Big Ideas at SXSW Interactive

Tech's Future, Privacy and Sharing


THE GEEKY SIDE OF SXSW began on Friday and we’re about halfway through. The big ideas being discussed this year include the future of journalism, books and magazine as well as online privacy and sharing. As you would expect, all of these things are tied together, but there is surprisingly commonality in the conclusions about the future.

One would expect that at SXSW Interactive, there would only be video game fans and tech heads obsessed with APIs and IPOs. But the dirty truth is, SXSW Interactive brings together the big thinkers about the future of technology and media.

Dannah Boyd, a social media expert, gave a great talk about privacy on Saturday. She prefaced her talk by proclaiming that the next time a straight, white, male technologist says that privacy is dead, you need to slap him in the face. She pointed out that Internet users, despite their penchant to reveal themselves both emotionally and physically, at the end of the day they want control over their exposure. Boyd argues that privacy isn’t about keeping secrets, but about keeping control over the information that is publicly available. She pointed out to the furor surrounding Google buzz as an example. Google thought it was doing everyone a favor by pulling together all of the publicly available information about the user in one place. Instead, it created widespread panic. Just because personal information may be publicly available, doesn’t mean they want it publicized. Her talk will certainly be the center of many conversations about the future of privacy in social media networks in the future.

THIS MORNING CLAY SHIRKY ANALYZED SHARING and the ramifications for the Internet and society. He divided sharing into three categories, sharing of services, goods and information. In his view, how we share depends directly on what we are sharing and that thousands of years of evolution predispose humans to share information because it is free and will likely be reciprocated. The revolution in media came when media such as music and news stopped bring physical goods. If a musical recording is on a CD, then it is a good. But when music is .mp3 file that can be duplicated free of charge, then it became information. So is it any surprise that people no longer think twice about passing around a piece of electronic information that costs nothing to give away? Shirky argues that efforts to put media back into electronic containers that have real cost is likely to fail, because withholding something that everyone knows can be passed around for free is considering spiteful. People don’t like spiteful people.

OF COURSE THIS HAS HUGE IMPLICATIONS FOR JOURNALISM because while electronic articles cost nothing to reproduce, gathering the information to create the article is quite expensive. So there are a lot of people at SXSW Interactive talking about how to lower costs and leverage new technology — such as Twitter — to produce journalism more cheaply. There is also a lot of talk about how to produce revenues, but I have to say, no one has figured out how to do that without being what Shirky calls spiteful.

NO SXSW INTERACTIVE REPORT WOULD BE COMPLETE without a reference to the Next Big Thing in technology. After all, this is where Twitter became famous! So the big tech news is how geo-tagging and geo-location will be integrated into everything we do. If you have an iPhone, you already know that your phone is capable of reporting your location. Well, that is the future and there are many applications emerging to take advantage of that information. For instance, if a bar wants you to come visit and detects your phone, it might send you a coupon for a drink special. Or one of your friends might get an alert when you come within 500 yards so that they can invite you to join them. Where can you get a test of this frightening future? Check out