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SXSW 2012 notes MBu
 

SXSW 2012 notes MBu

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A 14-page personal, subjective, selective summary of my SXSW 2012 (the interactive part) visit.

A 14-page personal, subjective, selective summary of my SXSW 2012 (the interactive part) visit.

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    SXSW 2012 notes MBu SXSW 2012 notes MBu Document Transcript

    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary    Introduction  This  is  my  brief  report  on  South  by  Southwest  (‘SXSW’),  a  massive  music,  film  and  interactive  festival  held  in  March  in  Austin,  Texas.  I  will  try  to  keep  it  short:  writing  and  distributing  reports  like  this  is  a  bit  old  school,  SXSW  is  typically  something  to  track  real-­‐time  through  for  instance  Twitter,  and  through  other  online  sources  (many  many  blogs  were  posted;  and  some  videos).  And  yet,  it  seems  really  useful  to  share  some  of  what  I  witnessed.  SXSW  hardly  offers  video  streams.  I  recommend  those  that  are  interested  to  check  out  the  web,  and  next  time  ‘witness’  SXSW  or  parts  of  it  real-­‐time  through  the  social  infrastructure.    What  follows  is  a  subjective  selection,  written  in  haste  over  the  Easter  weekend.  There  will  be  errors  and  mistakes  in  here,  I  did  not  allow  for  anyone  else  checking  it:  no  time.  It  is  an  incomplete  summary  of  some  things  I  have  seen.  What  I  have  witnessed  over  there:  probably  accounts  for  less  than  10%  of  the  total  offering  of  the  interactive  part  of  the  event.  This  interactive  part  lasted  for  five  days,  and  often  had  some  10-­‐12  parallel  one-­‐hour  sessions,  all  day  long,  next  to  meet-­‐ups,  stands,  drinks,  parties  and  other  get-­‐togethers.  It  is  overwhelming.  The  fear  of  missing  out  (‘FOMO’)  was  palpable.  (I  also  attended  a  very  small  part  of  the  music  festival.  And  a  handful  of  films.)     This  is  a  big  hip  festival.  It  is  celebrity-­‐infested.  It  is  well   organised,  though  very  crowded.  More  and  more  people  go   there  these  days.  Myself,  I  am  a  late  adopter,  this  being  my   first  visit.  It  was  time  well  spent.  It  is  quite  a  trip  but  the   costs  are  limited  (some  $1,000  for  the  event  itself)  and  I  did   pick  up  some  really  good  things.  I  also  get  a  better  picture  of   what  some  other  people  worry  about.  For  networking,  too,  it   can  be  a  good  spot.  Even  for  ‘Dutch  networking’:  alarmingly   many  Dutch  people  there  (left:  some  nice  ones;  FMT,  AVRO).   page  1  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  Strangely,  there  are  few  ‘old  media’  people  there  –  I  have  seen  few  people  from  publishers  or  broadcasters.  SXSW  is  dominated  by  young  ‘new  media’  and  technology  people.    I  tend  to  think  that  big  events  in  the  US  are  better  than  those  elsewhere  –  like  it  or  not,  the  online  world  is  still  being  driven  by  US  innovation.  I  think  that  visiting  this  event  makes  sense  for  our  company,  and  deserves  time,  some  costs,  and  a  bit  more  structured  approach  (see  ‘wrap-­‐up  &  next  steps’).    In  this  document,  I  deliberately  left  out  most  links  to  web  sites,  videos  and  exact  names  and  titles  of  talks,  books  and  persons.  My  guess  is  that  those  factoids  would  make  tiresome  reading.  For  those  interested:  give  me  a  call  and  I  will  provide  you  with  more  such  factual  details,  if  desired.  I  am  100%  certain  that  there  is  more  information  to  be  found  on  everything  I  review  here;  and  on  that  I  have  not  witnessed  or  discussed  below.  Google  will  lead  you  the  way.    Confession:  I  skipped  sessions  with  two  celebrities  I  actively  dislike  –  Al  Gore  (hardcore  liar  on  so-­‐called  global  warming;  and  self-­‐appointed  inventor  of  the  Internet)  and  Bruce  Springsteen.  Celebrities  I  missed  with  some  regret  included  Robert  Metcalfe  (of  Metcalfe’s  law)  and  Willem  Dafoe  (the  actor).  I  did  witness  Mark  Mothersbaugh  (founder  of  Devo)  and  Anthony  Bourdain  (maker  of  entertaining  cooking  TV  and  books,  but  loudly  self-­‐congratulating).    Here  are  some  loosely  structured  take-­‐aways.  In  the  next  chapter  I  list  some  topics  in  a  very  high-­‐level,  snacky  fashion.  In  the  chapter  thereafter  I  spend  some  more  text  on  some  selected  topics.  All  this  is  superficial.  There  are  enormous  amounts  of  books,  articles,  blogs,  videos  and  tweets  of  relevance.  I  tried  to  make  it  clear  where  opinions  are  mine.  I  urge  all  people  reading  this  to  also  look  up  additional  sources  to  get  a  more  complete,  broader  picture,  and  to  finetune  or  refute  my  observations.  There  is  a  lot.    Key  themes  –  in  short  These  were  threads  I  saw  coming  back  in  many  sessions.  Many  were  to  be  expected  I  guess.  Here  I  list  the  ones  I  remember.    • Old  &  new  media:  lots  of  discussions  on  ‘old’  and  ‘new’  media,  mostly  rather   inward-­‐looking,  often  from  the  point  of  view  of  the  professionals  involved.   