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Some random thoughts on SXSWi 2011

Frog Design SXSWi Man, it was packed! And that was just the Apple pop-up store where all the cool kids were clamoring to be the first to buy an iPad2 - you know, the one that features that low-res camera.

They should have held off on that purchase and spent some time at the conference center first, (especially if they are thinking of designing for the iPad,) where Khoi Vinh was talking about how the iPad and its Apps fail to provide some critical requirements, especially when it comes to reading on the device - the desire to customize, and the desire to share content. Vinh also delivered a second talk: Ordering Disorder: Grid Design for the New World which was an extension of his latest book, Grids. Even for the lay-person, sitting in on Khoi's talk would have maybe helped the iPad2 buyer avoid this iPad disappointment.. --- If you were into anything to do with social media, which I presume the bulk of the hundreds of attendees from large agencies were there for, then there was plenty to go around. Which means of course, that there was less room for panels that required one to dig beneath the shiny baubles veneer of "what's next for social media?" ---

Canvas Portland
Click image for a beta invite

In his keynote speech, Christopher Poole of 4Chan did a good job of outlining his case for anonymity online, which of course has him running in the opposite direction than Mark Zuckerberg. As Poole points out "People want to think everyone on 4Chan is a young rambunctious male. That's not accurate – it's a wide range of people using it. One of the things that 4Chan does that's really special is the way people come together to collaborate en masse. It's the process at which you arrive at the product that is fascinating."

He also announced the launch of Canvas - click on the image to the right for beta access. --- A talk I missed that I wish I hadn't by my great friend Roy Christopher: - Disconnecting the Dots: How Our Devices are Divisive -- Shiny bauble veneer part 2 - There were way too many companies offering the chance to win an iPad2. --- There were a lot of Apps offered up that included the word "group" in them. Just because Groupon >___________< ...fill in the blank. --- Of the 11 QR codes that were pushed upon me, 7 failed. Marketers take note - Many teenagers are clueless about QR codes. There are more than 29 QR code readers available for mobile devices. To try and win an iPad2 from Red Laser I was asked to download the Red Laser QR code. The one I have works fine thank you. I didn't win. --- A serendipitous moment (there's at least one every year) - sitting in the Registrants Lounge I was joined by someone who shares my last name, Jeanne Allen. Jeanne is a UX Producer for XBox. She reports directly to my friend, Jeff Faulkner, Partner and Director XBox User Experience at Microsoft. She took my picture and emailed it to Jeff. I told her to thank the Kinect team for licensing one of my songs for the Kinect marketing program. Winning! --- Back to the serious stuff.

After returning from SXSWi, Patricia McDonald, Planning Partner at Chi & Partners, wrote a post titled Conversation, discovery and reputation: tools for navigating the age of abundance, that's an interesting read. Here's an extract or two:

The Reputation Economy This is where the question of reputation comes in. This was, for me, the dominant theme of the conference. I’ve been mulling the question of reputation over since I came across this Fast Company article on the rise of generosity. It really caught fire in my imagination though in conversation with the remarkable (and generous) John Winsor, CEO of Victor and Spoils.

John was asked about the challenge inherent in evaluating the thousands of submissions they get in response to a live creative brief and how technology can help. He mentioned reputation rankings and curation tools and talked about the challenges, and opportunities, in developing reputation algorithms that rewarded the kinds of behaviours the V & S community needs to flourish.

It struck me that as individual reputation (versus corporate) becomes more and more important-in navigating content referrals and in deciding who to share with, buy from or partner with- designing these algorithms is an extraordinary opportunity to design for the kinds of behaviours we want to see as a society or a company-not just excellence, but generosity, engagement, willingness to build, willingness to learn. We all have informal reputation rankings of a kind today-who follows us, who follows them, what our connections look like-some have seller or reviewer ratings. In the future, however, as influence, commerce and content distribution continues to disperse-as we enter a reputation economy- we may need these rankings to become a more formal and widespread mechanic. They are, perhaps, the next step in building a truly smart social algorithm. It’s interesting to note that Facebook recently patented the idea of “Curated search”.

Of course, this emphasis on reputation is at odds with Christoper Poole of 4Chan’s celebration of the “authenticity of anonymity”. Of course, there will be times when anonymity remains powerful culturally and politically. There will be occasions when anonymised, aggregrated data has a more compelling role than individual endorsements. And there are challenges with an attempt to formalize reputation further-the spectre of gamification rears its head and challenges the instrinsic impulses to share and connect that drive so much of the social referral and social commerce we see happening. It’s interesting, as Tim Malbon does here, to compare Quora, a system founded on some quite formal reputation ranking mechanics to Instagram, a system allowing simple, joyous ways to enhance our reputations as curators, image makers and interesting commentators.

That all got me thinking. In an age of abundance another important requirement is context. Me and Roy Christopher were riffing on this during my last night in Austin. We were using music analogies as we both have deep backgrounds there, and we got around to discussing music criticism - or more specifically bloggers' online music reviews. In an age where everyone is now a critic, coupled with the desire to be first to grab attention on the attention-deficit platform we call the web, music reviews, whether of concerts or albums, tend to be shallow and barely scratch the surface. Mostly though, they lack context.

What I like to read are reviews that connect the dots. So take Sleigh Bells for instance. A review of their album might tie in the following for lineage context:

Iggy Pop --> Public Enemy --> Liz Frazer of the Cocteau Twins --> Massive Attack --> Ladytron --> 8 bit --> Ratatat --> Poison The Well --> Rubyblue --> Sleigh Bells

When presented with that lineage one could backtrack through links, through wikis, band websites, sample music via MP3s, watch videos and more; all of which adds meta-context. Without that lineage one is left with only the reviewers personal opinion.

Back to 'reputation during an age of abundance..' When the early web cut the chord of context and allowed us to float freely through a bright new world, all was well. Now, with the aforementioned abundance, we need to reconnect the dots, especially if we are to solve what Patricia writes about above - "We all have informal reputation rankings of a kind today-who follows us, who follows them, what our connections look like - some have seller or reviewer ratings. In the future, however, as influence, commerce and content distribution continues to disperse - as we enter a reputation economy - we may need these rankings to become a more formal and widespread mechanic. They are, perhaps, the next step in building a truly smart social algorithm."

The next step then, has to get us beyond the current metrics provided by companies like Klout, that to me provide information that's too shallow and often inaccurate. (Currently Klout tells me that I am influenced by myself and that one of my high-ranking topics is fire..Firestarter!)

I digress.

Apparently there were 19,363 attendees at SXSWi, quite a crowd. There were quite a few digital displays showing real time stats of what we were all up to in the digital space, yet other than Twitter handles those stats presented us with bland anonymity. We were there, we were doing something but we couldn't "see" each other doing it. I would have loved to have seen edited footage from video cameras that recorded the flow of people through the conference as they went from panel to panel, showing how many people amongst the crowd stopped to greet each other in the hallways.

People were there in abundance, many people knew each other or of each other. It would have been great to capture them in real time, doing what they do best - socializing. Hugging someone or shaking their hand, looking them in the eye, responding to their facial expressions.

Priceless. And. Authentic.

[Update: Twitter sentiment analysis and context - Does Anne Hathaway News Drive Berkshire Hathaway's Stock?]

Khoi Vinh on the New York Times pay wall and the lost opportunity

Some thoughts about the demise of KUFO Portland