SXSW Interactive 2008


Trying to see the future of digital media.

I recently attended SXSW Interactive, a conference on new media in Austin, TX, from March 7-12. Attracting digital creatives as well as visionary technology entrepreneurs, the event celebrates the best minds and the brightest personalities of emerging technology.

Taking place on three floors of the Austin convention center, the event is overwhelming, with sessions beginning at 10 and running to 5 with bonus events and parties in the evening. There were usually about a dozen different things you could do at any time during the day. For example, at 11:30 on Saturday you could choose from panels on e-commerce, managing communities that work, Expression Engine 2.0 sneak peek, accessible rich media, the contextual web or “how to rawk SXSW and achieve geekgasm”. In addition to the panels, you could also go to book readings, take part in smaller “core conversations” on select topics, visit the trade show or pop into the ScreenBurn Gaming Fest.

The evenings featured parties and events where you could meet fellow techies. I went to the Dorkbot happy hour (geeks showing off their robots), a BikeHugger happy hour (with excellent barbecue), the SXSW Web Awards (sponsored by Adobe) and the “Rock Bands Rock Opera” party, sponsored by a company called Opera. These were excellent opportunities to drink free beer and meet other web folks from around the country.

It amazed me how tech-savvy the participants at the conference were. Nearly everyone had an iPhone, it seemed, and those who didn’t brought laptops to the conference to take advantage of the convention center’s speedy wifi service. The conference provided many handy online tools for participants. For example, I created my own calendar of events and downloaded it to my iPhone. SXSW also featured a mobile version of the conference program and a daily blog that I could read on my iPhone. I took notes on my iPhone so I didn’t need to carry paper around at all.

However, I was a Luddite compared to many people, who were updating what they were doing on Twitter and Facebook, uploading pictures to Flickr, making podcasts, and chatting about the sessions they were in in Meebo.

The overall theme of the conference was excitement over the future of the web. Participants in the conference shared an evangelical confidence in technology. This confidence was not placed in big companies but in small, organic teams, reflecting the DIY attitude of Austin and SXSW.

I’ll write more about the experience in the coming days.

The Artisan Economy

A new study by Intuit predicts that the past will become the future. We’re heading into the Age of the Artisan. The press release has a great lede:

Artisans, historically defined as skilled craftsmen who fashioned goods by hand, will re-emerge as an influential force in the coming decade.

Now, we’re not talking about people making crafts by hand in some log cabin. The New Artisan is likely to be a web developer, writer, photographer, designer, marketing consultant or other independent professional. Powered by social networking tools and an always-on net, they’ll be able to work anywhere, for anyone.

The tools are getting easier and easier for new artisans, lowering the barriers to their work and eliminating many of the gatekeepers that once kept them from the market. In addition to the machine of democratization that is the internet, today’s artisan has a wealth of tools available to them:

  • Writers can easily self-publish their books on Lulu and sell them worldwide.
  • Photographers can use Flickr to market themselves and sell the stock photography through istock.
  • Designers can market their creations on CafePress, without having to keep any merchandise on hand.
  • Marketing professionals can find clients on LinkedIn
  • And teams of people can collaborate using Backpack and Google Docs.

While there’s a certain amount of hyperbole in this study, particularly in its prediction of the end of the Industrial Revolution, this is an idea that largely rings true. There’s no reason for large groups of people to travel by carbon-spewing vehicles to sprawling office parks where they’ll occupy beige cubes for giant corporations as they put in eight hours a day.

That’s the Cubicle Economy, where you’re judged not necessarily by the quality of your work but, often, by less concrete measures, like whether you’re a “team player” or your facility at office politics. Or, sometimes, by a very concrete measure – the “face time” you put in the office.

I’ve worked for large organizations most of my career. In all cases, creative people (like myself) have challenges in adapting to to the Cubicle Economy. If you’re creative, you want to create, whether it’s a brochure, a web site or a party. You want a tangible product. Yet, so much effort in the Cubicle Economy is spent around process – meetings, timesheets, required briefings, politics, showing up on time. Is it any wonder that creative people have problems in the Cubicle Economy?

