At the risk of sounding pompous, once you actually arrive on the scene at SXSW Interactive, it’s difficult not to feel really special in a town that seems to have been taken over by computer programmers, digital entrepreneurs and a hipster cartel of awesomely creative T-shirt designers. From picking up press credentials to finding a place to eat, our first day at SXSW was more about getting the lay of the festival’s digital landscape and plotting a way to cover even a small part of SXSW’s dense maze of panels, programming and, well, parties.
Arriving a day before the show began turned out to be huge boon, especially when we saw the lines snaking into the press credentials and badge pickup room on Friday morning. We were in and out wandering through the Austin Convention Center in no time. SXSW seems to have left no good idea untouched; I was incredibly impressed by the badges, which not only have your photo, but repeat your name, organization and picture on both sides of the badge. If you’ve ever been at a convention and desperate to remember someone’s name only to find that their badge has flipped backwards, you’ll know exactly why this is step forward in the evolution of convention IDs.
T-Shirts, Shuttle Buses and Software
Of course the immediate reaction to both Austin, a liberal, youth oriented laid-back city full of more bars and music dives than even the Lower East Side, and to SXSW, the epitome of Young Technology Nation, is that of uber college town with the convention center as the epicenter of the campus. Everybody’s really friendly, everybody seems really cool, yes, the t-shirts (I bought a t-shirt before I attended a panel) are lively and cool and the shuttle bus system—we’re stuck at a very nice but sort of far-out hotel down I-35–seems to work fabulously well, running frequently from early morning to 2:00 am—yes, the late night schedule is going to come in handy.
But we’re here at the premier venue for emerging technology and the entreprenuers looking to exploit it for the next big tech thing. First, my colleague Rachel Deahl is right—be on time, the panels are packed and you might not get in. I wasn’t on time, but managed to finagle my way into a jam-packed panel, No Child Left Inside: Mobile Tech Meets Education, a look at the movement to use mobile devices, from iPhones to iPads, with young and older students. A panel of activist educators and academics discussed “Citizen Science,” essentially arming students with devices and collecting data, using crowd sourcing techniques to create teaching environments outside of the classroom, and outside of the typically published educational content. More on that panel to come in future reports.
Friday offered a mix of Meet the Entrepreneur—Rachel and I got to talk tech with Pawan Deshpande and Richard Turcott of HiveFire, an online marketing and content curation venture. I think I may have heard the first relatively clear definition of “curation’’, a relentless buzzword these days that seems on the surface to have replaced the word “publishing.” HiveFire offers its clients a software platform called Curata, which seems to function like a meta-publishing platform within a company—HiveFire seems to specialize in niche industries like health information—serving up a automated platter of content that, we’re told, is much quicker to collect, much easier to find and much better at showing off what your business does.
A packed house at PubCamp
Panels, PubCamp and Parties
We managed to get a glimpse of other cool stuff at other cool panels (yes, I use cool to much) thanks to help of the help of photographer/intrepid panel reporter Jody Culkin. Programmer Jon Dahl’s presentation, “Programming and Minimalism,” surveyed the importance of style and simplicity in writing code, comparing programming to both rock music and principals of writing set forth in George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” A panel on, “The Potential of Augmented Reality For Education,” looked at AR—the ability to overlay or embed visual info over the real world images seen through a cameras or mobile device—and how it can be used for both teaching as well as “putting people at the center of their data.” And at a panel called, “Interactive Comics: Techniques to Enhance Math Education,” educator John Baird outlined his Create a Comic Project, an educational project where he uses templates with comics with blank balloons, and has the students write the dialog.
Friday’s programming ended with an appearance by me and Rachel at PubCamp, a mini-conference organized by an impressive group of long-time SXSW attendees (BookSquare blogger Kassia Krozser and BookTour.com’s Kevin Smoker among them). Romance book blogger Sarah Wendell (Smart Bitches Trashy Books) opened the event with a typically wry survey of recent book events, including the HarperCollins new library e-book lending policy that forces librarians to repurchase e-book licenses after 26 loans. “library budgets are this big,” said Wendell, scrunching her two fingers close together and invoking the romance genre she loves so much in defense of libraries, “and nothing that small can be any good.” And joined by Ed Nawotka, former PW colleague and now editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, on the small stage, Rachel and I fielded questions from a room packed with new media and old media veterans, published and hoping to be published authors and, of course, readers.
So our first days in Austin/SXSW were a combination of—excuse the college metaphor—student orientation and class in session. And yes, the parties are good too. In fact, leaving the last party event of the night—a wild and rocking multimedia rooftop affair at a place called Mohawk—and heading back to the hotel, our group passed the Ice Cream Man truck (we also passed Taco Trucks, BBQ Trucks and so on), a group or business or social movement (whatever) whose mission is to giveaway ice cream—for free. Apparently they’ve given away over “300,000 frozen treats,” so we lined up and got ours, happily licking and scooping free ice cream as we headed to the shuttle bus. Cool digital programming and free ice cream? How cool is that?