SXSW Interactive ≠ Social

I have to say the SXSW on Saturday was a blast. The free beer and meeting so mant interesting, intelligent people was a heady mix.

Yesterday was a little more subdued. I had a pretty sore head for one thing and, also, I thought it was about time to check out some of the panels.

I missed the best one, it seems, which was the horrifc cringe-fest that was Sarah Lacy’s interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. While that was going on, I was sitting in on a panel about given users design freedom in applications.

A couple of things came to mind from this experience:

1. I’m not really that bothered about going to panels.

2. Web designers (especially the guy from Google) have a habit of treating their users in the same way that newspapers treat their readers.

There is this implicit assumption that, however innovative your users may want to be with your product, the creators still know best. It’s a strange ownership thing that I want to understand more about. Is it, perhaps, because deep down we do not provide or create platforms to empower other people, we do it to gain power ourselves?

Another thing that’s been bugging me is the overuse of the term “social media”. It’s certainly the buzzword for this festival. I guess it’s better than the word being “anti-social media” but, in many cases, that might be more apt.

Maybe it’s the product of thousands of voices trying to be heard in one space, but I’ve noticed a lot of people shouting about how “social” their product or job is, without actually seeming to have any social skills themselves. It’s like the loud guy who walks into the bar telling everyone how fun and popular he is but, after about five minutes, you realise he’s just a bit dull.

It occurs to me that by designing something to be interactive does not make it social per se. Social is a more subtle thing, built upon personal relationships, emotions and communication. I’m not sure where this is going, but I get the feeling that understanding this is pretty key to understanding how journalists should be working with their readers…

Someone who has got this whole social stuff down to a fine art is podcaster, blogger, writer and general media tart Ewan Spence, who I met properly for the first time yesterday and was bowled over by his passion and enthusiasm for both the digital medium and the people behind it. Ewan is an example of what happens when this type of publishing works for you… I’m meeting more and more of these people and learning a lot, but can’t quite put it all into words yet!

On the technology front, I’ve been enjoying using Qik to live stream video on the Nokia N95. I’m still making some errors with it but I will start to post stuff to the blog today. I like the way it allows people watching the video to send you messages. Although I guess it makes the video less intelligible for people watching after the event.

I’ll really hate the fact I’m going to have to give the N95 back when I get home. It’s a great tool.

My head hurts…

…due to a number of things:

1. Because it’s 5.45am and I can’t sleep.

2. Because I met so many interesting people yesterday my brain is buzzing.

3. Because I drank far too much with the Seesmic crowd last night.

SXSW is nothing if not intense – I’m, spending half my time in awe of the people I am speaking to and the other half running around fretting about who I’ve missed.

The Seesmic VIP party last night was fantastic (thanks to Phil Campbell for inviting me!) – great little roof garden event with VERY strong cocktails.I met a fantastic bunch of people who were less interested in the future of media online and more fascinated with the fact that, as a kid, I ate at the infamous Priory from Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.

Really enjoyed meeting Cathy Brooks from Seesmic, who showed me how video could fit into the idea of building trust between journalist and reader (here’s a video of me really NOT getting how it all works!). Only a very small proportion of Seesmic users join in the online conversation, but it seems the community that has built up is extremely aware of authenticity and will critique those users that they find interesting. I like that idea that, by being a Seesmic user, you learn and are encouraged to be, more conversational and more open.

Also, podnosh will be pleased to know, I finally met up with Kitten Fluff who, as well as having an interesting take on mainstream media’s transition to digital, has a great voice for rock – as demonstrated at the BarCamp Austin kareoke we ended up at.

I think a lot of what I learnt yesterday will only really hit me in a few days, or weeks, time. But I must say, I’m having a blast!

Shuffleboard, beer, and breaking me in to SXSW

Deciding that there was no time to lose, three hardcore SXSWM-ers (Stef, Dom and myself) decided to hit the streets of Austin to see if we could hook up with fellow conference goers.

