We asked some of the loudest, clearest, and leading voices in cyberspace why they're coming to SXSW Interactive, what they bring to the proceedings, and who they want to encounter. Here are their responses.
I've spent most of my career either working to empower young people to create their own media or working for media companies, trying to reach them. I started Ypulse as a way to connect with other professionals who share my passion for all things teen and because it's a great outlet for my ongoing case of arrested development and obsession with pop culture.
What's really exciting to me about coming to the conference is the opportunity to introduce the attendees to two amazing teen bloggers coming to the conference with their parents, from as far away as Virginia and Missouri. Elaheh Farmand, who writes as "Lili," is an Iranian-American teen girl torn between her homeland of Iran and her new home in Virginia. She writes in a poetic yet personal style. Casey Lewis is a senior in high school, but already has her sights set on being the next Anna Wintour. She covers what's in your closet or what should be from a teen fashionista's perspective. With all of the sensational coverage of what teens are doing online, I'm looking forward to having a rational discussion about these issues and focusing on the positive ways teens are using the Internet and other technologies.
I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with my friends from BlogHer: Lisa Stone, Jory Des Jardins, and Elisa Camahort. I hope to grab a glass of wine or two with danah boyd and to try to convince her to tell me even more about the amazing digital youth project she is working on at Berkeley. Mostly, I'm hoping to meet people I've read about in cyberspace and to find inspiration and ideas around building a vibrant online community. My day job is being the director of viewer-created content for Current TV, Al Gore's new cable network for 18- to 34-year-olds. So, I'll definitely be attending panels like "How to Create Passionate Users."
Meet Judy Jetson: How Technology is Transforming 21st Century Teens
Sunday, March 12, 11am, Day Stage
In the two years since then, it has become evident that blogging and other online communities are a godsend for elders. It easily connects them with faraway families, creates social networks that can otherwise shrink, due to retirement and mobility issues, and it maintains, even increases, cognitive agility. In fact, people 65 and older are the fastest-growing cohorts of Internet adopters.
So when Elisa Camahort, one of the founders of BlogHer, invited me to participate in a panel on elderbloggers at SXSW Interactive, I jumped at the chance. I want to talk with technology executives about the growing business and outreach opportunities for them in this fast-growing market.
Many elders have never used a computer. We need to create community programs to reach out and teach them. We need to develop simpler computers, interfaces, and programs that answer the needs of aging eyes and arthritic hands. And we need to make the equipment, software, and Internet access affordable for people on fixed incomes.
I've become excited recently, too, about the possibilities of using the Internet to help maintain the health of a large aging population. We are not graduating enough physicians to begin to handle the burgeoning number of elders. But with new technologies, or adaptations of older ones, much of the routine monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate, diabetes, diet, prescription needs, and more can be managed over the Internet, reducing the need for hundreds of thousands of visits to doctors' offices.
The medical community will also need to be educated. My doctor doesn't even use e-mail with his patients, yet, but I can envision a future wherein every physician schedules an hour of his workday to check vital signs and answer patients' questions over the Internet, freeing up time to see others whose needs require an in-person visit.
There are a few widely dispersed university and business leaders who are beginning to see the enormous possibilities, but we need a coalition of government, health, and medical organizations, business, technology, and local community groups. We must bring them together to make this a reality. An aging population is a fact of the future, and I want to find the people at SXSW who know how to make all of this happen for everyone's benefit.
Every one of the people on my blog's long ElderBloggers list will tell you that blogging has enriched their lives, expanded their interests, and created new friendships that are no less close for being physically distant. As the latest addition to the list, an 83-year-old new blogger told me, "This blogging thing has opened a world that has already taken me places I've never imagined. I doubt anything more exciting to do will come up before I die."
Respect Your ElderBloggers
Sunday, March 12, 10am, Room 18D
Weblogs Inc.As a first-time speaker and attendee at SXSW Interactive, I find myself wishing there were at least two of me in order to be able to attend everything I'd like to see. The sheer diversity of topics covered at the conference is overwhelming and refreshing, and I look forward to the creative synergy sure to emerge when those of us working on a wide variety of projects under the loose umbrella of "interactivity" come together to share ideas, make connections, and learn from each other. I look forward to a gathering of tribes from different sectors: industry, academia, mobile technology, gaming, the nonprofit sector and, of course, all of us as users of these tools and services.
My personal and career interests will be leading me to a smorgasboard of presentations in the social media (especially blogging), social activism, gaming, mobile technology, and Web standards realms. I'll be excited to see many who are already cohorts and friends, and look forward to meeting a number of folks whose work I admire: blogger and social software expert Liz Lawley; social media expert and journalist JD Lasica; the Rocketboom folks, Amanda Congdon and Andrew Baron; game guru Jane McGonigal; lifehacker Gina Trapani; podcast paragon Koan Bremner; and social media activist and videoblog pioneer Josh Kinberg, to name but a few. I'm also looking forward to serendipitous conversations with folks whose names aren't yet familiar.
