SXSW redux18 April 2013
SXSW

I made my first visit to SXSW this March with the BU crew. This was my first introduction to the city of Austin and state of Texas as well (though I was constantly told that Austin is nothing like the rest of Texas). SXSW allowed me to get a one-week crash course on Austin – food trailers, breakfast tacos, Ruby’s BBQ, Amy’s ice creams, Kerbey Lane pancakes and pedicabs, which in the company of the rest of the crew – a mix of Austin / SXSW veterans – was quite a fun trip. The big themes that I saw in the panels at SX were: DIY (do-it-yourself), privacy, activism, open web, and big data. I have presented below summaries of panels that I found most stimulating.

Ruby's BBQ interior

Ruby's BBQ interior

Bots for civic engagement was led by Alex Leavitt (PhD Researcher, @alexleavitt), David Bausola (CEO, Philter Phactory Ltd, @zeroinfluencer), Erhardt Graeff (Researcher, MIT Media Lab, @erhardt) and Greg Marra (Prod Mgr, Facebook, @gregmarra) who are all interested in the use of bots for civic purposes. They discussed how bots are in use today on the web such as @stealthmountain on Twitter that replies to users’ tweets to correct their spelling from ‘sneak peak’ to ‘sneak peek’ and imageoptimiser on GitHub that creates a pull request for code repos to optimize their images. These are example of bots that perform predictable actions consistently while the real power of bots lies in their emergent behavior and ability to learn from activity on the web and as a result be ‘intelligent’. The ideal scenarios for these bots would be if they were able to respond to users’ questions algorithmically such as “I’m in Austin, where can I go?” or “What do I need to vote on election day?”. This to me is the most interesting use of bots as mediators and guides. However there are growing ethical concerns with bots. The most approachable and trusty bot is an honest bot – one that discloses itself. This is true for many bots on Twitter that declare their intent openly. It is also essential that the frequency and quality of interaction with bots be tuned so that it is not seen as unwelcome spam. The panel discussion was useful in bringing light to the growing universe of bots and how they can be designed to be useful to citizens in political, social and media activism spheres. A collection of some of the friendliest Twitter bots can be found in the BotCache.

This panel is available on SoundCloud and Storify.

Bots for Civic Engagement panel

Bots for Civic Engagement panel

Re-Imagining Toys: Merging the Physical & Digital was a talk by Dr. Mike North, CTO of Nukotoys, to talk about the convergence of physical and digital interactions in children’s games. Mike’s talk began by highlighting that the global toy market, worth 84 billion dollars, is dominated by very few players – mostly large corporations such as Mattel that are struggling to innovate. At the same time, kids are playing with fascinating new digital tools such as iPads, iPhones and leaving physical toys behind. Nukotoys is using a toys-as-a-service model for their games. Kids purchase physical trading cards that are then used to influence play in a digital world. Nukotoys can easily measure user interaction via analytics in the digital games and change the response generated in the digital world without changing the physical object. This in turn allows for games to be iterated remotely and gives kids new ways to play with the same physical object. The ability to iterate games combined with inexpensive ways to create toys via 3D printing presents a unique opportunity for game companies of any scale. North believes that innovation in toys will be driven by the growing need to encourage creative education in the US. North encourages toy developers to embrace the challenge to create game interactions that combine the physical and the digital experience in a meaningful ways that will drive the future of play and innovation.

Culture Hack: Libraries & Museums Open for Making was a group panel by Antoine Isaac (Scientific Coordinator, Europeana, @antoine_isaac), Emily Gore (Dir for Content, Digital Public Library Of America, @ncschistory), Rachel Frick (Program Dir, CLIR Digital Library Federation, @rlfrick) and Sam Leon (Community Coord, Open Knowledge Foundation, @noeL_maS) on open data in libraries and museums. This panel discussed two subjects that are close to my heart – open data and museums! The panel introduced me to a growing open data movement being led by the Linked Open Data in Libraries Archives and Museums (LODLAM) summit. LODLAM has been leading the discussion of opening data in libraries, archives and museums. The panel speakers have been involved in this movement in their own organizations and presented their motivations and challenges in creating efficient, accessible, inter-operable systems. The panel also discussed the degrees of openness that are permitted and what content is accessible via their apis. For the most part it seemed that metadata i.e. description of objects is easily accessible while the actual content (media) may be restricted by rights. This movement has allowed for developers to create interactive apps with the data and some really cool examples can be found in the project archive of the OpenKnowledge Foundation. I was excited to see that developers are making some really wonderful projects using historical, educational data as a result of LODLAM and this community engagement is giving more visibility to cultural institutions that house and protect this data. One of my favorite examples was the Timeliner that allows users to upload spreadsheets of data to automatically create historical timelines, this is an example timelining ‘wars’. Additionally, the Digital Public Library Of America (DPLA) is due to launch their platform for engaging users with millions of materials from American libraries, museums, archives and other cultural institutions and I am looking forward to see how they present this data for all their audiences (students, teachers, hackers, general public and so on).

This panel is available on slideshare.

Fohlin and Pritika in Austin

Fohlin and Pritika in Austin