Not  always  about  the  behaviours  and  desires  of  consumers.  Or  advertisers.   Often  emotional,  with  elements  of  triumphalism  (from  ‘new’),  denialism   (‘from  ‘old’)  and  narrowness  (from  various  sides).  Clearly,  some  media  are   shrinking,  some  are  growing,  not  all  new  things  come  ‘on  top  of  the  old’  but   some  substitute,  or  at  least  compete  for  time.  There  is  broad  agreement  that   media  are  changing,  of  course  (from  the  Dept  of  Open  Doors).   There  was  one  venue  in  which  almost  solely  sessions  took  place  that  had  to   do  with  journalism,  in  its  different  forms.  Quite  OK,  many  of  them,  in  spite  of   lots  of  grumbling  and  complaining  (‘democracy  is  going  to  die!’  etc).  Lots   about  curation  and  aggregation,  of  course,  there.     page  2  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  • Generational  friction:  this  is  related  to  the  previous  one.  People  keep  asking   ‘can  a  50-­‐year  old  understand  a  20-­‐year  old?’,  in  the  light  of  ‘making  media’.   The  simplistic  take  on  this  I  liked  best  was  something  like  ‘who  cares  –  just   hire  some  20-­‐year  olds  and  make  sure  they  can  help  you’.  Also,  it  seems  that   many  people  actually  research  their  children  these  days.   (I  have  once  read  translated  2500-­‐year  old  Egyptian  papyrus  scrolls  pointing   at  this  generational  theme.  It  looked  like  it  was  written  yesterday.  I  guess  we   are  stuck  with  this  generational  phenomenon.  In  media,  too.)    • Analytics:  hard  figures  are  making  their  way  into  content  production  and   distribution.  Measuring,  measuring,  measuring  –  engineering  methods.  There   was  a  lot  of  attention  for  quantitative  approaches  to  editorial  work;  and  to   things  one  can  no  longer  call  ‘editorial’.  More  later  on.  This  topic  is  somewhat   related  to  the  rise  of  machine  ‘computing’  (note:  I  do  not  use  ‘thinking’  here,   but  sometimes  I  do  –  it  is  quite  impossible  to  find  the  right  words,  if  you  think   it  over),  i.e.  to  the  power  of  algorithmic  approaches.  Relevant  for  us  this.  We   have  already  started  some  things.  We  should  go  faster,  I  now  think.  This  does   impact  our  way  of  working.  More  to  come.   Of  course,  the  term  big  data  was  used,  too,  at  SXSW.  It  is  certainly  not  the   same  what  I  describe  here  as  analytics,  but  I  chose  to  leave  out  other  flavours   of  big  data  for  (mainly  because  I  did  not  attended  those  specific  sessions).    • ‘SoLoMo’:  social  local  mobile,  everything  seems  to  go  that  way.  A  quite   generic  theme  of  course,  but  also  quite  real.  One  might  wonder:  why  even   work  on  web  sites  as  we  know  them?  Why  launch  such  a  thing  or  put  a  big   effort  in,  whereas  especially  social  and  mobile,  and  to  a  lesser  extent  local   stuff  seems  to  draw  so  much  attention  and  energy?  This  is  my  take-­‐away.  OK,   let  me  also  say:  mobile  and  social  are  not  yet  getting  a  proportional  part  of   the  advertising  pie.  Not  at  all.  This  is  puzzling.   The  social  dimension  of  TV  was  a  recurring  theme,  too.  There  were  some   pretty  good  examples,  but  also  some  boring,  open  doors  re-­‐opened.  I  would   expect  battles  in  the  ‘social  TV  dimension’  shortly.  Several  speakers  expected   –  or  witness  –  massive  amounts  of  experimentation.  Some  asked:  how  many   per-­‐TV  programme  apps  can  the  public  absorb,  or  are  we  heading  for  generic   TV  apps?     Two  social  phenomenons   mentioned  (praised)  most   included  Instagram  and  Pinterest   (graph  right).  Are  these  passing   fads?  I  guess  not.  Are  there  many   trendy  social  things  that  will  not   make  any  real  needle  move?  I   guess  so.  And  yet,  there  will  be   more,  many  more.  But,  as  Lanier   hinted:  how  much  space  does   Facebook’s  network  effect  allow   for  others?  What  sort  of  things  can     one  still  do  outside  of  Facebook?   page  3  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary    • Curation,  aggregation:  a  very  interesting,  somewhat  divisive  matter.  More   later  on  in  this  document.  I  think  this  is  about  new,  disruptive  approaches  to   forms  of  journalism.  Think  of  Jeff  Jarvis’  slogan  ‘do  what  you  do  best  and  link   to  the  rest’.  That  –  taken  to  extremes:  journalists  who  don’t  write.  More  later.    • The  photo  tsunami:  photography  has  exploded,  and  keeps  growing.   Everybody  can  make  and  distribute  (quite  good)  photos.  Increasing   smartphone  penetration  will  push  this  phenomenon  further  –  but  where  to?   Will  this  merely  produce  a  sea  of  mediocrity,  or  even  worse?  More  later  on.    • Computation,  AI,  the  Singularity:   the  rise  of  machine  ‘thinking’  and   the  future  role  of  technology.  Will   we  witness  –  and:  be  able  to   control?  –  the  extension  of  the   human  brain?  In  how  we  produce   and  distribute  content?  