The serendipity factor is, to me, one of the most compelling reasons to attend most conferences, and SXSW is unique in its inclusion of so many facets of the Internet and mobile industries, as well as its co-location with the film and music festivals (the latter of which I will also be attending). The collective creativity quotient in Austin during these 10 days has got to be one impressive figure. The opportunity to be present in a space teeming with passionate experts all there to learn, teach, and discuss is one not to be missed.
All of the above at any time would prove a transformative experience, but it's also a particularly exciting time for the interactive industry right now. There is a mind-boggling number of new companies making new tools that are helping people organize and share information, communicate and collaborate on projects, and build alternative structures to mainstream media. There is a genuine spirit of innovation and collaboration not seen since the dot-com boom version 1.0, whose descendant, Web 2.0, is currently lighting a fire in the industry. Take that overall spirit, add several hundred brilliant toolsmiths and ideators to taste, and SXSW Interactive proves to be a cocktail that will undoubtedly pack one hell of a punch.
Public Square or Private Club: Does Exclusivity Strengthen or Dilute?
Saturday, March 11, 5pm, Room 18D
Tiffany B. Brown
WestCivComing off the back of our experiences with podcasting our Web design conference, WE05, last year, my business partner John Allsopp and I decided to organize a panel for this year's SXSW Interactive called "How (and Why) to Podcast an Event." Eric Meyer, most recently of An Event Apart fame, but who also spoke at WE05, is helping us out with the public speaker and educator's point of view. But we're relatively new (albeit enthusiastic) hands to podcasting. The panel's also going to feature the experience of Matt May, the creator of the CC music podcast, Staccato, as well as Alex Williams of Corante Events, who's really been pushing the boundaries by creating experiences where the podcast is an event in itself.
Everyone's heard of podcasting, but many people who organize events are going to have reservations about using it. There are practical/technical concerns, and then we had much deeper, and harder to resolve, business and strategic issues.
While our Sydney-based conference last year grew into a reasonably large event, with almost 450 people over three days, we continue to take what we call "the professional grassroots approach." This means we solve problems with inexpensive solutions that are "good enough." Our podcasting program was a great example of this. At the panel, we'll explain just how straightforward it is to make good-quality content available. Budget constraints are your friend here: They will encourage you to create solutions that are simple and appropriate to the task.
What I really like about podcasting is that it is a fine example of the simplest rule for success of any Web enterprise: create benefits for your business by giving away high-quality content for free. There are two parts to that sentence. You must give away something of genuine value. It's hard to believe this still has to be said in 2006, but if you try to generate interest by giving away nothing more than thinly disguised advertisements for your event, no matter how slickly produced they are, you will fail. And then you also need to think through what the benefits to your business might be. Traffic is great we all love traffic but turning traffic that is listening to audio content into direct, accountable financial return is a real challenge.
To be honest, though, that isn't really what we focused on with the WE05 podcasts: We just saw them as a simple and inexpensive means of "giving back," and we were so delighted that all of our speakers agreed to this in a heartbeat. Our conference is all about overcoming the tyranny of distance and bringing geographically dispersed Aussie developers together. Receiving notes of thank you from developers all over the world, many of whom could never hope to travel to Australia, but who were able to get a taste of our event via the podcasts, really was extremely important to us.
So, come to our panel. And visit www.westciv.com/wincoolstuff for a chance to network while participating in a brand-new competition.
How (and Why) to podCast an Event
Sunday, March 12, 10am, Room 16AB
How to Roll Your Own Web Conference
Sunday, March 12, 5pm, Ballroom E
Lynne D. Johnson
At last year's SXSW Interactive, I moderated a panel titled "Blogging While Black." I had never visited SXSW prior to last year, and therefore didn't really know what to expect. From what I could glean, the producers of the event wanted to include varied voices from the Web community. Some African-American bloggers I knew submitted a proposal and selected me as their moderator.
Prior to being asked to moderate a panel, I always thought that SXSW was an event primarily focused on music artists and journalists. What I did come to know about the conference was that mainly white male techies and Web types mostly attended it. And here I was, this African-American female who works as the general manager of VIBE and SPIN Magazine's new media operation, coming to Austin, of all places, to discuss what it means to be a black blogger. I wasn't thinking that anyone would be ready for this, but I felt I definitely had something to say.
