SXSW 3/13/2012

I’ve been running around SXSW having meetings, taking notes, taking photos. Might take some time to summarize. Haven’t had time to sit still, attend to sessions, blog and tweet, and that seems to be true of various Old Hands who are here to meet specific conversations, have particular conversations, slicing the conference according to need and aspiration. For instance, I met with the brilliant and focused Amber Case to discuss cyborganics more generally and our new blog, Reality Augmented in particular. More about that in a later post.

Today, the last day of Interactive, I caught only a couple of sessions, one on Buddhism and the Internet, the other Jennifer Pahlka’s inspiring keynote about the potential for better government through digital technology. Shortly I’m introducing Bruce Sterling for his closing talk, which I’ll no doubt be tweeting live.

I used to do some live blogging and posting at these events, which is easier to do if you’re not local (which makes you a host, after all). I’m thinking it’s better to digest and sort things out before writing.

Also I’ll be holding forth about SXSW on the WELL starting March 15.

Third Option

At Pecha Kucha Austin last night, spent some time talking to John Kunz of Waterloo Records, an old friend from the days when I spent a lot of time haunting his store, buying piles of records, CDs and cassettes. We discussed the difficulties of operating an independent record store in a digital world. He told me about Record Store Day and “Third Option,” which is about adding an “independent record store” button to the usual Itunes and Amazon links on websites for artists and records.  Glad to see this. I was browsing the new class of high-end vinyl at Urban Outfitters the other day, and jonesing for a turntable and some record-buying budget. Really miss old-school vinyl albums, especially the great covers, which were an art form in themselves.

Contact Summit: “It’s time to take back the net”

At the Contact Summit. Photo by Steven Brewer

At the Contact Summit. Photo by Steven Brewer

This week, on October 20, a diverse assortment of forward-thinking, Internet-savvy, solutions-oriented people gathered in New York City for Contact Summit, a project-focused event organized by Doug Rushkoff and Venessa Miemis. I was originally planning to attend, and was plugged into the small team of organizers. I couldn’t make the event, but have been available as a resource for organizers of related global Meetups, and will help sustain the converation following the event.

Doug had created a prologue video for the remote Meetups scheduled to occur synchronous with the main event. Here’s a summary of his comments in that video – this gives a good idea what the gathering was about:

It’s time to take back the net. Currently the Internet is much too concerned with marketing, IPOs, and the next killer app, and too little concerned with helping human beings get where we need to go. We want to use the Internet effectively to promote better ways of living, doing commerce, educating, making art, doing spirituality. To collaborate on ideas about how to use the net well. There are a lot of projects that need our assistance. From Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, people are rising up. We need solutions. Contact is about finding the others, and working and playing with them to find solutions to age-old problems. In New York on October 20th, we’re having unconference-style meetings plus a two hour bazaar where people will demo their projects. We’ll select projects that most need help, help them get funding and move forward. What it’s really about is planting a flag in the sand, saying the Internet is really about us, not about aiding the bottom line of a few corporations. This goes as deep and as far as we want to take it. The Summit is just a trigger point. It’s time to fold the fringes of the Internet back into the middle and re-ignite the passion and practicality of the Internet. If there were another name for Contact, I would call it “Occupy the Net.” We will collaborate to bring disparate projects with similar goals into harmony, so that anything we can dream will emerge.

Here’s a list of the winning projects from the Bazaar:

Here’s a list of winning sessions (selected by attendees):

Upgrading Democracy: Representation is a fundamental concept of our governance, but is encoded in the technology of the 18th century. The modern networked world enables a truer form of representation known variously under the names Dynamic Democracy, Liquid Democracy, and Delegable Proxy voting.

Local Foodsharing platform: I don’t have details on this yet

Kick-Stopper – Crowdsourced Unfunding: This group is dedicated to creating online organizing tools to organize large scale divestment and debt strike campaigns. Join here: http://groups.google.com/group/debt-strike-kick-stopper

Online General Assembly: This group folded itself into the Upgrade Democracy group, but has its own mandate: to create an online version of the General Assembly technique (as practiced by Occupy Wall Street) for consensus building.

Collaboration Matchmaking Application: The idea is to create an application that helps creators, particularly artists, find collaborators on projects. During the final session on this concept, participants decided that this project should grow at its own pace and with a relatively smaller circle.

DJ Lanphier shot video at the event, and has gradually been uploading those to http://www.youtube.com/contactsummit. Here’s an example, a video of Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation: “We are discovering together how we should be working.”

Photo by Steven Brewer.

RIP Insanely Great Steve Jobs

boingboing tribute to Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs left Apple recently, what seemed like premature obituaries started appearing, so he had the unusual opportunity to see the kind of appreciation usually published postmortem. It’s too bad he’s not around to see the best tribute, boingboing’s retro Apple interface redesign (above).