My  worry:   can  we  take  this  matter  in  a   rational  fashion,  or  are  we  either   too  afraid  (like  we  were  of  HAL,  in   2001  A  Space  Odyssey,  picture   right),  or  too  excited,  to  come  to  a   cool-­‐headed  judgment?     Maybe  there  is  a  matter  of  faith  at  play  here.  Several  speakers  were  believers.   These  were  quite  smart  people  with  a  track  record  though.  Some  other   people  are  reluctant  to  allow  machines  to  take  a  certain  role  in,  say,  content   production,  selection  or  distribution.  I  personally  think  it  might  be  better  to   experiment  with  ‘automated  intelligence’  and  think  really  hard  about  it.   Actually,  most  of  us  –  using  Zite,  or  Spotify,  or  Google  –  are  already  doing  that.   Meanwhile,  technology  is  developing  sort  of  exponentially.  More  later.    • User  interfaces:  it  is  now  becoming  clear  that  interaction  between  people   and  machines  has  changed  for  ever.  Look  at  the  role  of  ‘multitouch’,  for   instance.  That  said:  regarding  Siri  (voice  recognition)  and  related  stuff,  I  am  a   skeptic,  for  now.  Will  this  evolution  of  interaction  continue?  Most  experts  said   yes.  Personally,  I  believe  that  some  20-­‐30  years  from  now  we  will  laugh  at   what  we  are  now  working  with,  that  our  current  stuff  will  look  medieval  in   just  a  couple  of  decades.  May  I  suggest:  have  a  look  at  some  of  the  videos  of   Corning,  the  glass  company.  And  look  at  Kinect  (Microsoft).    • Mobile  markets  and  advertising:  there  was  a  lot  about  mobile,  but  most  of   it  did  not  make  massive  sense  to  me.  What  I  observe  is  broad  and  deep   uncertainty  as  to  how  ‘mobile’  will  work,  business-­‐wise,  and  to  what  extent  it   will  supplant  or  add  to  existing  media,  from  magazines  to  web  to  TV  (as  for   newspapers,  I  do  not  doubt  that  mobile  is  the  way  to  go).  Also,  mobile  is  a   great  transactional  platform,  that  was  confirmed.  A  bit  more  later  on.    And  now  for  some  relative  depth.     page  4  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  Analytics  One  of  the  sessions  I  attended  involved  people  from  Wired  magazine,  and  from  Condé  Nast’s  ‘analytics  unit’.  They  observed:  there  have  always  been  analytical  data  on  sales  and  usage,  but  those  have  –  through  online  and  on  tablets  –  become  incredibly  much  more;  and  heterogenous;  and  (mostly)  real-­‐time.  Also,  you  can  now  apply  those  figures  on  content;  and  not  just  on  circulation.    From  the  provider’s  side,  you  can  measure  almost  everything;  and  use  that  in  your  editorial  process.  Which  can  turn  things  upside  down.  This  is  about  accurate  data  on  who  read  what,  when,  and  what  else,  what  buttons  were  pushed  and  what  not,  on  traffic  streams,  conversion,  the  profiles  of  people  reading  specific  stuff,  as  well  as  who  wrote  what,  and  how  the  consumption  of  contributions  from  different  authors  differs.  All  of  this  real-­‐time.  All  of  this  as  direct  input  into  the  editorial  process.  All  this  connecting  content  and  commercial  messages.    Think  of  the  extremist  example,  the  way  for  instance  Demand  Media  works:  it  creates  content  purely  based  on  the  popularity  of  search  terms.  Without  any  interest  in  the  content  itself  (which  is  quite  visible  if  you  consumt  Demand’s  stuff:  most  of  it  is  outright  dreadful,  in  my  view).    In  online  versions  of  magazines  and  related  online  sites  and  apps,  there  is  a  wealth  of  usage  data  that  still  has  to  be  gathered  and  used.  This  topic  popped  up  in  other  sessions,  too.  My  guess  is  that  the  analytical,  ‘quant’  approach  that  is  already  in  use  in  transactional  systems,  including  in  online  advertising,  is  coming  to  the  editorial  world,  to  a  certain  (?)  extent.    Some  tools  that  were  mentioned  include  ChartBeat,  LightBulb  and  VisualRevenue.  I  have  not  checked  these,  I  have  suggested  some  others  to  do  that.  I  guess  Wolfram  Alpha  (see  elsewhere  in  this  document)  is  of  a  different  nature  but  deserves  to  be  mentioned  here  too  (I  found  Wolfram  stunning).  We  had  already  started  some  experiments  along  these  lines,  and  we  will  speed  up.    This  is  pretty  much  something  one  just  has  to  try  to  bring  further.  It  does  require  an  open  mind  as  it  is  quite  different  from  the  classic  approach.  It  is  more  about  understanding  the  pull,  than  about  planning  the  push.  It  reminds  me  in  a  way  of  the  switch  from  conventional  above-­‐the-­‐line  marketing  to  below-­‐the-­‐line,  ‘direct’  methods.  Which  brought  approaches  that  were  not  always  ‘understandable’,  but  they  worked  –  the  figures  just  showed  it  worked.  It  is  pretty  much  about  adapting  your  behaviour  (=production)  to  what  the  numbers  say,  as  opposed  to  having  your  professional  intuition  lead  the  way.    This  topic  also  related  to  the  computation  stuff  (see  below)  that  was  discussed  here  and  there.  Once  you  have  this  sea  of  analytical  data,  you  can  start  number  crunching.  