Goodbye Austin and SXSW2006

alamo draft house

Well, it took me until today to be able to write my goodbye to Austin. Man, that town and conference kicks some serious ass. Some of my favorite moments from this past week:

  • Bruce Sterling‘s closing remarks on the state of the world. I’ve never been moved to tears by a public speaker before… I’ve a new favorite author.
  • Running into Doc Searls after the Sterling presentation, and chatting with him for an hour about everything from our shared past in Jersey and Greensboro (my current residence) to our love of basketball to our vastly different experiences with the KKK (mine is through my brother’s documentary, you gotta ask Doc about his) and then hitting up a BBQ joint with Doc, Marc Canter, Nancy White and Jerry Michalski.
  • Experiencing Kirby Dick’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated and Alan Berlinger’s Wide Awake at the greatest theatre experience I’ve ever come across, the Alamo Drafthouse.
  • Adam Greenfield‘s ubiquitous computing presentation. (Adam is so very articulate and cultured, I can only hope that experience design is taken more seriously within the world of ubicomp than it is within the web) and Peter Morville‘s Ambient Findability presentation. Two very similar topics, yet two very different presentations.
  • Finally meeting Tish Grier, Will Giese, Thomas Vander Wal, Peter Merholtz, Tara Hunt and Chris Messina in person after months of blogging, commenting, plazing and flickring each other (did I say flickring?). And yes, I can confirm without a doubt that missrogue and factoryjoe are the web 2.0 version of Bonnie and Clyde.
  • Hitting up the town with Khoi, Chris, Ralph and Jeff. We were robbed of the SXSW Web Award for Best Green / Non-Profit site ( damnit! So we drank more.
  • I only ran into one former collegue/friend at the conference — Dan Saffer — but I think I made a handful of new ones along the way.

I had a blast. And I’m looking forward to next year already.

SXSW2006: Bruce Sterling – The State of the World

Bruce Sterling isn’t throwing a party this year, but he’s loving the bubble echo of this 2.0 SXSW2006 get together. He says “enjoy it while you can.”

bruce sterling sxsw 2006

He’s loving flickr and Wikipedia; companies that are completely unlike anything else, opening up their API’s to create platforms, not sites. What a contrast to standard, American business. “Only in America… where dying phone companies lobby the government as if they’re Indian casinos.”

“Are people in Washington drinking their own bathwater? The guys in power are so eager to monetize the web, they’re turning America into Banana Republic with rockets.”

Get his book: Visionary In Residence

Serbia is absolutely disfunctional; Sterling has a ringside seat. He’s global, as many more are becoming. His Austin stead collects mail, while he bounces around the world. “National borders are like speed bumps.” America is a state at war. “The dollar is low compared to the Euro, which should be in intensive care.”

Creationism is an intellectual calamity.

al Quada bomb mosques. How many are enough? (we Americans don’t give a fuck about the “near enemy” issue). When the culture war is over—we are within a culture war—one doesn’t get to say “I served on this side.”

We’re on a slider bar between the unthinkable and the unimaginable. We’ve got a fire in a theater, but the exit signs are just a bunch of glowing letters in jumble.

Warren Ellis: “The spread of the possible futures and the people on the ground figuring out how to use them.”

Unimaginable does not mean catastrophic, nor does unthinkable.

The word: Spime – In 2004, Sterling did a speech at SIG-GRAPH and spoke of spime. It’s not a word; it’s a tag. It’s a theory object. William Gibson’s cyberspace is a conceptual realization. We’ll never have that, but the word is now passe.

Spime is a speculative imaginary object:

  • An interactive chip, unique identity, It’s got a tag
  • Local precise positioning system
  • A powerful search engine, auto-Googling object
  • Evolved in cradle to cradle recycling
  • 3D virtual models of objects; a product of CAD cams
  • Rapidly prototyped, it’s a fabject — a laser-centered model

If 21st century objects had these qualities, people would interact in unimaginable ways. Spimes begin and end as data. We want to do it to build an internet of things; engage from the moment of invention to the moment of decay. It’ll feel like auto-magical inventory voo doo. I ask, and I’m told. I Google to find my shoes. This concept needs distributive participation.

The semantic wit is turning into the wetlands of language.

A theory object is a platform of development. The 20th century could not write, think in this way. Theory objects can have permalinks, trackbacks, databases, etc. This is why the legacy media is going down, because legacy people don’t get it.

We need to become the change we want to see. Make no decision out of fear. None! (my emphasis).

Globalization needs to be understood culturally. Leaders are culpable, but the people are complicit. A society that lived in a locked closet and fed on their own illusions (Serbia). How different are we? Evil has a face in the world; people who don’t like people who don’t buy into their parochial bullshit.

But time passes with historical perspective.

