SXSW suckup, 2012 edition

It seems wrong to be thinking about next year’s SXSW conference when I’ve only just started digesting the inevitability of CES 2013. But the annual routine of picking panels for next March’s gathering in Austin is already upon us, with voting opening on Monday for SXSW Interactive and running through Aug. 31.

Last year, I had the luxury of being asked to join panels other people had organized, one of which made the cut and yielded a great discussion about the SOPA and PIPA debate. My pitch for this year, “How Traditional Media Got/Get Tech Policy Wrong,” started with a great insight from that conversation: Bad tech-policy coverage in traditional media sources yields poor Congressional understanding of these issues.

So in this follow-up, I want to get into the history of this subpar coverage and the reasons for it, based on what I’ve seen in the reporting of others and my own faults. If you think that’s an interesting topic, please vote for my panel. (That requires a free registration, but I can attest that the SXSW organizers aren’t spammy.) Internet votes count for “about 30% of the decision-making process,” with SXSW’s board and staff making up the rest.

But don’t just vote for my panel: The SXSW PanelPicker site features 3,117 proposals in all for just the Interactive segment of the conference.

I spent several hours earlier this week browsing through all those entries, employing such scientific methods as looking at their titles (how I made many of my last-minute attendance decisions in March) and searching for friends. After the jump, you can read about the ones I know I’ll be voting for, grouped under categories I made up for this post. I can’t promise that I’ll actually attend all of these between March 8 and 12, but I will at least feel slightly wistful about missing some of them.

Updated 8/21 to add another handful of picks and re-arrange the panels listed under each category to suggest where each ranks on my must-attend list.

Location awareness and machine intelligence:

“What Do Sensors Mean For News, Society & Science?”: NPR’s Javaun Moradi and O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard (a friend) picked a good, thought-provoking subject: “Increasingly, citizens are becoming sensors, carrying mobile devices that enable them to collect and share observations from their environments.”

“I Know Where You’re Going: Location as Biometric”: Jennifer Lynch, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and IBM’s Jeff Jonas discuss how location data automatically sent out by smartphones can “define and identify us” and “what this means for privacy and civil liberties, and what you can do about it.”

“The Cost of Surveillance”: D.C.-based privacy researcher Ashkan Soltani will discuss advances in automated snooping and compare their expenses–in terms of “legal requirements including court orders, warrants, and subpoenas” as well as “officers and time” to the old-fashioned, manual kind.

“Now You See Me: The Future of Ambient Location”: Paul Davison, the founder of the Highlight friends-near-me app that got a lot of attention at last year’s SXSW (and drained a lot of phone batteries), “will explore the current state and future promise of ambient location services.”

Politics and policy:

“Is the Internet America’s Third Party”: Maura Corbett (Glen Echo Group), Mark Colwell (Sen. Jerry Moran), Laurent Crenshaw (Rep. Darrell Issa) and lawyer and activist Marvin Ammori ponder “How do we use the Internet and its users as platform to advance our collective and uniquely American goals of freedom, equality and independence regardless of our political ideologies, or even, in spite of them?” (Maura, Marvin and Mark are among the D.C. tech-policy types I enjoy catching up with, and I must have run into Laurent more than once too.)

“Disrupt DC! Defining the Politics of the Internet”: David Moon (Demand Progress), Derek Slater (Google), Patrick Ruffini (Engage) and Virginia Postrel (Bloomberg View) would like to know: “As the Internet becomes more ingrained in our lives, will we, the users, define a new political identity for ourselves that challenges traditional party politics?”

“Have expanding IP rights reached the tipping point”: My answer would be “yes,” and lawyers Eric Goldman, Anne Gundelfinger and Erik Pelton seem to agree: “As big business continues to push for more civil and criminal enforcement of trademarks, copyrights, and patents, has the intended purpose of IP laws been co-opted? …. And how are rights holders preparing to respond to or cope with the inevitable backlash against the growing grab for intellectual property rights?”

“S**t Terms of Use Say”: Lisa Borodkin and lawyers Stephanie Margossian and Christina Gagnier are fed up with opaque terms-of-use agreements that people don’t actually read enough to agree with and want “a real discussion of how users and companies alike should tackle this piece of Internet governance.”