Several  people  (strongly)  suggested  that  the  speed  and  quality  of  that  number  crunching  is  likely  to  keep  increasing  steeply,  or  even  –  in  the  case  of  Kurzweil  –  to  increase  to  unimaginable  levels.  For  me,  a  significant  increase  seems  enough  to  make  me  rethink  some  things.  Nirvana  can  come  later.         page  5  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  Curation  &  aggregation   I  got  to  see  and  listen  to  Maria   Popova  (on  the  left)!  She  curates   stuff  on  www.brainpickings.org,  a   site  I  read  daily  (some  3-­‐4  tweets   from  @brainpicker  per  day  I  guess).   There  were  also  leading  people  from   www.percolate.com,  www.news.me,   www.longformapp.com  and  from   Flipboard.  All  ‘curation’  stuff,  of   various  nature.  Several  of  them  are   really  good  at  finding  and  re-­‐ arranging  existing  stuff,  sometimes   new,  but  sometimes  rally  old,  and   putting  that  into  some  sort  of  a  new   context,  and  delivering  that  to   people  in  a  more  or  less  personalised  manner.  Many  sorts  and  tastes.  More  tools  exist  (think  of  Zite),  and  many  more  will  come  (Zeen,  so  it  seems,  is  about  to  be  launched,  by  the  Youtube  founders).  I  am  not  getting  into  the  finer  details  here  –  I  just  talk  about  ‘re-­‐use  of  existing  content’.    There  were  some  people  who  took  a  romantic  stance:  only  content  that  you  have  either  made,  or  paid  for,  is  OK.  Content  you  found  and  put  together  cannot  be  good,  will  not  add  value.  Was  what  people  seemed  to  argue.  Personally,  I  think  that  that  does  not  adequately  value  ‘curation’  (a  well-­‐defined  concept?),  nor  does  it  acknowledge  that  quite  a  bit  of  ‘paper  journalism’  comes  with  aggregating,  curating  existing  stuff  as  well.  Which  is  a  professional  skill.    Popova  skillfully  argued  that  there  is  so  much  ‘old’,  really  good  content  on  the  web.  Which  can  –  or  should  –  be  put  to  use,  again,  because  it  is  so  good,  or  (again)  relevant,  and  can  be  made  even  better  if  it  is  combined  with  other  content.  If  a  new  context  or  target  audience  is  created.  A  simple  view:  watch  Popova  proving  that  daily.  The  other  platforms  mentioned  above  are  not  so  bad  either.  I  find  Zite  –  acquired  by  CNN!?  –  nice,  and  I  am  convinced  that  the  current  Zite  and  its  peers  will  in  a  few  years  time  be  seen  as  simplistic,  handicapped,  dumb  tools.  In  their  current  form,  these  are  sort  of  LPs,  or  early  cars.  Zite  will  be  much  smarter  and  better  in  just  2-­‐3  years.  So  will  many  others.  Same  for  Pinterest,  the  women’s  curation  thing.  Same  for  Spotify,  or  a  Spotify  derivative  for  news,  or  for  magazines,  etcetera.  Will  that  be  triggered  by  human  curation  or  by  machine  intelligence  –  I  guess  both,  but  I  don’t  really  care.  Let’s  see,  let’s  try.     page  6  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  There  were  emotions.  Those  tend  to  get  amplified  by  asking  this:  how  does  a  human  curator  compare  to  an  algorithm?  This  ‘machine  dimension’  fuels  an  emotional  experience.  For  some.  the  human  touch  seems  almost  sacred.  For  few,  it  seems  easily  missable.  The  debate  made  me  think  of  debates  on  computer  chess  or  Turing  tests,  in  which  people  sometimes  criticise  machines  for  not  being  able  to  walk  on  water,  and  seemingly  overlook  that  the  machine  is  actually  walking,  or  sometimes  even  running  (on  the  ground,  that  is).  Kurzweil  similarly  mentioned  the  chess-­‐playing  dog.    This  discussion  also  came  up  in  a  seminar  on  ‘online  musicologists’  I  attended.  Which  was  also  about  the  differences  between  human  curation  and  algorithms.  There,  most  people  tended  towards  who  cares?!    Another  thing  I  picked  up  there  hinged  on  the  fun  factor  many  people  experience  while  getting  lost,  to  a  certain  extent.  People  like  to  wander  on  the  web,  now  and  then.  It  is  good  to  face  some  unexpected  diversion  while  consuming  information  –  like  you  do  in  a  newspaper  or  magazine.  Highly  ‘personalised’  media  cannot  easily  do  without  that  ‘serendipity  factor’.  I  remember  Negroponte  writing,  long  ago,  that  in  personalised  streams,  one  should  include  random  bits  of  news,  just  to  create  an  experience  similar  to  a  newspaper  or  a  magazine.  Someone  nicely  called  the  web  ‘a  giant  serendipity  machine’.    I  am  inclined  to  think  that  a  wide  and  wild  variety  of  both  –  man  and  machine  methods  –  should  be  tried,  mixed  and  tested,  and  that  both  will  have  their  function,  and  some  surprising  results  should  be  expected.  I  am  in  favour  of  non-­‐ideological,  unemotional  approaches  that  seem  like  evolution,  and  bring  out  the  fittest.  I  guess  I  miss  out  on  some  emotions  with  this  stance.  That  happens  more  often.  I  do  think  the  machine  dimension  is  important,  but  that  ‘man-­‐made  curation’  (and  aggregation,  or  how  one  would  define  those  things)  is  equally  important,  and  even  more  of  today.  