Jon L. on SXSW

I’m talking about SXSW 2012 (as well as bits about the history and relevance of the event) on the WELL. [Link]

SXSW started in 1987 as a quirky event inspired by New York City’s New
Music Seminar and festival, but I didn’t get involved until 1994, when
the event added Multimedia to the mix. I’ve been going and involved in
various ways ever since. We were encouraging the producers of
Multimedia to include Internet programming, and my recollection is that
it took 2-3 years for the Multimedia conference to become
Internet-focused. The name changed to SXSW Interactive in 1999.

Interactive was at that point smaller than Music and Film, and in the
early years of blogging and social software, it became a go-to
conference to people with that focus. I wouldn’t say it’s ever been a
digital technology conference, though there are always sessions that
are about tech. It’s more of a digital culture conference encompassing
a broad range of online scenes, activities, platforms etc.

As such, the conference/festival tends to reflect the state of the
online world in any given year. Following digital convergence, all
media are digital media. Analog has become a quaint exception. Given
that, there’s huge interest in all things interactive, and the festival
has become the largest of its kind – in fact there’s nothing quite
like it.

This year Internet has mainstreamed, broadband adoption is high, even
your 90 year old grandmother is liable to have a Facebook account –
probably to track what the kids are doing, but once you’re online
you’re drawn into any number of scenes and pursuits. Digital culture is
not just culture. Everything has digital implications.

So the interesting thing about SXSW this year was that there wasn’t
much new. As a friend was pointing out to me, it was less about hearing
about new cool stuff or jamming in innovative ways, and more about
exposure to the best of the best of technology and culture. The
conference is so huge, it attracts those people, and that creates a
special kind of energy, though not the same as the energy of the
festival when it was smaller, quirkier, more innovative.

And it’s a place where everybody shows up, so there are a lot of
people who have working and personal relationships online but never get
to see each other face to face; they can come together here and have
side meetings of some duration, get things done, have a brief but
deeper experience of each other.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (AC Clarke)

My pal David Pescovitz at the Institute for the Future blogged recently about the IFTF “Multiverse of Exploration Map,” an overview of the six big stories of science that will play out over the next decade: Decrypting the Brain, Hacking Space, Massively Multiplayer Data, Sea the Future, Strange Matter, and Engineered Evolution. “Those stories are emerging from a new ecology of science shifting toward openness, collaboration, reuse, and increased citizen engagement in scientific research.” A followup post includes a video of Luigi Anzivino from The Exploratorium talking about the relationship of magic and neuroscience.

Digital Habitats/technology stewardship discussion

Digital HabitatsNancy White, John D. Smith, and Etienne Wenger have written a thorough, clear and compelling overview of the emerging role of technology stewardship for communities of practice (CoPs). They’re leaders in thinking about CoPs, they’re smart, and they’re great communicators. Their book is Digital Habitats; stewarding technology for communities, and it’s a must-read if you’re involved with any kind of organization that uses technology for collaboration and knowledge management. And who isn’t?

It’s my privilege to lead a discussion with Nancy, John, and Etienne over the next two weeks at the WELL. The WELL, a seminal online community (where Nancy and I cohost discussions about virtual communities), is a great fit for this conversation. You don’t have to be a member of the WELL to ask questions or comment – just send an email to inkwell at

The impact of “social” on organizations

Austin’s Dachis Group talks about social business design, defined as “the intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture. The goal: improving value exchange among constituents.” I find the Dachis overview (pdf) interesting, if a bit scattered. David Armistead and I at Social Web Strategies had been having conceptually similar conversations for the last couple of years, looking at the potential culture change associated with social technology and new media (with Craig Clark), the need for business process re-engineering (with Charles Knickerbocker), and the power of value networks. This morning while sitting on my zafu, I had a flash of insight that I quickly wrote down as five thoughts that came to me pretty much at once…

  1. Organizations are already using software internally and have been for some time – email lists, groupware and internal forums, various Sharepoint constructions, aspects of Basecamp, internal wikis and blogs, etc. What’s changed? I think a key difference is high adoption outside work – more and more of the employees of a company or nonprofit are having lifestyle experiences with Facebook Twitter, YouTube, Flickr et al. The way we’re using social media changes as more of us use it (network effect) and our uses become more diverse.
  2. Organizations see knowledge management as storage, basically, but we can see the potential to capture and use knowledge in new and innovative ways, e.g. using multimodal systems (Google Wave, for example) to capture and sort knowledge as it’s created, with annotations and some sense of the creative process stored with its product – knowing more about how knowledge is produced improves our sense of its applicability. (It’s exciting to be a librarian/information specialist these days.)
  3. Organizations will increasingly have to consider the balance of competition and cooperation with internal teams. I’ve seen firsthand how a culture of competition can stifle creativity by creating a disincentive to share knowledge. I’m thinking we’ll see more “coopetition.”
  4. Who are the internal champions within an organization? There will be more interest at the C-level as social technology is better understood and success stories emerge from early adopters. It would be interesting to know what current champions of social media are seeing and what they’re saying. Also – how much of the move toward “social” will come from the bottom up, and how will that flow of new thinking occur?
  5. How does the new world of social business (design) relate to marketing? Operations? Human resources? To what extent to the lines between departments blur? How will the blurring of the lines and potential cross pollination transform business disciplines?

A final thought: all the minds in your organization have a perspective on your business, and each perspective is potentially valuable. How do you capture that value? Do you have a culture that can support a real alignment of minds/perspectives/intentions?

Jon L.’s iPhone in the NY Times

I’ve been interviewed by the New York Times before, but usually for the technology section. Who’da thunk I would turn up in “Fashion and Style”? Katie Hafner included me in a piece called “When Phones are Just Too Smart.” She originally asked how I find iPhone apps, and I realized I have no one method – some I find online, some I find by searching the store for a particular kind of thing, or I might search for the app that goes with a specific service (like Yelp). Others I see friends using – like “Bowl” (Tibetan singing meditation bowls) and “Bloom” (Brian Eno’s virtual musical instrument app), both of which I found via David Armistead.

I counted around 80 apps on my phone, and I use about 20 of those regularly. As Katie mentions, I found several Buddhist apps, including the very useful “Meditator,” a mediation timer. (Looking for the link, I discovered that Simple Touch Software also has an app called “Meditate.” Checking that one out, too.)

I’m really digging music apps, like Soma.FM’s, and DJ Spooky’s interactive app for his new release, “The Secret Song.”

Haiti: Person Finder

The “Katrina People Finder” technology has been updated by Ka-Ping Yee at Google, and placed online. It’s embedded at the State Department’s web site. Not sure why they changed it to “Person Finder,” but it’s simple, easy to use, and has two components: a search, if you’re looking for someone who’s lost, and a way to report information about someone that’s found, confirmed dead, etc.

I’m embedding it here, as well: