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. Building 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.

0 responses to “SXSW Day Two: Tantek Çelik, Creating Building Blocks for Independents”

  1. Agreed, foo-camp-wiki-tags are geeks talking to geeks improving conditions in the binary salt-mines. The hard, and effective, effort is hacking culture like a Rovian ninja.


  2. well, it’s not like this digital effort won’t eventually go a long way in affecting culture, and attitudes regarding what “culture” is in the first place — especially CC. i just feel that if we’re not looking to develop services that reach the desires and needs of lower income, lower education, non-netizens, our efforts are somewhat masterbatory. maybe that’s harsh, but if we’re being true to the cause of empowering individuals, then we need to step out of our privileged universe of open source geeks and early adopters — not just the ones that couldn’t make SXSW — and go talk to people within this cultural struggle in the real.

    chris messina told me about winecamp coming up in may, which will be a working meetup between a large number of non-profits and the geek community. that’s a great idea, as the non-profits could provide invaluable ideas for grass roots services.


  3. just 20c worth,
    see for an interesting creative innitiative from the world of advertising, some bright spark came up with the idea of – instead of trashing the vinyl canvas that billboards get printed on, and that stays up for say three months, to make schoolbags for the needy – now i wish we could get sponsors to get printed usefull excerpts of e.g. wikipedia to the disenfranchised masses around here in Africa and the rest of the ‘developing world’

    I think there is a paradigm shift happening across the board, but i think it is most obvious tech-land.


  4. hmmm, I wonder why, just as i think there is a giler of hope for the advertising industry :- (, the intro to that article is still cached on Google here

    I’m in Johannesburg, South Africa.


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