Popova  read  out  a  text  on  circulation  management  for  newspapers,  dated  1923,  that  was  pretty  much  the  same  we  would  nowadays  say  about  search  engine  optimisation  (SEO).  Quite  funny.  Quantitative  optimisation  methods  evolve.    David  Carr,  the  media  critic  of  the  New  York  Times,  also  appeared  in  this  panel.  An  unconventional,  grumbling  personality.  I  recommend  reading  his  pieces.  He  is  quite  present  in  Page  One  –  Inside  the  New  York  Times  documentary  (I  found  that  so-­‐so,  as  it  seemed  part  nostalgia,  but  it  is  an  enjoyable  sketch  of  a  monument,  I  would  say).  Carr’s  articles  are  always  insighful.  His  grumbling  here  was  good.    Photo  tsunami  Instagram  was  all  over  the  place  at  SXSW  so  it  seemed.  Understandably.  Its  CEO,  Kevin  Systrom,  took  part  in  several  panels.  I  amongst  others  attended  one  by  Koci  Hernandez  who  both  discussed  the  perceived  mediocrity  of  all  these  photos  people  make;  and  gave  a  10-­‐minute  workshop,  to  underpin  his  point  that  quality  is  not  so  far  away  for  many  of  us.  I  assume  that  this  session   page  7  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  was  not  easy  to  swallow  for  many  classic,  professional  photographers.  Nor  for  me.  Hernandez  was  inspiring,  funny  and  made  most  of  the  audience  think.  He  is  quite  present  on  the  web  (blog,  other  stuff)  –  recommended.    Hernandez  did  a  workshop.  Even  I  got  it,  partly  (I  am  a  photography  Neanderthaler).  He  showed  the  use  FilterStorm  (€2.99)  and  ProCamera  (€0.79)  on  an  iPhone  –  impressive  (for  me  at  least).  He  had  been  playing  with  some  200  photo  apps  so  he  told.  And  a  wave  of  Android  photo  apps  has  yet  to  arrive.    Having  heard  several  not-­‐so-­‐structured  discussions  on  modern  and  upcoming  photography  –  its  dirt  cheap  production,  smart  tools,  endlessly  long  tail  of  topics,  frictionless  distribution  –  I  expect  an  even  bigger  role  from  non-­‐professionals  in  there.  Like  it  or  not.  It  also  brings  to  mind  the  concept  of  ‘good  enough’:  many  things  do  not  have  to  be  top-­‐quality,  in  many  cases  mediocre  quality  suffices.  This  is  hard  to  admit  for  professionals,  but  it  is  true.  One  can  make  too  good  quality.    Technology  can  be  too  good  as  well,  at  least  for  wide-­‐ranging,  mass  applications.  Is  what  I  learned  from  a  Wired  article  of  some  years  back  –  and  that  pops  up  in  my  mind  now  and  then.  It  applies  to  apps  in  general:  mostly  mediocre  stuff.  It  might  apply  to  photography.  But,  that  said,  with  modern  tools,  even  a  ‘0.01%  is  really  good’  score  of  contemporary  photography  would  create  an  amazing  quantity  of  good  photos.  This  was  also  observed  by  a  Library  of  Congress  person  –  responsible  for  archiving  photography,  a  daunting  task  most  people  felt.    (One  thing  that  was  not  discussed  but  which  may  be  of  utmost  importance  in  some  future,  regarding  this  topic:  intelligent,  visual  search.  It  was  not  mentioned.  I  assume  some  people  in  certain  offices  are  thinking  really,  really  hard  on  that.  It  is  worth  money,  lots  of  it.)    The  Instagram  person  shared  what  companies  have  done  the  smartest  things  with  his  tool  so  far,  in  his  view:  Burberry,  GE  and  Audi.  Check  it  out.    Computation  &  AI   There  were  several  sessions   that  had  to  do  with  the  future   of  technology.  Various  Big   Names  discussed  this   somewhat  philosophical   theme,  but  it  did  become  very   practical  now  and  then.  Those   I  witnessed  included  Ray   Kurzweil  (of  The  Singularity   Is  Near),  Stephen  Wolfram  (of   Mathematica  and  of  Wolfram   Alpha)  and  (picture  left)  Jaron   Lanier  (of  You  Are  Not  A   Gadget).  Lanier  was  inspiring.     page  8  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  These  three  have  some  overlaps,  especially  Wolfram  and  Kurzweil,  who  are  in  the  optimist  hard-­‐core  techy  camp.  They  argue  that  technology  will  go  further  and  further.  Further  than  most  people  can  oversee.  These  are  believers,  and  –  so  I  think  –  they  have  valid  insights.  I  do  think  it  is  important  to  stay  calm,  as  these  guys  have  a  following  that  now  and  then  blurs  some  things.  I  am  certain  that  guys  like  them  do  not  have  their  own  interests  in  mind  like  some  big  companies  do  (this  was  debated,  too,  here  and  there  –  are  they  evil?).    Lanier,  first.  Intriguing  he  is.  He  confused  the  audience  now  and  then  interrupting  the  interview  for  a  musical  intermezzo  –  him,  playing  on  a  self-­‐made  instrument.  Interesting.  Weird.  Sounded  bloody  awful,  frankly  (I  made  a  video).    This  was  philosophical.  Really  good.  Difficult  to  summarise.  This  man  puts  question  marks  at  unexpected  places.  I  was  impressed.  Some  things  he  said  I  would  find  difficult  to  summarise.  