Sterling closes by quoting Carl Sandburg. Picture 1937, the age of depression, WWII at the door…:

The people, yes

The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold again and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds.
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.
The mammoth rests between his cyclonic dramas.
The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
Is a vast huddle with so many units saying:

“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
And it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself and maybe for others.
I could read and study
And talk things over
And find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”

The people
With the tragic and comic two faced hero and hoodlum
Phantom and gorilla
Twisting to moan with the gargoyle mouth
They buy me and sell me
It’s a game
Sometime I’ll break loose
This old anvil, laughs at many broken hammers
There are men that can’t be bought!
Fire borne or at home with fire
The stars make no noise
You can’t hinder the wind from blowing
Time is a great teacher
Who can live without hope?
In the darkness with a great bundle of grief the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people march:

Where to? What next?


I didn’t finish my live-blog of Bruce Sterling’s brilliant speech; I couldn’t.

In the midst of his swaying through global references of humanity, ubiquitous concepts and reflective precision, Sterling briefly mentioned the humanity of the Serbian people, how they still gather to listen to poets speak and grown men openly weep within their shared language, as if their hearts were still broken.

I felt that.

When Sterling hit the very first line of Carl Sandburg’s poem, he began to weep; I immediately closed my laptop and felt the words of a man in the midst of a depression tumble out of the mouth of a man in the midst of priviledge.

Bruce passionately pressed on, as each word struck a newly discovered nerve, setting off a choked up throat, a twist in his chair and freshly drawn tears. And I wept with him.

My last words at SXSW2006

Each of us—the creators and collaborators in this 2.0 revolution of media, communication, services—are the new leaders of this world.

Each of us.

The choices we make will shape our world; from the choice to harness our personal voice to the choice of developing real relationships with our fellow human beings to the choice of creating innovative, enabling world of objects in-between…

There is nothing else but choice; don’t think for a moment that there isn’t.

So the next time you come up with a brilliant service idea, try going that extra step to make it just that much more useful for your neighbor… or for that family living on the other side of the tracks… or for that child who was born into a depressed world where jobs were scarce, children were starving and a world war was on the horizon.

Because, you see, we may already live in such a world.

Thank you, Bruce.


(via down the avenue, Jill Brown, and Sean Harton respectively)

SXSW2006 Day 4: Cluetrain: Seven Years Later

Doc Searls

On marketing consulting:

There’s money to be made in prolonging the problem.

On the title:

The cluetrain stopped there (Silicon Valley) four times a day, but never made a delivery.

How the book came after the site received a buzz:

The book deal got worked out based on how much consulting money wey’d have to give up.

Companies that get it:

  • Dresdner Kleiner Wasserstein; the CIO completely bought into Cluetrain through Rageboy.
  • Microsoft is a huge blogging community.
  • Sun microsystems is trying to retain people, so they encourage blogging as well.

On the future of 2.0 and women in the mix:

There’s going to be a huge explosion of indie film and video production… the larger trend is independence… and women are best served to manage these communities.

Heather Armstrong

Heather stumbled into the marketing department of Nikon. She posts images and labels them with, “Shot by a Nikon XXX” and her audience is now buying the camera by the thousands. The problem? She’s having issues with the camera and Nikon isn’t paying her. So there’s guilt and then there’s justifiable bitterness.

When will companies get it?:

Cluetrain will be realized when BestBuy goes out of business.

Brian Clark

On the web:

Less than entranced of the web as human-computer interaction (as oppossed to cd-rom).

On productivity:

Cluetrain predicts the idea that we can work smarter than that.

On the future of business models:

Ad agencies are starting to build around groups of freelancers, thereby reducing traditional organization, and increasing collaboration.


Before getting into the question of how do we empower individuals, I told Heather that I’ve been dooced twice; once when blogs were just web sites, and once within the thriving blogosphere. She asked me, “didn’t you listen to me?” and I laughed it off with a no, but the truth is strange. I didn’t get dooced twice for shitting on my boss or coworkers, I got dooced for openly talking about how smart we were being within our company(s) at the time. Yes, I got dooced for having pride in our work and sharing it. Nothing secretive or clandestine, just for daring to speak to people and not go through “proper” channels. That’s a big difference.

As for empowering bloggers to a point of sustainability, I understand Doc’s response. Blogs will provide monetary returns via the relationships and opportunities they create—through the development of respected, personal perspectives and grass roots authenticity (sorry for paraphrasing, but this is a post-lunch wrap-up). That’s all good, but my question (which I didn’t quite get out) was more about how do we empower the voices around the US and the world who might be online, but are scraping to get by and don’t (or can’t) see the benefit of sharing their voice.