The place to be, apparently, is 6th Street…which is Austin’s version of Broad Street without the short skirts and bunny ears.

Our trip out didn’t start too well – I’m still trying to get to grips with the Nokia N95 and missed a few tweets about the various parties that were going on.

So we decided to walk 6th Street until we saw somewhere that looked interesting. We found Buffalo Billiards (the Nation’s best new pool hall, 1999), which after we blagged our way in without our SXSW entry passes, we found was hosting the first night party for SXSW Film. Free beer, darts, pool and shuffleboard – a fantastic game which I am average at (and that is good for me).

Thanks to Joe who we met at the bar for teaching us the rules and letting us beat him.

We met a couple of people in the film industry – mostly indies – and Stef hooked up with a friend from Google. Dom and I had an interesting chat about the future of newspapers – he has seen an article that points to news only being supportable through not-for-profit ventures in future. It’s an interesting idea – one that has crossed my mind as competition for advertising revenue appears to be increasing.

So, considering we had no idea how to spend the evening, I think we did pretty well.

Roll on tomorrow and official registration.

SXSWi… it all starts from here.

Wow! Well this has been a strange 48 hours.

Quick catch-up:

Having raced around London on Thursday evening to pick up a Nokia N95 to use in SXSW, I hot-footed it to the Media Guardian Awards with Stef and Pete who were picking up an award for Created in Birmingham.

Those who follow the above pair’s Twitter streams will know the evening was… well… eventful. Pete and Stef will have more to say on this than I as, I’m ashamed to say, I missed witnessing Pete’s “Jarvis Cocker” moment. But, considering how disappointed all the nominees from the blogging category were about their lack of recognition at the awards (and how much free alcohol was flowing), I suspect someone was going to do something.

Then, after an hour’s sleep in a Travel Inn, we trudged bleary eyed (and sore of head) over to Gatwick for the flight to Houston, Texas. Quick change in Houston onto a flight to Austin (including a very nice chat with the immigration officer who was amused when I defined my profession as “being a geek” – he even told me a Star Trek joke).

Nowwe’re in the Fairfield Inn, Austin which has free wifi (why can’t UK hotels do this?!) and waiting for the other three SXSWM-ers to arrive.

Here are the obligatory shots of the view from my room:

Austin View 1


Austin View 2

Stef, being the dynamic and frankly enviably capable person that he is, has already organised for the SXSWM-ers to meet a fantastic array of people here, including Phil Campbell, the guys from Viddler and Shawn Morton from Profilactic. I am so excited about this!

Right, got less than ten minutes to grab a shower before we’re off to check out the parties. Remember to visit the SXSWM website to tell us what to do. And, if you’re in Austin – get in touch!

Help! I’m going to SXSW!

I’ve been putting off this blog post, due to the fact that what I am about to do is simultaneously awesome and terrifying!

I am one of the lucky, lucky West Midland digital media bods to be going to the SXSW Interactive festivial in Austin, Texas. We fly out this Friday and I know it’s going to be brilliant!

The group of five six, all covering different sections of the West Midland media industry, are going courtesy of Digital Central. The thinking behind the project is explained more in depth by Stef Lewandowski, who also went it SXSWi last year.

I’m looking forward to it (does it show?) but I can’t do it without you. This thing is SO BIG, I don’t know what to see, where to go, or what parties to drink at to make the most of my time there! So if you are someone with a passing interest in the future of journalism on the web (and I suspect if you’re reading this blog then you are), then I beg of you: Pop over to (where all of us will be streaming our feeds over the next week) and ask me to do stuff!

I will, of course, be tweeting the whole affair like a good’un and blogging too. I might even try a few other communication channels (if plans to get my mitts on a Nokia N95 pay off). One way of another, if you ask me to do something, I will feed back to you about it. So please, check out SXSWM and send me to some good stuff.