Relatively  simple  things  he  said  included:  • Google,  Facebook  and  Apple  are  growing,  growing  and  growing.  But  isn’t  it   quite  likely  –  and  explainable  –  that  they  are  meanwhile  actually  shrinking   the  rest,  both  in  the  physical  and  in  the  online  world?  Aren’t  they  sucking   value  out  of  others,  or  out  of  whole  markets?  • With  the  massive  network  effect  (aka  Metcalfe’s  law)  of  Facebook,  it  becomes   practically  impossible  to  get  something  going  outside  Facebook,  in  some   areas  –  anything  with  a  strong  social  dimension.  That  has  a  business  impact.   Should  one  even  consider  to  do  certain  things  outside  Facebook?  Is  Facebook   a  de  facto  necessity?  Should  it  have  a  regulatory  impact?   (He  talked  about  Facebook.  Some  of  these  considerations  could  equally  or   similarly  be  applied  to  Apple  or  Google.  Or  even  to  some  local  classifieds   markets.  There  are  winner-­‐takes-­‐all  effects  in  digital  markets.)  • Privacy  regulation  is  going  in  the  wrong  direction.   The  starting  point  should  be:  one  legally  owns   his/her  own  data,  all  data  that  ‘describe’  or  refer  to   that  person.  Ownership  of  that  data  should  be  legally   defined.  That  would  turn  around  the  whole  debate.  It   requires  a  very  different  approach.     (For  me,  it  is  hard  to  think  through  what  this  means.   I  know  it  is  very  different  from  current  practice.  It   sounds  good.  I  personally  think  it  is  too  late,  we  are   stuck  in  an  old  and  not  so  relevant  legal  model.  I   foresee  decades  of  muddling  through.)   (As  for  privacy:  there  were  systems  at  SXSW  that   classified  passers-­‐by  automatically.  Here,  I  am  seen,   labelled  as  ‘young  adult  male’.  I  leave  out  the  one   where  it  said  ‘old  woman’.)    His  observations  on  Aristotle  were  profound,  but  difficult:  ‘when  the  machines  operate  themselves,  we  can  free  the  slaves’.  I  think  that  Lanier’s  session  could  be  summarised  as:  technology  will  continue  to  be  a  driving  force  of  this  civilisation,  possibly  even  more  so  than  up  till  now,  but  we  need  to  think  harder  how  to  steer  that,  to  keep  it  under  control.     page  9  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary    An  then  Kurzweil:  who  claims  that  in  some  decades  from  now,  total  machine  intelligence  on  this  planet  will  surpass  collective  human  intelligence.  That  moment  is  The  Singularity.  It  is  not  quite  clear  what  that  will  look  like,  but  it  is  a  Big  Thing.  He  has  some  data  to  underpin  his  claims  (see  his  books  and  his  videos,  all  over  the  web).  It  is  all  about  exponential  effects,  the  law  of  accelerating  returns  based  on  technology  that  facilitates  development  of  even  better  technology.  But  Moore’s  Law  is  a  nice,  simple  illustration.  He  is  a  slightly  strange  evangelist  with  an  impressive  track  record.  One  of  his  claims  is  that  with  genetic  technology,  biology  has  become  computer  science  –  we  can  build  and  alter  life  now.  He  seriously  thinks  almost-­‐endless  life  is  within  reach;  and  swallows  some  200  pills  per  day  to  increase  the  probability  that  he  will  witness  the  Singularity.    I  should  mention  Craig  Venter  here,  he  who  ‘sequenced  the  human  genome’.  He  decoded  DNA,  which  was  commonly  considered  impossible.  Nowadays,  one  can  have  his/het  DNA  sequenced  for  about  $100.  Which  is  astonishing.  This  does  illustrate  one  of  Kurzweil’s  points.  If  you  look  through  the  almost-­‐religious  atmosphere  surrounding  Kurzweil,  there  is  a  scientific  and  actually  mostly  realistic  thinker  at  work.    Kurzweil  likes  to  talk  about  Siri  (the  Apple  iPhone  4S  voice  interface)  and  Watson  (a  program  that  beat  humans  at  Jeopardy).  He  observes  that  the  some  of  these  things  are  often  downplayed,  using  an  analogy  of  ‘sure,  that  dog  can  play  chess,  but  he  is  not  very  good  in  the  end  game’.  I  can  attest  to  that  from  my  days  at  university,  where  computer  chess  was  a  ridiculed  research  topic  in  the  80s.       Deep  Blue  beat  Kasparov  in  1997  –  there  is  not   a  human  anymore  better  at  chess  than  a  strong   program.  Kurzweil  argues  ‘we  are  a  human-­‐ machine  civilisation,  everybody  in  this  room  is   enhanced  with  computer  technology’  –   referring  especially  to  medical  technology,  from   pacemakers  to  Viagra.  McLuhan  already  saw  TV   as  ‘the  extension  of  the  human  nerve  system’.    By  the  way,  Kurzweil  did  deliver  some  inventions:  optical  character  regognition  (OCR),  the  electronic  piano  and  a  (computerised,  of  course)  method  to  deal  with  dyslexia.  A  –  somewhat  sad  –  documentary  on  him  is  Transcendent  Man.  He  just  founded  the  Singularity  University,  partly  founded  by  Google  and  NASA.  He  has  a  following  which  shows  slightly  religious  traits.     