I feel reaching a critical mass of participation is important; not because I necessarily want to experience *everyone’s* POV, but because the chance that you or I might discover these voices is an extremely powerful, politically empowering concept, as down the road, a yet to be designed interface will make discovering such varient perpsectives within a huge ecosystem of information rather simple. So to get a critical mass, a potential monetary incentive might become the tipping point for participation.

So my original question remains; how can we develop implicit hooks between bloggers and businesses? Maybe it’s not about that direct hook either; maybe it’s about creating an algorithm service which can sense when a blog reaches:

  • a readership tipping point
  • a query match tipping point (enough people land on x site because they were looking for y)
  • a tagging tipping point (enough posts fill the context of a particular topic that matches a business’s controlled vocabulary of value keywords [matching services, inventory, etc.])
  • a local readership tipping point (based on a radius from the “home” of the blogger)

This way, community based small businesses can be alerted to potential local blog advertising possibilities and participate with smaller, more targeted payouts to audiences directly engaged within the context of their business model. Instead of creating hooks directly between domains, instead, we’d be creating hooks between people.

SXSW2006 Day Three: Serious Games for Learning


Jim Brazell moderates this panel and kicks off the discussion.

The X-Box 360 costs $300. In 1995 the same computing power would have cost $100M.

Ubiquitous computing is the fourth generation of computing; a system on a chip. Cooper’s law says that the capability of wireless computers is doubling every year. The convergence of science and technology is driving this technology.

(Wait… he just said that they can control the movement of a mouse, just like a remote aircraft. The tipping point of creepiness?)

Serious games are serious. The US Armed Forces, the UN, foreign countries, they’re all creating games for training, social changes and then remixing them with the industry to create n number of emmersive, narrative experiences.

Irwin Kaplan

The Army is redesigning their training corriculumn from level 1 (books) to level 3 (interactive), SCORM Conformant (has to run across a network). They upped their interactive traing from 0 of 150 hours to 82 of 150 hours. They’re trying to equipt soldiers to react in the midst of battle with necessary information available from everywhere.

They have simulation centers as large as the ACC to train soldiers on games. Warehouse sizes.

MLT is Medical Leadership Training. They build realtime scenarios based on field exercises and import them into an interactive narrative, running on the Unreal engine.

He considers himself an educator… and recruiter.

Dr. James Bower

Whyville teaches kids how to eat right based on an avitar/persona thats responds to good or bad choices. There are 1.5 million kids on the site and they stick around (one kid has visited 2000 times over six-years, that’s one visit per day). They play with the social/non-social curve of the game’s narrative to watch boys and girl’s interests shift.

The kids have been writing articles for six years now. They’re running their own government online. They’re replicating democracy.

Now marketing is interested, and smart firms like Toyota, are dipping into Whyville to understand the concept of interactive engagement. They offered Nestle to get involved, but they only wanted to get Purina involved; healthy choices meant more to Nestle in relationship to dogs than kids.

New marketing will enable people to design their worlds and affect mass production.

Michael Whalem

Ignite Learning has developed Reality, Inc., which creates emmersive storytelling games for middle-school students, based 100% on state curriculum. The virtual head of the reality space (Mortimer Gravitas) presents the goals for moving through the interactive curriculum. (very similar to a project I worked on in 1996, “Simon Fefher’s Junkland Jam”)

It’s a linear progression through different activities, such as a game full of levers, which must be moved, created, put in motion to feed some monkeys bananas. If you mess up, it’s ok, try again (the army guys smiled when he said that).

Quote of the day: Bower:

The more games tap into the chemical changes of the brain… the more we will learn.

Disclaimer: This is live blogging; all quotes are paraphrases.

SXSW2006 Day Three: Everyware – The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing


Adam Greenfield is dealing with Godly AI interfaces.

What is ubiquitous computing?

Well, what happens when computers get cheaper, faster, better? They become invisible, but all around us. The possibilities to crunch concepts, data, information explode. We move into a post-graphical user interface, from gesture to voice.

Multiple users, multiple spaces. Moving away from the one-to-one paradigm.

Human behavior and ubicomp become as one. “The activation process dissolves away into the behavior of people.” Ubicomp is already social. Once devices become ambient, social interactions can meld into a contextualization of backgrounds, ideas and relevance.

  • It’s present at the level of the body to world interface, as with data captures of physical movement to track, say, the range of motion of an elbow.
  • It’s present at the level of a particular space — a room — to a processor reading the reactions of the room.
  • It’s present at the street level, reacting to movement on the street and surveillance of social interactions

Ubicomp can crunch a variety of input or data, all passed through a relational database to construct information or entertainment for digestion.

People live life in real-time, while ubicomp works with their behavior to support their needs/desires. Space is never neutral, as the politics of position can be taken in numerous degrees.

Ubicomp is now. Why?