At the beginning of my career, as I transitioned from school to the Cubicle Economy, I felt hopelessly restless and bored. Was the problem with me? Maybe I had ADD.

Working on web sites saved me from being driven crazy by the Cubicle Economy. Having a concrete thing to work on, to update, a creation that was constantly changing but was reaching real people – that was something I could point at, a creation that made the rigors of the Cubicle Economy worthwhile.

The Artisan Economy would not only be a more efficient way to run a business, it would be friendlier to human needs and more conducive to creative work. I, and millions of other members of the Cubicle Economy, would welcome it.

Fembot Sends Stats Soaring

A great feature that Flickr added recently was Flickr stats. With it, you can not only see how many views your pictures are getting but you can see how much traffic an individual picture is coming from – and where that traffic is coming from.

On Sunday, I went to the “Japan! Culture + Hyperculture” exhibit at the Kennedy Center. I had seen pictures of the art and robots on Flickr (of course) and wanted to see the exhibit for myself.

The first thing I encountered at the Kennedy Center was the Actroid DER2 robot. She looked like a geisha and was responding in a somewhat lifelike manner to questions posed to her by freaked-out looking kids in the audience. They didn’t know what to make of her, to the amusement of their parents. The robot didn’t always understand the questions and answered with scripted replies. While it was interesting how lifelike she looked (except for the hands), the performance seemed to occupy a space between creepy and lame, IMHO.

I thought these cubes were much cooler. And the robot dog was cute.

Female androids are just not my thing (not that there’s anything wrong with it). But, evidently, they are someone’s thing, as the screen capture below demonstrates:

flickr stats detail

Flickr stats detail

Traffic for my pic of the Actroid DER2 has gone through the roof thanks to a link from a fembotcentral.com message board. It’s increased from 121 views to 134 in the time it’s taken to write this post.

I thought this pic was a real throw-away kind of shot, like a picture of mannequin. Its bizarre popularity demonstrates two rules of the web.

First, you never know what strange thing is going to be popular.

Second, you can’t predict which odd corner of the internet will send traffic to your site.

Note: By saying “odd corner” or “strange thing”, I do not intend to demean our robotic cousins or the men that admire them.

After the Gold Rush is 2008 BlueCat Lab Semi Finalist

My screenplay, After the Gold Rush, has been selected as a Semi Finalist for the 2008 BlueCat Screenwriting Lab.

The BlueCat Screenwriting Lab is a really interesting project. Founded by Gordy Hoffman (brother of Phillip Seymour Hoffman), BlueCat has become one of the best screenwriting contests in the country. What distinguishes them from other contests is that Gordy is a writer and tries to further development of screenwriting as a craft. If I’m a finalist, I’ll receive an all-expenses paid trip to LA to attend one week of screenplay mentoring (including a staged reading of my script) at the BlueCat Screenwriting Lab.

What’s my screenplay about? After the Gold Rush is about a dotcom failure, washed up at the age of 24, who goes abroad to end it all. But he can’t escape the sensual pull of Italy…

I wrote it in the wake of the dotcom crash, inspired by my own work on web sites and a couple of “research” visits to Europe. I was interested in how people regain their creativity after crushing defeat.

Read the first five pages of After the Gold Rush. And, if you want to read more, let me know and I’ll send you a PDF of the complete script.

What's Government Doing with Wikis?

A wiki is an excellent tool for government to collect and process information.  With a good chunk of the fed workforce eligible for retirement in the next few years, it’s vital to capture some of their years of experience before they walk out the door.  The Office of Management and Budget, an agency that’s known more for mandates than innovation, has surprisingly taken the lead with a wiki on earmarks.

Handmade Correspondence in the Twenty-First Century

screenshotRose is the daughter of a couple friends of mine. She was in my photo “Rose Runs” that was in the DCist Exposed show and has appeared in the local paper a couple times.

And now a picture I took of her was used to illustrate an article on handmade correspondence. When you’re six, all your correspondence is handmade.