March 17, 2012
Got to Austin late, past midnight, and I still had to wait in long line for a taxi- our hotel is far, far away from the convention center, and far from the airport. jetBlue was fun, I enjoy channel surfing on the plane and eating blue potato chips. I believe I am the last person in the country who enjoys flying.
Much excitement getting to the convention center, and plenty of rain. After waiting in line with many hundreds of people staring at their iOS devices (and noting that this crowd generally does not want to put their iPhones in cases), I got my badge in enough time to head out to O’Reilly’s TOC publishing mini-conference. Got very very wet on the way- yes that is a running theme this year at SXSW, sorry abut the whining.
I heard a couple of interesting presentations- Jason Illian demoing his project Book Shout centered on creating communities of readers who can share and comment as they read with many options to personalize their groups. There was a very amusing panel of authors, many from Texas, talking about how they used social media to connect with their audience. I was particularly interested in one of the books, Cooking For Geeks by Jeff Potter, which appropriately is an O’Reilly publication. (I bought it later at the convention center so I could get it signed by the author.) The science of cooking, but with real recipes- my kind of title.
We braved the rain to walk to the Sheraton Austin, where most of the journalism/publishing panels are taking place. After a hearty buffet lunch, we saw Digital vs. Print:Storyboard to Digital Delivery. Many representatives of major media conglomerates, talking about “content is king”. Have we heard this before? Yes. Liz Schimel of Meredith National Media Group (publishers of magazines like Parents and Better Homes and Gardens) made some interesting comments on reaching the women in their audience and determining what kind of content and functionality they are looking for. She mentioned that women are often using their iPads while cooking (that would be me) and that they are learning from how their customers are leveraging technology.
The Power of Visual Storytelling was next, one of the most entertaining panels so far. The panelists seemed determined not to be another boring group of yammering talking heads. One of the panelists, Charlie Wollborg, jumped up from the podium and walked out into the audience to rant- think about what you are sharing. “Think WIST – Would I Share This?” ”Instagram is killing storytelling.” What does literacy mean- ”We should be teaching kids how to write a good headline”. Another panelist, Karl Rude, spoke of the importance of design “the glue that holds everything together”, as well as the various forms of literacy, verbal, visual, theatrical and technical . I enjoyed this, and enjoyed watching the live stream of pro-panel and con-panel tweets flying behind them on a gigantic screen, but wished there had been a bit more specifics that had to do with visual storytelling. Entertaining though, and of course how can I not agree with advice to think more about design and literacy?
Next, MIT Media Labs. Joichi Ito, the director, gave an overview of their history and also of OUR history- before internet (B.I.) after internet (A.I.). A few quotes- “Media Lab is not directed research, it is anti-disciplinary.” ”Our work is less about products, more about eco-systems”. They also demoed a few of the projects in the works. As always, fun to see what they are up to. One interesting project that Katharine Havasi was working on was getting computers to understand language the way people do, to be used to help doctors understand their patients better, giving feedback on their bedside manner.
I slipped into the very end of what I found was the most interesting presentation so far- Designing Living Things, a group of engineers, designers and academics discussing synthetic biology. I only wish I had attended the whole thing. Christina Agapakis “As engineers, we are using evolution as a design tool”. Patrick Boyle- “We are in the process of developing standards and practices to fail gracefully”. Interesting discussion of spider-goats- spider silk is apparently one of the strongest materials around, there is interest in replicating it.
That was the end of my day of panels. Calvin and Rachel had a dinner, so I went back out to the hotel through yes, more rain. Got lots of work done, though, a bit boring.