How to Speak Geek

SXSW Interactive has landed. Can you talk the talk?

With economic contraction and its closely associated specter of protectionism currently haunting the globe, there is at least one world that is still relatively expanding. That would be the binary one – specifically that of those Internets, where, judging by some of the titles of the panels at this year's South by Southwest Interactive Conference, terms unfamiliar to at least this n00b (and his editor) seem to indicate the sort of growth that might have otherwise disappeared with the concept of moral hazard. And so, as a service to the people of Austin (who, after all, will soon be hearing the dulcet tones of drunken nerd-speak), the Chronicle offers you an informed look at a few of the SXSW Interactive 09 terms that caught our eye. (Note: In keeping with the times, we've vetted expert definitions with an online dictionary and Google.)

Memescape (noun)

The dictionary: thought that maybe we meant "mesocarp."

The Google: took us to a 56-page online zine, the forward to which begins, "I've long wanted to write an essay entitled 'In Defense Of Conspiriology, Speculative Theory, Pseudoscience And Other Offbeat Heresies,' or something equally grotesque and grandiose in (blurred) vision." We didn't make it far enough to figure out what this had to do with memescapes.

The experts: Tim Hwang, whose March 17 panel, the State of the Internet Memescape: 2008-10, promises to be way more informative than anything we found online, defines memescape (via e-mail) as "the overall collection of all things currently existing or becoming massive cultural phenomena on the web, and the underlying pattern that connects them." Still scratching your head? Hwang offers another that's a bit more simple: "Boy, the memescape this past year has really been dominated by LOLCats." Ahh, LOLCats.

Cloud, the (noun)

The dictionary: came closer to being helpful in its attempt to redirect us to a website that could save us money on the cloud than it did in trying to define it.

The Google: proved more able (in terms of this task) than the dictionary when it took us to the home page for "Europe's leading wireless broadband network."

The experts: According to Margot Carmichael Lester, who will be co-hosting a panel called Love in the Cloud: Online-Only Marriages on March 16, the Cloud is "a world existing in part or in total on the Interwebs and/or via electronic/telephonic/cellular communication, such as texting." We're wondering if the Cloud might be a good spot for Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members to escape the prying eyes of the state of Texas.

Funologist (noun)

The dictionary: thought that maybe we meant "Falangist." (We were charmed by its close association of gamers and the forces of fascist Spain.)

The Google: took us to a page that offered us a chance to earn our Funologist Certificate – and then failed to load.

The experts: Julie Ratner, who came up with the title for the March 13 panel, Funologists Live & In Person: Guerrilla Game Research, tells us in an e-mail that a "Funologist observes gamers' frustrations and kneads the data until patterns rise to the surface. She then delivers a list of issues and solutions that the design team can use to perfect a game that customers return to again and again for fun and relaxation." Frankly, we prefer panelist Erica Firment's take: "Funologist = People with [m]aster's degrees in Information Science attempting to gently convince engineers that their video game interfaces suck."

Grok (verb)

The dictionary: Was roundly entertained by our lack of knowledge about science fiction.

The Google: took 0.08 seconds to agree with the dictionary.

The experts: Elisa Camahort – whose March 16 panel, Grokking Bloggers: It's About Love and Underpants, sent us down this road to electronic embarrassment – was much more courteous. To grok, she says, is "to understand something so intuitively and with [such] empathy ... [that] you internalize it." Like maybe: The electronic world needs to grok that not everyone has read the works of Robert Heinlein.

Whuffie (noun)

The dictionary: thought that maybe we meant "wifey."

The Google: took us straight to a very informative Wikipedia article.

The experts: Amid an excellent repurposing of a tune once sung by Rosemary Clooney, panelists from March 15's Regional Whuffie Building: Attracting Innovation to Your City say (via e-mail) that the term was coined by writer Cory Doctorow to mean "the currency of the future" or "the rough equivalent to social capital." Says panelist Susan Evans, "It sounds a lot like karma when I define it to folks, but with less of a 'tit for tat' aspect." Apparently, the Internet can enrich even our concept of karma.

Crowd-sourcing (transitive verb)

The dictionary: thought that maybe we meant "crowd-pleasing."

The Google: took us to a page where the Canadian Broadcasting Service proceeded to jump those amazing GI Joe PSA redos way over the proverbial shark.

The experts: According to Gina Trapani, co-host of the March 14 panel Curating the Crowd-Sourced World, "for a blogger, crowd-sourcing is just outsourcing your research." She adds, "Without fact-checkers, why not?" We journalist types would submit that cutting factual corners is perhaps not the best use of ... information democracy. But then we'd likely be reminded that ours is the industry that's found itself sunk deep into the toilet.  

Geek-speak can be heard throughout Austin from March 13 to 17. For more information, including schedule, venues, and badge information, visit

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geek speak, memescape, The Cloud, Grok, Funologist, Whuffie, crowd-sourcing, Gina Trapani, Susan Evans, Tim Hwang, Elisa Camahort, Erica Firment, Julie Ratner, Margot Carmichael Lester

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