The phrase often associated with Apple and Jobs was “insanely great” (also the title of a book by Steve Levy). Gary Wolf interviewed Jobs for Wired about “The Next Insanely Great Thing”:

Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much – if at all.

These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light – that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.

The Web is going to be very important. Is it going to be a life-changing event for millions of people? No. I mean, maybe. But it’s not an assured Yes at this point. And it’ll probably creep up on people.

It’s certainly not going to be like the first time somebody saw a television. It’s certainly not going to be as profound as when someone in Nebraska first heard a radio broadcast. It’s not going to be that profound.

2010 Top Stories and Trends: The Eight-Ball List

I’m not much for categorical top ten lists, but my inner pundit won’t let the year end without some kind of list – in this case stories/trends that stood out for me over the last year. I don’t have a top ten, only eight – the eight ball list.

(Here’s a bit about my year, which you can skip if you want to cut to the chase.) It was an busy, interesting, often slightly insane year for me: I had just spent three years in the for-profit and marketing worlds, leveraging my online community-focused Internet expertise to get a handle on social media strategy. My orignal thought was to work with nonprofit and academic organizatins, as had always been my preference, but I found myself getting drawn more into the world of for-profit marketing, which is where the term “social media” found resonance. (More about SM below.) At the end of 2009, I left the social web company I had cofounded and spent some time in a state of professional identity crisis – “what do you do now?” The answer was threefold: go back to web development, which had been my day job since leaving my last couple of jobs sunk with the dotcom bust in 2000-2001; commit more time to Plutopia Productions,the future-focused events company I cofounded; and spend more time writing. Progress? I’m doing a lot of web development, working with developer Selwyn Polit and designer Steve Bartolomeo (real gems to work with). Plutopia’s reputation is spreading, and we’re working hard on three aspects of the business: our signature event in March at SXSW Interactive; our media channel, Plutopia News Network, which I’m coproducing with Scoop Sweeney, and with David Whitman as managing editor; and our white label events production company. Not as much time for the writing, but I expect to do more writing and speaking in 2011 as I sort things out and find bits of time. (My personal kanban is always very full.)

One other thing I’m doing is leading a social media team for the Society of Participatory Medicine, where I was one of several cofounders. Participatory medicine is a hot topic, lots of interest; I could have done a top ten list on that subject alone… but I didn’t include items related to healthcare here. I expect to have more to say about it in the next couple of months.

Meanwhile, (drum roll…)

Jon L.’s 2010 Eight Ball List

Who says the web is dead? Drupal and WordPress are alive and well…
There’s a huge demand for website development; many individuals, nonprofits, and for-profits are rethinking their web presences, modernizing, moving to content management systems, integrating social media, etc. There are many great technologies, but I believe there’s no web development need that can’t be addressed by either WordPress or Drupal. They’re versatile and powerful open source tools, and they both scale pretty well. And they’ve really come into their own – both have high and growing adoption, and are increasingly sophisticated platforms. I’ve committed to these two platforms in web development, acknowledging that there are other great options (Joomla, Rails, Zope/Plone, et al.)

The Internet matures
I think “matures” is a very positive word for what we’re seeing – the network of networks is increasingly valuable, and there’s increasing demand for high bandwidth and rich services. Backbone providers (telcos like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast) are dominant providers of high-bandwidth connectivity. They want a bigger share of increasing value I mentioned, and they want clear ROI for the buildout of fatter pipes. One big issue: they’ve also become content providers, which could create a conflict of interest. That’s where net neutrality comes in – how free should the Internet be on both sides, delivery and consumption? Net neutrality approaches are seen as one way to preserve the neck of the golden gooses. There are many different perspectives and opinions on what IS happening and what SHOULD happen. By 2012, will we have definitive answers?

Social media, ugh.
“Social media” is a buzzword that’s cycling out. Many professionals don’t want to use the label, figuring it’s been sullied by the many amateur consultants who were hustling for work over the last couple of years. And there really wasn’t much of a market for consulting in this space – over a year ago, I saw even clueful social media consultants looking for Real Work, and acknowledging that they couldn’t find clients. My thought du jour is that to the extent that organizations are buying advice about social media, they’ll buy it either from communications consultants (PR/marketing firms, etc.) or from web experts. But the sense I’m getting from many conversations over the last couple of years is that organizations have other things they have to do with their money and their time – social media’s way down on the list, if it’s there at all. Does this mean that it isn’t important? Not at all – I think social media’s embedded in everyday life, we’re all using it. It’s like the telephone – we all use it, we all need it, but that doesn’t mean we have a lot of love, respect, or need for telemarketers.