page  10  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  As  an  aside,  referring  to  our  ‘relationship’  with  Wikipedia,  Youtube  and  the  like,  he  stated  that  current  educational  methods  are  woefully  inadequate  if  one  takes  into  account  that  detailed  knowledge  and  advanced  methods  to  retrieve  and  use  that  knowledge  are  easily  available  to  half  of  the  world’s  population.    Kurzweil,  and  Wolfram,  see  humankind  as  a  fundamentally  technological  sort.  They  see  evolution  of  us  as  a  series  of  technology  advancements.    Kurzweil’s  point  is  that  things  go  exponentially.  Take  Moore’s  Law  which  states  that  computational  power  doubles  every  eigtheen  months.  That  means:  it  grows  to  a  thousand-­‐fold  as  big  (roughly  2  to  the  power  of  10)  in  15  years.  Have  a  look  at  the  To  the  power  of  ten  video  by  Eames  to  try  to  perceive  this.    Wolfram  talked  –  in  a  subdued  manner  –  about  the  tools  he  made.  These  include  Mathematica,  an  extremely  powerful  tool  to  automate  mathematics;  and  Wolfram  Alpha.  He  showed  the  latest  version  of  the  latter.  This  was  overwhelming.  Wolfram  Alpha  builds  on  Mathematica.  It  is  a  ‘computational  machine’  that  can  be  confused  with  a  search  engine.  It  has  a  form  of  logic  ‘inside’,  and  mountains  of  data.  It  is  fundamentally  different  from,  say,  Google,  which  searches  the  web.  This  Wolfram  Alpha  is  an  attempt  at  an  intelligent  machine.  The  modest  talk  by  Mr  Wolfram  was  rather  staggering  because  of  the  examples.  Trust  me,  I  was  not  the  one  most  impressed.  I  had  some  very  down-­‐to-­‐earth  colleagues  sitting  next  to  me  who  were  –  possibly  –  more  astonished  by  the  ‘computational’  examples  that  Wolfram  showed  –  think  of  him  entering  ‘flights  overhead’  which  produced  a  real-­‐time  picture  of  all  airplanes  that  were  just  hovering  over  Austin,  Texas.  Het  also  did  some  mathematics  with  his  ‘machine’  that  showed  more  ‘understanding’  than  99%  of  humans  could  ever  reach  –  note,  this  was  not  number  crunching,  but  manupilating  formulas.  Myself,  later,  on  Wolfram  Alpha,  I  played  around  with  Internet  penetration,  average  length,  income  and  other  demopgraphics  for  various  countries.  Mastering  Wolfram  Alpha  is  a  task  in  itself.  I  skipped  the  real  mathematics  stuff  (but  I  know  it  is  very  powerful).    The  new  Wolfram  Alpha  Pro  facilitates  uploading  data  and  finding  all  sorts  of  relationships  in  there.  Wolfram  showed  some  examples,  like  an  analysis  of  his  own  millions  of  keystrokes  dating  back  to  1989.  This  was  weird,  and  yet,  insightful.  I  think  we  should  play  around  with  this  a  bit  (we  already  started).    (I  find  it  hard  to  reconstruct  Wolfram’s  talk.  I  was  somewhat  astonished.  It  made  me  think  of  Arthur  C.  Clarke’s  statement  ‘any  science,  sufficiently  advanced,  is  indistinguishable  from  magic’.  That  is  strong,  but  it  was  overwhelming.)     page  11  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  What  this  might  mean:  machine  ‘intelligence’  is  still  progressing,  probably  rapidly.  Is  it  real  ‘intelligence’?  I  don’t  care.  Does  it  work  like  our  brain?  No.  Will  it  surpass  our  computational  abilities?  In  many  respects,  yes.  Is  there  any  point  in  comparing  it  to  our  brain?  I  believe  not.  Actually,  I  believe  that  is  a  quite  common  and  persistent  mistake.  But  these  and  other  ‘machines’  will  do  at  least  interesting,  probably  some  really  effective  work,  in  chess,  in  manipulating  data,  in  search,  or  in  –  for  instance  –  curation.  I  think  that  a  bit  of  the  power  of  Wolfram  Alpha  included  in  Zite,  or  in  Spotify,  or  in  Pinterest,  will  create  really  new  stuff,  that  will  effectively  address  some  of  the  informational  needs  of  some  people.  At  least.  this  I  took  from  Kurzweil  and  Wolfram.  Also,  both  argued  that  education  should  be  rethought  in  the  light  of  progressing  ‘thinking  technology’.    And  what  I  took  from  Lanier:  think  about  all  this  really  hard,  in  an  independent,  fresh  manner.  This  needs  other  approaches  than  current  copyright  and  privacy  laws.  For  instance.  Stop  looking  into  the  rear  view  mirror,  McLuhan  would  say.    My  lesson  from  the  past  (computer  chess,  for  instance):  thinking  that    ‘machines  take  over  from  humans’  does  not  really  help.  This  is  the  standard  science  fiction  topic,  as  in  Do  Androids  Dream  of  Electric  Sheep  aka  Blade  Runner.  There  are  very  smart  tools,  even  smarter  ones  under  way,  and  experimenting  with  them  is  the  best  way  forward.  ‘Human  curation’  and  ‘human  editorial  interventions’  will  continue  to  play  a  role  but  some  things  might  change.  Machines  may  well  do  some  things  better,  or  cheaper.  They  will  certainly  help.  Stuff  like  Zite,  Spotify,  Pinterest  and  next  generations  of  such  tools  will  play  a  big  and  bigger  role  in  re-­‐creating  content,  connecting  consumers  and  advertisers.     I  saw  some  movies  (documentaries),   too.  One  of  them  (picture  left)  was   about  this  man-­‐machine  theme,  about   how  one  lives  with  technology.  