In the end, it turned out that many of last year's attendees were very interested in the panel, and our attendance was requested again this year. Last year's conference was more or less a reunion of sorts, where I met and interacted with the bloggers I had known and called my blog fam since 2001. Since many of them live across the country, I had only known them through their blogs, IM chats, and maybe one or two phone calls. And yet meeting them in person felt a lot like I had known them all my life.
This year, I plan to stay the full course of the conference and therefore intend to catch up with a lot more folks than just the people on my panel. For one, I'm looking forward to running into Jory Des Jardins, Elisa Camahort, and Lisa Stone, the founders of BlogHer. I myself created "A Room of Your Own," a sort of cyber studio for feminist hip-hop bloggers. In negotiating a space dominated by men much like the music world I'll also take the opportunity to really get their perspectives. I can't wait to catch up with Laina Dawes, a writer from Canada who I met at EMP Pop Conference in Seattle and later at BlogHer.
Mostly, I'm looking forward to learning more about Web 2.0, to understand the nature of where this medium is going as a business. And, in the future, I have great hopes that I'm asked to sit on a panel for the work I do, and not only because of my race or gender.
Blogging While Black Revisited
Sunday, March 12, 5pm, Room 18D
Tiffany B. Brown
Lynne D. Johnson
One of the panels is one that I was on last year: "Blogging While Black," which got a really good turnout. I can't wait to meet up with all of the panelists again because they're all super-cool people from very different backgrounds, and, together on one stage, we're pretty much nothing like what people probably expect.
Another reason is about creativity and finding one's voice, and I'm very nervous about that one, because hell if I know how to explain my creative process or finding my voice. I have a feeling my voice found me, or, probably more accurately, settled on me after striking out with cooler people.
I'm also going to SXSW because I'm a big giant nerd and a fanboy of so many of the other bloggers and innovators who will be there. Last year, I felt like a kid at an all-star weekend. I wanted everyone's autograph and, this year, I'm actually going to get them. A long time ago, I realized that I had all of these baseballs signed by people whom I didn't really know, so why not get autographs of my friends and lovers? Then, I figured, why stop at that? Why not get autographs of people I really appreciated? So, this year, I'll hopefully have my baseballs signed by people like Ev Williams, Doc Searls, Craig Newmark, Jason Kottke, Heather Armstrong, and Nick Denton.
Last year, I got to meet Ana Marie Cox, and I pretty much died. Not only was she super hot, but also really really nice and laid-back but shorter than I thought she'd be ... exactly like how movie stars are. I got to buy her a beer and watch her be surrounded by tons of other dudes like me who just smiled like goofballs and said, "Uh, yer purty." I also got to have lunch with Jason Goldberg, Eric Case, and Biz Stone from the Blogger/Google team. I had e-mailed them and talked to them on the phone over the years, but to actually sit down and thank them for all their work on Blogger and pick their brains and have them ask me questions was one of the best lunches I ever had, and I didn't have to pay for my burger!
Later, at the Google party, I met littleyellowdifferent, which was a pretty huge thrill since he was one of the original bloggers. On the way out, I met Matt Haughey from MetaFilter.com, and I was totally starstruck. I realized I have no problems talking to the hottest chicks in Hollywood, but when I'm around these giants of the blogosphere, I'm reduced to a blithering, stuttering mumbler. It's a nice feeling.
This year, I hope to run into all of them again, but this time have intelligent conversations, and I also hope to spend a little time with Henry Copeland from BlogAds.com because when he was last in L.A., we only got to speak for a few minutes. His knowledge of the blogosphere is immense.
Basically, I love being around smart people who truly love their industry and their profession. I love SXSW because it is populated with folks who are passionate about the Web and its possibilities. Yes, there are fakers intermingled, but mostly there are legends and geniuses and rock stars.
Better Blogging Brainstorms
Saturday, March 11, 10am, Room 18ABC
Helen Jane Hearn
Min Jung Kim
Blogging While Black Revisited
Sunday, March 12, 5pm, Room 18D
Tiffany B. Brown
Lynne D. Johnson
Things you may think of as online recreation such as blogs, photo sharing, social networking, bookmarks, video games, and even online shopping can be powerful tools for community organizing and political advocacy. My goal at SXSW is to learn about new, creative uses of the Internet and find ways to utilize this innovation to promote grassroots political empowerment.
Sometimes when I read the breathless descriptions of bleeding edge technologists who will be attending, I start to worry that SXSW will be all about how to cash on the "next big thing." And maybe for some people it will be. But for me, the Internet has always been a place where people can speak their minds, connect to each other, and make their world a better place. So, the folks I want to network with in Austin are not the dot-com big shots.