The digital home is the next big market and the future is structurally latent. (Crazy meta-meta-meta tagging in the real). Also, public safety comes into play. Post-9/11 mentality has crept in with, “Reduce the publics fear, reduce access and monitor activity.” We need to engage in ubicomp to control our destiny and the degree of misery which could be on the horizon.

Locus of attention disappears with ubicomp, so troubleshooting the invisible become a cognitive challenge. Signage is incredibly important to navigate the explicit behavioral captures of our implicit progression through our day-to-day.

The challenge of implicitness is… an ethical challenge.

5 guidelines of designing for ubiquitous computing

  1. Ubiquitous systems must default to a mode that ensures their users safety (physical, psychic and financial). Graceful degredation moved towards a default to harmlessness, based on cultural definitions.
  2. Be self-disclosing; ubicomp must contain provisions for immediate and transparent querying of their ownership, use, capabilities, etc. Seamless interaction in physical spaces must be optional, as ubicomp could invade the privacy of individuals. “Seemfullness with beautiful seems.”
  3. Be conservative of face; allowing people to save face. Ubicomp must not unnecessarily embarrass, humiliate or shame their users. Humane interfaces must be taken into consideration, especially while designing the experience of invisible ubicomp systems.
  4. Be conservative of time
  5. Be deniable; allow for the opt out of the program at any time. Alternatives should be provided to people who want to avoid these systems.

Disclaimer: This is live blogging; all quotes are paraphrases.

SXSW Film Review: Wide Awake


It’s not that Alan Berliner (writer, director, editor, producer) can’t sleep. His creative clock has him on the graveyard shift. When the sun goes down and the shadows of the day disappear into the cloak of the night, the world pauses for him to search, discover, find meaning in it all. It’s his time to capture the previous day’s cultural images and remix them into his library of meaning; it’s his time to create.

Some would say that Berliner is obsessive compulsive. Sure, maybe by the definition of a pedigree expert needing to prescribe another individual’s place in the world a fitting label and a career extending dose of pharma.

I’d argue that he sees the world through his eyes, which isn’t as common of a feat as one might surmise. Berliner takes the time to categorize nearly every sound, image and video that he comes across, and the evening is the extention of his rebuild process; creating new context from ideas and producing his vision for the screen.

Wide Awake is his meta-documentary, exploring all of his flaws and brilliance, as it relates to his health, childhood, wife and newborn son (an especially insightful and beautiful display of viewing life through the eyes of our children).

Alan, if you ever come across this post, you gotta go play with flickr. You’ll love it.

SXSW Day Two: Tantek Çelik, Creating Building Blocks for Independents

Tantek Çelik, Chief Technologist at Technorati, is shooting to enable the independents of the world.
tantekcBuilding blocks are built by both experts and non-experts to advance the enablement of independents.

  • Blogger did this in new ways. Publishing content on your own site and made extremely easily.
  • Creative Commons is a building block as well, but in legal terms to free up content.
  • Wiki’s enable the independent, because no one needs to manage the edits.
  • IRC allows anyone to download a client and run it without signing up for the service. And it’s coded in a smart, lightweight manner.
  • Tagging has been established to remove the constraints of categories and to tap into an aggregate of perspectives
  • SuperHappyDevHouse was a social building block, where developers could code next to one another (with beer) and get instant feedback.
  • foo camp was Tim O’Reilly’s way to bring people together and allow them to figure out how to spend three days collaborating within an empty program grid, with just whiteboards, power hooks and a wireless network; a completely decentralized social building block.

Tantek created the idea of barcamp out of his experience with foo camp; why not have it on the same day as foo camp? They registered the domain 6 days before the event and reverse engineered the requirements to run it from the foo camp Wiki.

We’re now watching a friggin’ music video barcamp rehash. This should lead to a point (because the video is a bit over the top)… So people around the world jumped on the idea of barcamp. The barcamp Wiki led to replication and building; Building blocks.

The challenge is not only creating building block for ourselves, or friends, or community… but the people who are on the other side of the digital divide. Tantek’s position is that we are the privileged, so how do we provide building blocks for others who are not.

End live-blog (well, pseudo live… the WiFi was down).

Sure… to a degree. This is all good within our sphere of reality. But Wiki’s and tagging and foo camps mean nothing to people stuck in the real; struggling to get by to pay the rent, put food on the table, pay for their children’s education. Tantek’s challenge still applies, but how?

In the Q&A, I asked him how we can apply this concept to the digital divide and people operating outside the context of content creation — people who are stuck in a service based economy. A fair question? Not really, but it opened up the conversation a bit. Tantek feels that creating building blocks saves people time, and time is money and freedom has a cost. Very true, but the question remains.

Disclaimer: This is live blogging; all quotes are paraphrases.