Facebook, The Social Network, my newfound respect for Zuckerberg.
The film “The Social Network” was an acknowledged fiction, but it showed enough about Mark Zuckerberg’s thought processes and work ethic to convince me that I had radically underestimated him. I’m convinced now that he really does have genius, a vision, and he’s a hard worker. Facebook is a force of nature, however you might feel about it – for more and more people, it’s how they experience the Internet. As for the film, it was smart and powerful, but its down side was that it wasn’t really smart about the Internet. Aaron Sorkin admits that he knows little about it. I think that was a missed opportunity.

It’s the stupid economy
Nobody seems to know what’s up with the economy, and I’m no economist – I certainly don’t want to add more fog. I agree with Doug Rushkoff that too many people are living off float, finance charges, related services, layers of bureaucracy, etc. – therefore not creating and sharing tangible value. I’m not sure what the answer is. Clearly crooks, liars, and economic errors helped crash the economy, and ordinary people have been screwed by opportunists who have managed to hang onto their money, and make more, as others are struggling hard to pay their monthly dues. We should be pissed off, but we’re too confused. I recall the line when Clinton successfully opposed Bush – “It’s the economy, stupid.” Turn that around – “It’s the stupid economy.” I’d like to see what a smart economy looks like. I grew up in an era of balance between progressive liberal and grounded liberal thinking, and it seemed to work – maybe that’s what makes an economy smart, that balance.

Obama under attack
Barack Obama, who seems to be a very good president strugging with almost insurmountable problems, most of which he inherited from predecessors, has been savagely attacked in a complete breakdown of domestic statesmanship on the right. The level of disrespect is rather amazing and the degree of polarization is disheartening. What happened to respectful, balanced, moderate Republicans? They seem to have lost their political party, and I wonder where they’ll go from here. As an independent, I have an issue with Democrats, too, and with political parties in general. Partisan thinking brings out the worst in people – and when times are rough, it behooves us to get on the same page more often.

Rethinking journalism
Journalism is not dead, but it’s harder to fund, especially deep investigative journalism. I’ve been hanging out with journalists lately, talking about the fate and future of the endeavor, and many are into interesting and fruitful experiments with new technologies, forms, and business models. One great model: Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization that’s forming partnerships with other nonprofits as well as for-profits (like the New York Times). I won’t say a lot about this here, but I helped coordinate a journalism track at SXSW Interactive that should include lively discussions about news innovation.

Wikileaks raises questions about transparency.
Everybody’s been weighing in on this one, and I’ve made several posts about it. I should just summarize what I think: governments do need to be able to have confidential discussions, not everything should be public – I get that. However governments are accountable to citizens, and should be as transparent as possible. Journalists (the fourth estate) should mediate transparency by digging out the sort of information information Wikileaks revealed, analyzing it, and reporting the facts, using judgement, keeping secret what should be secret and needn’t be revealed. Something like Wikileaks exists partly because news organizations are failing, because the effective business model for hard news is unclear, because nobody’s paying journalists sufficiently well for sufficiently long to dig that stuff out. Real journalists shouldn’t be asked to churn PR pieces and write infotainment articles. They should be asked to dig out the kind of information Wikileaks has been publishing, and to do the analysis to build real, effective news stories.

David Levine

I literally grew up with David Levine’s caricatures; it never occurred to me that he was flesh and blood and would die someday. That day has come, and and like many, I’m mourning his death, who produced who knows how many hundreds of caricatures for The New York Review of Books and the New Yorker. The former publishes as a tribute John Updike’s note about the artist, written 30 years ago:

“Besides offering us the delight of recognition, his drawings comfort us, in an exacerbated and potentially desperate age, with the sense of a watching presence, an eye informed by an intelligence that has not panicked, a comic art ready to encapsulate the latest apparitions of publicity as well as those historical devils who haunt our unease. Levine is one of America’s assets. In a confusing time, he bears witness. In a shoddy time, he does good work.”

The Times has a slideshow of some of Levine’s color caricatures here.

Happiness Is Mobile Loaves and Fishes

Mark Horvath (aka @hardlynormal), who is an advocate for the diverse and generally invisible homeless population, is in Austin hanging out with our friends at Mobile Loaves and Fishes, just in time for this week’s social-mediated screenings of Andrew Shapter’s film “Happiness Is” on Thursday, preceded by a Tweetup (info blogged here by the MLF crew). A “tweetup” is a meetup coordinated via Twitter, but you don’t have to be a twitizen to go there and have a great time.

Mobile Loves and Fishes is featured in the film, a documentary that asks how we can create more happiness (however defined) in our lives. Here’s a clip…