Long Live SXSW Interactive 2011…Now Get Back To Work!
BLOGGER’S NOTE: Did you miss SXSW Interactive in Austin? Or did you go and just couldn’t get enough?You can find here several of the on-the-ground podcasts from developerWorks’ Scott Laningham and myself, and, soon, we’ll have a video interview we conducted with Dave Ferucci, the lead researcher for the recent IBM Watson initiative. And no, sorry, I didn’t play Watson (although Watson v. Watson does have a nice ring to it, and I did joke with Ferucci that I had the name before the Jeopardy-playing computer.)
Okay, it’s official.
I’m South By Southwested out. It was great seeing all you digerati in the great state of Texas and the great city of Austin, but it’s time for you to gather up your iPhones, iPads (V. 1s and 2s), and MacBook Pros and go back to wherever the heck it was you came from.
I had a lot of fun, but the sleep neglect, lack of exercise, and constant digital brain food is more than one mere mortal should have to take. Especially when you consider I’m now considered one of the “old guys” (as people who were over 40 seemed to be constantly referred to throughout the event).
Don’t get me wrong, it was fun. But this year’s event was a little overwhelming in some ways, and a little underwhelming in others. Overwhelming in that there were way too many of us for that one little spot in and around downtown Austin. I don’t think I’ve ever had to fight so much to get into some of the sessions, never mind the fire drill that occurred during the PM major keynotes.
It was also overwhelming the amount of content and variety at this year’s event, and that’s a good thing. I know a lot of my out-of-town digerati friends weren’t so impressed, but I found that if you stuck out the sessions, or were willing to do a little on the fly migration, you could generally find some good stuff.
By the same token, there was some underwhelmingess as well. I find more and more that the panel sessions are a disappointment, primarily due to lack of prep and coordination among the moderators and the panelists.
No, in this crowdsourced, collabration-driven world of social media we live in, it was the individual presenters or two people Q&A who stood out, partially because they’re typically media-trained speakers, but also because they actually went out and did some homework and prep! C’mon, people, it’s not third grade show and tell…put some muscle into them.
I presented at SXSW last year on a Future 15 panel, and only had about 15 minutes to prepare. But I spent hours on the presentation: building, rehearsing, and making sure I could make my 15 minutes. I’m happy to say my session was standing room only on the last day of the event, when people are usually fleeing in droves. But I’d also like to think people stuck around ’cause I had something to say they wanted to hear and I worked hard at saying it well.
Putting all that aside, what did I learn this year, what are the big themes and memes coming out of the event?
Going Tikki “MoSoLo”
Well, there’s the obvious, including the confluence of mobile, social and local (I’m hereby coining a new acronym or catchphrase for this space, “MoSoLo”). This convergence is going to increasingly dominate the digital landscape, with everything from augmented reality to location-based services to on-the-fly ratings and reviews.
But that’s just about finding you, tracking you, and giving you something valuable (A new experience? A 20% off coupon? etc.) in the context of when and where you are. What happens when these devices and systems can start to make predictions based on implicit and explicit data.
Why shouldn’t my calendar talk to FourSquare and Gowalla and make sure I don’t miss that Silicon Valley Networking Meetup the next time I happen to be on a business trip?
Why can’t my own virtual agent go out and Tweet when I arrive in New York and find all my friends hanging near the Lower East Side for a quick catch-up cocktail?
And so on.
The Human Connection
This year’s conference also saw a move away from focusing primarily on the tools and technologies to centering more on the human interaction, experience, and connection. I mentioned this in one of our podcast recaps halfway through the event, and that theme continued throughout.
For so much of the past 10-15 years, we’ve been so enamored with the technology itself. But more recently, we’ve begun to take much more notice of what the technology can do to empower humanity and human relationships, in often profound and game-changing ways: The Green revolution in Iran, the Haiti earthquake, the Chilean mine, the recent quake/tsunami in Japan…I could go on.
Directly tied to this is the need for organizational transformation. Many organizations just aren’t simply organized in a way to take full advantage of networked communications. Most are organized in a command-and-control hierarchy, the effectiveness of which is dissipating day-by-day like a thousand Chinese cuts, and as we saw in north Africa earlier this year, that command-and-control hierarchy is often quickly outfoxed by the networked henhouse.
Yet as none other than NYU ITP professor and social transformation author Clay Shirky reminded us at SXSW in his keynote, it’s still not just the technology, stupid. Meaning, the network is more than just the infrastructure: It’s the people, the relationships, many of which predated the unrest in Tahir Square by years. The unrest in the square was simply the nodal culmination of YEARS of relationships and influence amongst frustrated Egyptian who shared a common goal: Ridding the country of Mubharak.
So, putting aside the once again disappearing oxygen in what appears to be another bubble, we can rest comfortable in the notion that change continues to be a constant, that relationships online and off continue to matter most, that the technology will continue to disrupt all aspects of business, government, society and our lives in general.
And I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.