the interactive part) visit.

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  • 1.South by Southwest 2012 -- summary Introduction This is my brief report on South by Southwest (SXSW), a massive music, film and interactive festival held in March in Austin, Texas. I will try to keep it short: writing and distributing reports like this is a bit old school, SXSW is typically something to track real-time through for instance Twitter, and through other online sources (many many blogs were posted; and some videos). And yet, it seems really useful to share some of what I witnessed. SXSW hardly offers video streams. I recommend those that are interested to check out the web, and next time witness SXSW or parts of it real-time through the social infrastructure. What follows is a subjective selection, written in haste over the Easter weekend. There will be errors and mistakes in here, I did not allow for anyone else checking it: no time. It is an incomplete summary of some things I have seen. What I have witnessed over there: probably accounts for less than 10% of the total offering of the interactive part of the event. This interactive part lasted for five days, and often had some 10-12 parallel one-hour sessions, all day long, next to meet-ups, stands, drinks, parties and other get-togethers. It is overwhelming. The fear of missing out (FOMO) was palpable. (I also attended a very small part of the music festival. And a handful of films.) This is a big hip festival. It is celebrity-infested. It is well organised, though very crowded. More and more people go there these days. Myself, I am a late adopter, this being my first visit. It was time well spent. It is quite a trip but the costs are limited (some $1,000 for the event itself) and I did pick up some really good things. I also get a better picture of what some other people worry about. For networking, too, it can be a good spot. Even for Dutch networking: alarmingly many Dutch people there (left: some nice ones; FMT, AVRO). page 1

2. South by Southwest 2012 -- summary Strangely, there are few old media people there I have seen few people from publishers or broadcasters. SXSW is dominated by young new media and technology people. I tend to think that big events in the US are better than those elsewhere like it or not, the online world is still being driven by US innovation. I think that visiting this event makes sense for our company, and deserves time, some costs, and a bit more structured approach (see wrap-up & next steps). In this document, I deliberately left out most links to web sites, videos and exact names and titles of talks, books and persons. My guess is that those factoids would make tiresome reading. For those interested: give me a call and I will provide you with more such factual details, if desired. I am 100% certain that there is more information to be found on everything I review here; and on that I have not witnessed or discussed below. Google will lead you the way. Confession: I skipped sessions with two celebrities I actively dislike Al Gore (hardcore liar on so-called global warming; and self-appointed inventor of the Internet) and Bruce Springsteen. Celebrities I missed with some regret included Robert Metcalfe (of Metcalfes law) and Willem Dafoe (the actor). I did witness Mark Mothersbaugh (founder of Devo) and Anthony Bourdain (maker of entertaining cooking TV and books, but loudly self-congratulating). Here are some loosely structured take-aways. In the next chapter I list some topics in a very high-level, snacky fashion. In the chapter thereafter I spend some more text on some selected topics. All this is superficial. There are enormous amounts of books, articles, blogs, videos and tweets of relevance. I tried to make it clear where opinions are mine. I urge all people reading this to also look up additional sources to get a more complete, broader picture, and to finetune or refute my observations. There is a lot. Key themes in short These were threads I saw coming back in many sessions. Many were to be expected I guess. Here I list the ones I remember. Old & new media: lots of discussions on old and new media, mostly rather inward-looking, often from the point of view of the professionals involved. Not always about the behaviours and desires of consumers. Or advertisers. Often emotional, with elements of triumphalism (from new), denialism (from old) and narrowness (from various sides). Clearly, some media are shrinking, some are growing, not all new things come on top of the old but some substitute, or at least compete for time. There is broad agreement that media are changing, of course (from the Dept of Open Doors). There was one venue in which almost solely sessions took place that had to do with journalism, in its different forms. Quite OK, many of them, in spite of lots of grumbling and complaining (democracy is going to die! etc). Lots about curation and aggregation, of course, there. page 2 3. South by Southwest 2012 -- summary Generational friction: this is related to the previous one. People keep asking can a 50-year old understand a 20-year old?, in the light of making media. The simplistic take on this I liked best was something like who cares just hire some 20-year olds and make sure they can help you. Also, it seems that many people actually research their children these days. (I have once read translated 2500-year old Egyptian papyrus scrolls pointing at this generational theme. It looked like it was written yesterday. I guess we are stuck with this generational phenomenon. In media, too.) Analytics: hard figures are making their way into content production and distribution. Measuring, measuring, measuring engineering methods. There was a lot of attention for quantitative approaches to editorial work; and to things one can no longer call editorial. More later on. This topic is somewhat related to the rise of machine computing (note: I do not use thinking here, but sometimes I do it is quite impossible to find the right words, if you think it over), i.e. to the power of algorithmic approaches. Relevant for us this. We have already started some things. We should go faster, I now think. This does impact our way of working. More to come. Of course, the term big data was used, too, at SXSW. It is certainly not the same what I describe here as analytics, but I chose to leave out other flavours of big data for (mainly because I did not attended those specific sessions). SoLoMo: social local mobile, everything seems to go that way. A quite generic theme of course, but also quite real. One might wonder: why even work on web sites as we know them? Why launch such a thing or put a big effort in, whereas especially social and mobile, and to a lesser extent local stuff seems to draw so much attention and energy? This is my take-away. OK, let me also say: mobile and social are not yet getting a proportional part of the advertising pie. Not at all. This is puzzling. The social dimension of TV was a recurring theme, too. There were some pretty good examples, but also some boring, open doors re-opened. I would expect battles in the social TV dimension shortly. Several speakers expected or witness massive amounts of experimentation. Some asked: how many per-TV programme apps can the public absorb, or are we heading for generic TV apps? Two social phenomenons mentioned (praised) most included Instagram and Pinterest (graph right). Are these passing fads? I guess not. Are there many trendy social things that will not make any real needle move? I guess so. And yet, there will be more, many more. But, as Lanier hinted: how much space does Facebooks network effect allow for others? What sort of things can one still do outside of Facebook? page 3 4. South by Southwest 2012 -- summary Curation, aggregation: a very interesting, somewhat divisive matter. More later on in this document. I think this is about new, disruptive approaches to forms of journalism. Think of Jeff Jarvis slogan do what you do best and link to the rest. That taken to extremes: journalists who dont write. More later. The photo tsunami: photography has exploded, and keeps growing. Everybody can make and distribute (quite good) photos. Increasing smartphone penetration will push this phenomenon further but where to? Will this merely produce a sea of mediocrity, or even worse? More later on. Computation, AI, the Singularity: the rise of machine thinking and the future role of technology. Will we witness and: be able to control? the extension of the human brain? In how we produce and distribute content? My worry: can we take this matter in a rational fashion, or are we either too afraid (like we were of HAL, in 2001 A Space Odyssey, picture right), or too excited, to come to a cool-headed judgment? Maybe there is a matter of faith at play here. Several speakers were believers. These were quite smart people with a track record though. Some other people are reluctant to allow machines to take a certain role in, say, content production, selection or distribution. I personally think it might be better to experiment with automated intelligence and think really hard about it. Actually, most of us using Zite, or Spotify, or Google are already doing that. Meanwhile, technology is developing sort of exponentially. More later. User interfaces: it is now becoming clear that interaction between people and machines has changed for ever. Look at the role of multitouch, for instance. That said: regarding Siri (voice recognition) and related stuff, I am a skeptic, for now. Will this evolution of interaction continue? Most experts said yes. Personally, I believe that some 20-30 years from now we will laugh at what we are now working with, that our current stuff will look medieval in just a couple of decades. May I suggest: have a look at some of the videos of Corning, the glass company. And look at Kinect (Microsoft). Mobil