It   featured  several  of  this  festival’s   speakers  (Lanier,  Kurzweil),  but  also   Ted  the  Unabomber  Kaczynski,  his   victim  David  Gelernter  (of  Mirror   Worlds),  Kevin  Kelly  (of  What   Technology  Wants)  and  Shelly  Turkle  (of   Alone  Together).  I  found  the  packaging   of  the  movie  –  the  maker  is  worried   over  his  children’s  survival  –  irritating,   but  the  whole  thing  thought-­‐provoking.   I  disagree  with  The  Unabomber  and  his   erstwhile  mouthpiece  David  Skrbina  (a   professor),  but  I  do  think  their  views  –   that  technology  enslaves  people  and   should  actively  be  restrained  –  are   page  12  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  worth  reading  and  add  value  to  a  discussion  on  how  to  steer  technology.  I  recommend  reading  the  Unabomber’s  manifesto,  I  say  with  some  hesitation.  His  methods  (bombing  people)  were  very  unsavoury.    Mobile  Let  me  start  with  a  quote  I  heard  (again):  ‘your  mobile  phone  will  be  your  remote  control  for  life’.  Some  10  years  ago,  I  worked  at  Orange,  and  its  founder  Hans  Snook  used  to  say  that  too.  Literally.  It  seems  quite  true.  It  will  be  the  dominant  medium  for  many  things.  There  are  currently  800  thousand  Android  phones  connected  daily,  worldwide,  and  competition  in  supply  will  only  increase  so  prices  will  go  down,  penetration  will  go  up.  The  big  battle  for  tablets  has  yet  to  start.  Brace  yourselves.  It  will  probably  ignite  in  the  second  half  of  2012  (with  Nokia/Microsoft  and  Google  entering  the  tablet  market).    One  of  the  sessions  I  attended  involved  senior  people  from  AirBNB  (where  I  found  and  rented  my  place  to  stay  for  SXSW,  a  sort  of  garden  shed  outside  downtown  Austin,  far  cheaper  than  a  hotel  –  picture  right  –  which  only  made  me  rent  a  bike  as  well,  at  Lance  Armstrong’s  shop).  Other  people  in  this  session  represented  eBay  and  Groupon.    (An  observation  about  ‘mobile’.  This  is  the  term  that  is  often  used.  I  think  that  may  be  incorrect.  My  guess  is  that  one  should  more  or  less  always  distinguish  the  former  phone  –  a  relatively  small  screen  –  from  the  tablet.  I  think  these  are  different  media.)    Mobile  is  a  highly  personal,  always-­‐on  medium.  Mobile  market/exchange  users  respond  within  one-­‐third  of  the  time  of  others.  Mobile  users  show  some  50%  less  expiring  reservations.  Mobile  drives  some  15%  of  all  transactions.  About  1  million  people  in  the  US  made  their  first  buy  at  eBay  in  2011,  through  mobile.    Some  mobile  exchange  owners  have  separate  teams  working  for  consumers  and  for  merchants,  respectively.  Because  they  act  and  think  so  differently.  Also,  several  of  them  follow  the  mobile  first  adage  –  first  coined  by  Google  I  believe  –  in  their  development.  For  them,  this  is  about  real  and  growing  revenue.  They  consider  it  an  almost  frictionless  medium,  the  trailblazer,  with  the  web  merely  following.    Mobile  seems  to  ‘click’,  as  in  ‘successfully  facilitating  transactions’.  But,  someone  stated:  ‘anything  but  the  most  lightweight  interaction  just  will  not  fly’.  It  has  to  be  dead  simple.  Look  at  how  Amazon  acts?    The  sessions  I  witnessed  on  ‘old  style’  mobile  advertising  (display)  did  not  really  enlighten  me.  I  remember  one  session  in  which  terms  like  ‘holistic’,  ‘evolution’,  ‘ecosystem’  and  ‘cross-­‐platform’  were  used  in  rapid  succession.  I  left  soon  after.         page  13  
    • South  by  Southwest  2012  -­‐-­‐  summary  Wrap-­‐up  This  is  it  for  now.  If  you  have  linearly  reached  this  point  I  have  probably  not  wasted  your  (and  my)  time.  Then,  I  suggest  that  you  browse  the  web  a  bit  for  more  depth.  Or  let’s  have  some  discussions.  Also,  I  recommend  reading  some  notes  by  my  colleague  Kirsten  Jassies  (two  of  her  articles  are  on  www.frankwatching.com),  or  look  up  various  things  by  Erwin  Blom  (www.fastmovingtargets.nl,  www.erwinblom.nl).  And  lots  of  other  things.    I  have  made  some  plans  for  SXSW  2013  which  I  am  not  yet  going  to  distribute  in  detail  here  and  now.  Let  me  say:  although  this  event  runs  the  risk  of  collapsing  under  its  own  weight  –  a  singularity,  some  would  say  –  I  do  think  it  makes  sense  to  go  there  again;  and  to  divide  the  key  parallel  sessions  over  a  handful  of  colleagues.  Also,  I  think  it  would  be  worth  considering  to  act  as  speaker.  The  ‘panel  picking  process’  starts  in  August  2012.  Let’s  think  this  over.    On  the  content  side:  some  of  the  stuff  mentioned  above  I  will  most  probably  voice  again  over  the  coming  weeks  and  months.  Although  some  of  it  is  already  aging.    Action,  as  in  geen  woorden  maar  daden:  I  have  started  (to  push)  some  things.       For  now:  I  hope  this  texts  enlightens   some  things.  And  triggers  some  fruitful   discussions.  Bye  to  y’all,  from  Texas.     Michiel   page  14