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    SXSW 2002

    March 13th, '02
    So, what did I do on my SXSW vacation?

    The opening key note by Lawrence Lessig was great. I've read a lot of the things he's written but hearing him rant in person was great. Frankly he scared the crap out of me. The case he made for the corporate/global media's stifling of creativity, and control and productization of art was very chilling.

    The arguments he's making are some of the most interesting and thought provoking I've encountered in years.

    The distributed nature of the network, the virtual nature of on-line identity, the massive production and sharing of free, independent content. These things will change our world.

    I like that.

    But there are too many big companies out there whose business is based on control and homogenization. These companies have a tremendous incentive to shut down the new emerging paradigms. Too many artists are also motivated to support and perpetuate central control and filtering.

    Etc etc. I whine about that too much don't I?

    I tried to go to Fray Cafe, but they sold out before I got there so this is as close as I got to it. Something about fire regulations. The guy that wouldn't let me in (even with a ticket) was the same short, rude little Nazi that wouldn't let me take my camera into the panel discussions. Note - four check points, 8 security screeners, 500 people with cameras, and one sawed off little puke telling everyone they can't take in cameras.

    It worked out like this - If you took the escalator to the panel rooms, you couldn't bring through a camera. But if you went up the stairs, cameras were fine.

    Whatever. I got to see lots of cool people talk. Learned a few things.

    The Iron Webmaster competition did a good job of illustrating why the tech geeks and not investor hysteria led to the dot com crash. Given an hour and a half to create a web site from a pile of graphics and text documents, two teams of five webmasters failed to come up with anything. I'm not making this up. Neither team even got a real website posted to the server.

    Fucking pathetic. And yes, I *have* built sites in less than an hour. It's only tough if you decide to do something that will obviously take too long. Like wacky Flash animations and wild DHTML.

    I went to a web services discussion which was very good. I've been thinking about this sort of programming for a while, but it was nice to chat about it with people who were actually using it and thinking about how to integrate it into real applications.

    Hopefully I'll have all of the "of the day" items available as an XML-RPC service sometime in the future.

    It did make me even more frightened of Microsoft's Hailstorm idea. With Hailstorm comes centralized control and monitoring. Anyone who would trust Microsoft with something like Hailstorm is either ill informed or very foolish. If you've signed up with Passport in Windows XP you are already linked into Hailstorm. Be very afraid.

    So, who did I meet on my SXSW vacation?

    Let me say first that I didn't do any pressing the flesh at this event. So in a sense I didn't meet anyone. For whatever reason I just wasn't into wandering around and introducing myself.

    But I did get to hear some great speakers. Here's a panel on the confluence of weblogging and journalism featuring Meg of megnut.com, Rusty Foster of Kuro5hin, Doc Searls of Linux Journal and his own weblog, and Cameron Marlow of the MIT media lab and Blogdex. Not bad.

    Getting these folks together and letting them just ramble for two hours led to one of the most interesting conversations I've listen to in years. So, in a nutshell - What if we think of weblogging as journalism? Certainly webloggers sometimes break stories, report on events, editorialize, have a regular readership, etc. But, journalists have rights other citizens don't, such as protection of sources and access to events/interviews.

    So, for the sake of argument, if we're all journalists, do we need to learn about the ethics and responsibility of journalism? What responsibility do we have to our readers. You might say I'm just a dork with a diary and I have zero responsibility beyond that. But from search requests and emails I get, I can tell that many kids come here researching school reports. Will first graders understand my humor? Will they understand I'm making everything up?

    In addition to that it might be nice to get some of those access considerations reserved for "real" journalists. Case in point: I'll be going to the St. Patrick's Day Parade & Festival. It's a safe bet that my report of the event will be better than anything else you'll find in the on-line, mainstream media. But I'll still probably have some security dink tell me I can't take my camera past some arbitrary point.

    [sigh] Beats me. It would be nice to have a press pass, but I know that would be more trouble (and money) than I want to deal with. At any rate it was great to hear these folks rif on the issue.

    It was also nice to hear Doc Searls. I've been indifferent about his articles in Linux Journal, but his weblog is starting to grow on me. Hearing him speak was more interesting yet. The voice on the weblog is making more sense now that I know something about the man's philosophy.

    This was the "Sexiest Geek" game show. I could only listen to a few minutes of it. Obviously the emphasis wasn't on the "sexiest" part, so I nicknamed the event the "Dorkiest Geek" game show.

    The MCs seemed to be a bit incredulous that these folks could get dates also. This gentleman is answering a question about the origins of the Internet with a long dissertation on ARPANET. Next up was a woman who answered the question, "When did you first know you were a geek?", by give a rambling discourse on the nature of consciousness and the foundations of identity.

    Aaaaaahhhhhh!!! Make it stop.