The most amazing connections I'll make will be with people I've never even heard of before. I can't know who they will be or what great ideas they will have. But there are also some who I am already looking forward to seeing there. They are journalists from the progressive weekly paper in central North Carolina, consultants from the Pacific Northwest who build the capacity of nonprofits to communicate effectively online, local and national bloggers whose cutting political commentary is on my daily reading list, academics who are studying the impact of online tools on the social lives of American teenagers, noted experts in "hacktivism," and the entire staff of a company called BlogAds who are aiding the grassroots media revolution by financially supporting bloggers.
Revenge of the Blogs: Election 2008
Sunday, March 12, 5pm, Room 16AB
Salem Web NetworkI'm supposed to answer the question "Why am I coming to SXSW Interactive?" The first response that comes to mind is "Why wouldn't I!?" But I guess that doesn't help much.
Here is a better answer: This is the largest gathering of people that have the same passion I do using the Internet to empower individuals.
Just like a lot of people at SXSW, I have made it my vocation. For more then a decade, I have focused on using the Internet to get people involved in politics. Some who know me and don't share my political perspective may have trouble believing that, but it's true. How I came to make this my life may surprise them even more.
In 1996, I was working for then Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo. when he had the idea for an online petition for term limits leading up to a vote in the Senate. You see, he was, and is, committed to getting more people involved in politics. Both the Internet and term limits have the power to get people who sat on the sidelines of the political process more involved. Our tagline was "opening the doorway to self-government."
In the two weeks we had the petition up, thousands of citizens signed the petition, as well as more than half of the Senate. Ashcroft went to the Senate floor with the messages of these thousands of people, some of whom had just written him hours before. Direct, near-real-time involvement with the political process by thousands of people I was hooked.
I'm still hooked. I look at the tens of millions of people that used the Internet in the 2004 election, and I think about how it is just getting started.
So, what does this have to do with SXSW? I get to interact with the brightest people who are hooked in a similar way. Guys like Scott Heiferman who got hooked on using the Internet to get people reconnected to their local communities; or Henry Copeland, who, through the BlogAds network, has enabled thousands of bloggers to make their opinions heard; or even Zack Exley, who has a completely different political outlook than I do, but has used the same passion I have to bring a lot of liberal activists into the political debate.
New technologies are breaking down barriers, and SXSW has brought the people who are figuring it all out together in one place. I am humbled to be invited and look forward to learning from everyone involved.
Online Politics: Fast, Cheap, and Allows for Control
Tuesday, March 14, 5pm, Room 16AB
I ended up doing online politics because, as a grassroots organizer, I've spent the past 10 years searching for new ways to mobilize people. And, for folks with Internet access, e-mail and the Web have transformed political involvement. But, I have enough of a Luddite streak that spending four days talking about blogging and CSS just didn't sound, um, fun.
Then, I was asked to be on a panel, and I thought, "My diabolical plan to get a free platinum badge has finally come to fruition." (Guess again, sucker: Those are for the important speakers.) That's as far as I got until I was asked by the Chronicle to write 500 words on what excited me about SXSW Interactive. That required me to look at the actual program.
Yowza. As it turns out, I'm plenty excited! I get to hear people from outside the realm of politics and activism wrestle with the very same questions we face at MoveOn.org: How do you tap into the wisdom of crowds without falling prey to lowest-common-denominator mediocrity? What's going to happen to e-mail in the next 10 years? How does our world change with ubiquitous computing? What's the true potential of social networking (assuming you're already in a committed relationship)? What in G-d's name is ambient findability, and how do I get rid of it if I catch it?
Then there's our panel. Several of us from the progressive online world will square off with Chuck DeFeo from the Bush campaign. (During the '04 election, when MoveOn was running a massive, bootstrapped, seat-of-our-pants, neighbor-to-neighbor effort, I would occasionally click over to the Bush site to see how our Web tools would've looked if we had an extra $10 million or so to throw at them. They were dreeaaaamy.) If you're interested in the potential of the Internet to foment Revolution of the changing-who-runs-everything kind as opposed to the trippy-iPod-ad kind you'll find our discussion fascinating. And, if you're a talented developer who secretly wonders whether your passion for object-oriented languages could help save the world, come discover your new calling.
There's only one hitch. We're scheduled for the same time slot as Bruce Sterling. Kiln People Bruce Sterling. Schismatrix Bruce Sterling. Brilliant author and mad scientist Bruce Sterling.
Eschatologists aside, the only people in our society who get paid to think about Where All This Is Leading are sci-fi authors and Bruce Sterling is among the best. How am I supposed to go up against the likes of him? More to the point, how can I get out of my own panel to hear him? So, if there's anyone out there who would like to impersonate me at 5pm on Tuesday, please contact me ASAP.
Online Politics: Fast, Cheap, and Allows for Control
Tuesday, March 14, 5pm, Room 16AB