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.

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3 Responses to “SXSW Interactive ≠ Social”


  1. 1 Kristine March 10, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Hmm.. I’ve been to one or two smaller scale social media events where many people were too busy selling themselves/their products, or broadcasting their views, to have a normal conversation, could that be it?

  2. 2 Pete Ashton March 10, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    I think, though I could be wrong, that the Google guy, as chair, was being devil’s advocate. But yeah, you’re probably not here for the developer stuff!


  1. 1 Pete Ashton’s Blog » SXSW Interactive ≠ Social Trackback on March 10, 2008 at 6:23 pm

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