    The panel I wanted to see most was "Design For Community" with Caleb Clark from Plocktau, Matt Haughey from Metafilter, John Styn from lots of sites, but CitizenX was the one he was talking about, and Derek Powazek just being Powazek.

    This was the last panel of the day and I was going to have to leave early to get to my plane. Actually I would have had plenty of time except that we now have to be at the airport 2 hours early to give moronic security people (and yes, that is my honest opinion) plenty of time to look useful.

    So an hour before the panel is done I have to run out of the room and race to the airport. Once I get there it takes me (I'm not making this up) 15 minutes to turn in the rental car, check my baggage and get through security. So I'm standing in the terminal with an hour and 45 minutes to spare.

    Fuck!!! Fuck fuck fuck!!!!! The panel was still going on!!! I'm not happy. On top of that, security managed to drop my laptop on the floor. The moron grabs my laptop, says, "Hey, that's a nice laptop.", and then drops it. True fucking story.

    It still works. I hate Austin. Austin hates me.

    Whatever. Even though I don't participate over at Metafilter anymore, Matt is still my web community hero. I wish I could join the fun over there without it making me so angry. A significant amount of ideas for this site are blatantly stolen from what he's done.

    Mr Haughey talks very slowly and seems to have a talent for stripping things down to basic elements. I really should have introduced myself and explained how much I like Metafilter, but again I was feeling pathologically introverted that weekend. Sometimes being a hermit puts a serious cramp in things.

    And it's great just to listen to Halcyon talk about anything.

    At this panel he was talking about the uphill battle of trying to bring love, positive feelings, and civility to a medium that enjoys peeing on such things. It would be easy to dismiss him as a naive pervert, but having followed his on-line stuff for a couple years I've found him to be brilliant, sincere and wonderful.

    Jon ((hug))s Halcyon. I'll go so far as to say that what he is trying to do for Internet community is one of the most noble and inspiring things I know of. Even though I got tired of the webcam a long time ago, I'm thinking about firing it up and paying for a CitizenX membership just to support him.

    Just one note about staying in Austin. Do not - do not - stay at the Ramada Limited in Austin.

    This is the worst flee-bag motel I have ever experienced. I'm pretty sure it's just a front for drug dealers. Forget about getting a web connection. Just having the TV work would be nice. Having decent sheets? It is by the airport, just the wrong airport. I think I should have planned this trip better.

    I forgot to print out all the stuff from the SXSW Baby site. So I really have no idea what's going on outside of the official program. (which I forgot at the hotel this morning because I have a splitting god damned headache from the god damn bed and..... whatever) I really don't have any idea who anyone is because I never got around to looking at all the websites of the people who said they would be here.

    Damn it. I thought I wouldn't have any trouble getting on-line. It's an Internet convention. What the hell? It sort of messes with your reality when you find your life requires a reliable connection to the network to function properly.

    So I'm wandering around the building looking at every room assignment trying to find the good stuff. I know I'm walking past people whose sites I really like without knowing it.

    I'm actually toying with the idea of wandering up to everyone and asking them if they're interesting. "Hi. Should I know you? Do I know you? Should you know me?"

    I finally was able to find some free workstations that they'd set up at the trade show (which had little to do with the Web - it was mostly video stuff) but there was always a line there. And a polite lady to remind you about that over and over.

    And I don't like Austin. And my head hurts. And I didn't get breakfast. And some of the security people are not letting people bring cameras into the forums, so I have to sneak around having to hack my way past the security check points. Have I mentioned my head hurts?

    I think I'm cranky.

    Okay....... Back on topic.

    When we first announced BlogCon on Metafilter someone mentioned that we didn't really need something like that since we had SXSW for a meet and greet event. Well, now that I've been to SXSW I'm even more eager for BlogCon.

    SXSW is a great event. I'll definitely be back next year. But it's just not an event for many of the people I want to meet. I'm at the party before the SXSW web awards. There are about 200 people standing around here who have personal web sites. I see maybe four people whose sites I've been to. The sites in my favorites are the ones I consider the most interesting. Those people tell the best stories (IMHO). I've only seen two of those people here. Of the sites nominated for best personal site and best weblog I've visited only one.

    SXSW just isn't an event for weblog and web journal people. It's an event for designers and concept people and production folks. The vast majority of webloggers wouldn't be interested in most of the panels here.

    I felt like my professional peers were there, but not my website audience. Not my community. And even if they had been, I don't want to stand around in cocktail parties and snack on little appetizers with them while trying to make witty chitchat.

    SXSW is great and I'm sure I'll be back. But it's a media convention. Not a meet and greet event. And most certainly not a weblog event. Let's go to Vegas, take lots of pictures, get online (have I mentioned they've made no effort to make sure everyone can get online?), and have some fun rather than sitting in crowded, stuffy rooms talking about XSLT and minutia of graphic design.




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