SXSW 2007 Day One – Emerging Social Trends

Over the next week or so I’ll be working my way through notes from the panels and such I attended. Suffice it to say SXSW 2007 was a fantastic experience – lots of good panels, lots of good food, lots of good parties and lots of good people.

I flew into Austin Friday night, but got in too late for picking up a badge, and too late for the New England Dinner – maybe next year.

So, I’ll call Saturday Day One.

Started out the morning at a panel on Emerging Social Trends.

Moderator: Laura Moorhead Sr Editor Culture, Wired

Laura Moorhead Sr Editor Culture, Wired
Andrew Blum Contributing Editor, Wired
Robert Fabricant Exec Creative Dir, Frog Design
Eliot Van Buskirk Columnist/Blogger, Wired News
Peter Rojas Engadget
Daniel Raffel Product Mgr, Yahoo!

You can also get the podcast of (I believe) the whole session.

All in all, it was an interesting panel but I was left wishing the panel had more time to go into some of the specific topics they mentioned – having five panelists plus a moderator in a one hour session just leaves too little time for any one in particular to develop much of a thought, or present any specific arguments about what they are seeing.
I would have loved to have had more of a discussion around the topic of open hardware, and end-user hacking of hardware for unintended uses. I would also have loved to have talked more about the developing infrastructure outside the US in places where leapfrogging is happening and folks are getting access via cellphones because they’re aren’t enough landlines.

Finally, I wish the panel had spent some time on what seemed to me the most obvious, dominant trend of the conference – twitter. Fabricant, from FrogDesign, joked about it at the beginning of the panel, but it was clearly the dominant mode of backchannel conversation at SXSW this year. Maybe that makes it too much of a current trend rather than an emergent one?

Favorite moments of the panel (these are really loose notes – not precise – more like liveblogging, but the wifi was too crappy to actual liveblog – feel free to correct me in the comments):

Robert Fabricant: I don’t want to feel old because I don’t blog about everything that I do. I’m certainly happy that my 20s are cloaked in darkness, and not on the internet for everyone to see.

Eliot Van Buskirk: The same moment where people were stealing data from these major corporations (on peer to peer networks, for example) is the exact same moment where we are giving up our own data in terms of personal information, traffic, preferences, etc.

Will there be a counter reaction to the omnipresence of blogging, twitter, social networking, et al?

Peter Rojas – It’s funny, given where I am now, but I used to type on a typewriter and buy only vinyl from non major labels. There are always counter reactions going on in different communities.

Andrew Blum: If there were a youth counter-reaction, would we know? Does it really happen if no one blogs about it?

Eliot Van Buskirk – I think we’ll get more gated communities, more private communities in the context of social networks.

Robert Fabricant – we’re hitting some kind of inflection point – people are aligining themselves against traditional institutionts, but there personal anxiety is increasing, and that is going to change how people participate in these online communities. People will have an increasing need to connect to a tribe/gang/club – evangelical voices in the generic sense. We see this first in the environmental movement around An Inconvenient Truth.

Laura Moorhead: the beauty of the web is the niche potential – but that can lead to a kind of fragmentation.

Robert Fabricant – this is a big opportunity for people who understand design and social community development – big companies need to understand how to create a sense of safety, a sense of community, a sense of editorial cohesion.

[Interesting how this connects with the “12 Values” session later in the week, which I haven’t blogged about yet but will -the need for people to feel safe, reassured, simple in a complex world]

Andrew Blum – in a sense this used to be the role of newspapers – for a long time we’ve moved in the direction of news aggregrators, but in a way we’re now shifting back to the editorial voice.

Eliot Van Buskirk – one interesting new trend is the open hardwared trend. For example, the Akai MPC – you can buy the lower end MPC for $1000 and then run a hack and enable the $2500 version. Akai so far seems open to it.

[I’d add the excellent folks at Slim Devices here as well, assuming they survive being swallowed by Logitech with their approach intact].

Peter Rojas – by allowing hardware hacking you actually broaden your audience – very few people will actually do the hacking, but even those who don’t will feel like they could. [This is a big insight I think – it is the ability to do so even though few ever will – this is like freedom of speech – most don’t use it for anything meaningful but also rightly fear losing it]

Robert Fabricant – I’d like to see this lead to more ability to upgrade, renew, etc – but they still are hooked on creating disposable products.

[Another good tie in – this time with the WorldChanging panel on Day 4 – why do we inist on creating products which have to be thrown away and purchased new rather than upgraded – the addiction to the revenue stream?]

Peter Rojas -the iPhone appears to be a closed platform which will be very difficult for people to modify and I think its a mistake, ultimately. When you create a platform on which people can innovate, you enable the creation that will make your platform more powerful.

Eliot Van Buskirk – This is the Tom Sawyer effect – see how much fun it is to pain the fence? Boy, I wish I could keep it all to myself. Sure enough, suddenly everyone is painting the fence.

Robert Fabricant – I see cable cards as an example of a litmus test – if this could really help drive hardware and software openness – could cable cards, along with next generation tivo, make consumer demand for openness the thing which changes the market? Let’s have a movement.

What demographic trends which will influence society and technology? Increase in video chat, upstream pipes. Increasingly bringing high tech into the living room.

Questions from the audience:

Q: What about the ROTW? Trends outside the US, and how they impact us?

Andrew Blum: One example – carbon emissions, which was much more of a focus in the EU than here, and more recently in the US.

Eliot Van Buskirk – we’re getting some strange laws about webcasting and what people can do – but providers in other nations are not beholden to the RIAA – if other nations recognize that by making unlocked devices, etc they can make tons of money, this will be different.

Daniel Raffel – it depends quite a bit on who’s on your team – if your team is all exactly like you, you’re only designing for those folks. Overall, design teams are too homogeneous.

Q: What about the global south, and what’s happening there? (That is, the ROTW is not just Europe and Japan).

Andrew Blum – I’m hearing about infrastructure build out in Africa as a kind of new call center location, following India.

Peter Rojas – most people, outside the 1st world, get access via cell phone. What kind of internet comes through that? What kind of experiences are you able to have on a device like that?

Robert Fabricant – There’s an interesting phenomenon called “epost” in India – getting email to paper, and paper into email.

Daniel Raffel – you also have to look at the government control over access in the global south – voip, mms, other mechanisms for p2p conversation that are unofficial. Lots of open source packages here – I met a lot of people at a recent O’Reilly open source telephony conference who could not talk about the projects they worked on “at home”

Q. What about education – what influence will this have? How do we improve it?

Andrew Blum – one interesting development was a recent NY board of education deal with IBM – focused on outcomes assessment based approaches.

Daniel Raffel – there’s some interesting stuff going on in schools – Columbia school for kids? Lots of ways of applying tech to encourage creativity – digital whiteboards, music (garage band).

What’s the future of email? Will it be replaced by SMS or MMS or IM?

Eliot Von Buskirk – not going anywhere.

Andrew Blum – video conferencing is coming, in a different way. Without delay, three Hi-Def screens, etc.

Robert Fabricant – purchase access to high priority bandwidth from your cable provider.