“Patent: The Toll of Trolls”: Elizabeth Brownsen of Team One USA, Blitz’s Derek Van Den Bosch, Pelle Nilsson of B Reel and Jeff Farmer of Saatchi & Saatchi promise answers to such questions as “How do companies respond to patent trolls, how can companies unite to help change patent guidelines? Where do we put the burden of patent insurance?”

The business of tech:

“Is Meritocracy in Silicon Valley A Myth?”: Rachel Sklar (Change The Ratio) and Eric Ries (The Lean Startup) raise “the unpopular idea that maybe – just maybe – there are institutional biases and barriers keeping underrepresented groups away from the table.”

“How Big Brands Really Use Social-Media Metrics”: A quartet of social-media mavens–Doug Bonarrigo of Raytheon and his colleague Stephanie Schierholz, who I got to know when she ran NASA’s Tweetups; Nisha Chittal with Travel Channel; and Jessica Berlin of American Eagle Outfitters–talk about what large companies learn about us through Twitter, Facebook and so on. Since I, too, use those networks to market myself, I’d like to know their “favorite (or least favorite) tools for social media metrics and measurement.”

“The Death of the American Mall”: Rameet Chawla and Ryan Matzner of Fueled “look toward the future of brick-and-mortar and the emerging technologies that could guide it — from software to hardware, Google Wallet to Apple Passbook, to customer service, to the physical layout of stores.”

“Are Mobile Wallets Really the Holy Grail?”: Greg Janssen (Critical Mass), Evan Brody (7-Eleven), Andrew Hoog (viaForensics) and TJ Person (Koupon Media) “will get to the bottom of the confusing mobile wallet and retail landscape, including payments, coupons, security and identification.”

“What Women Want: Cookies-Cupcakes-Color-Cat Videos”: Possibly the most misleadingly-named panel of this year’s round, this one will explore how companies can be less of a nuisance when marketing themselves. Jenny Abramson of Personal, Jake Maas of LivingSocial, Jane Hu of YouTube and Sarah Choi of Sephora will answer questions like “Do companies that ask permission for more information, rather than take it, have an advantage?” and “How can companies be more innovative in providing customized experiences without invading consumer privacy?”

“360 Relationships: Mentors, Mentees, and VCs”: Much as I hate the term “mentee,” I think the DC-tech types on this panel (Jen Consalvo, Dan Berger, Glen Hellman and Elizabeth Terrell) will have useful insights on “how organizations large and small can be a part of startup mentorship and why they should encourage it.”

“Life on the Road is Lonely: How to Connect”: TripIt’s Thomas Marks, Carol Margolis of Smart Women Travelers and’s Cynthia Drescher discuss how to “harness the power of social media to fully take advantage of networking connections that may be right around the corner.” (I assure you this is not a dating how-to; read the panel’s description if you don’t believe me.)

Digital culture:

“The Making of a Meme”: Time magazine’s Kira Pollack, photojournalist Diana Walker and Buzzfeed’s Stacy Lambe “will discuss the development of one photography meme – Texts from Hillary — and how the worlds of the State Department, Time Magazine and Tumblr collided. The panel will also discuss how the culture of filtered photos, re-blogging and beyond can change how we tell visual stories.”

“How To Fight A Douchebag Using Grizzly Bears”: Possibly the best-named panel of this year’s round. Mathew Inman, aka The Oatmeal, will discuss “how you can use crowdfunding, comedy, and creativity to combat douchebaggery on the internet” but also cover “Nikola Tesla, Sriracha Rooster sauce, famous geeks, overweight mammals, and interstellar travel.”

“Here’s your jetpack. Now shut up!”: Brian David Johnson (Intel), David Reeves (22squared), novelist Daniel Wilson and veteran futurologist Ray Kurzweil “explore the symbiotic relationship between technology and science fiction.”

“It’s OK to be Takei”: Not that George Takei needs my vote, but I’d like to hear him expound on how he has become “arguably the best curator of content on Facebook.”

“Disrupting Dinner: FoodTrucks, Top Chefs & Yo Mama“: Chef Jamie Oliver, Todd Dipaola of inMarket, Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ, and Tara O’Brady of Seven Spoons go “in-depth to examine how we cook, shop, and dine out according to what our phones tell us.”

“e-Geaux 2.0 by Pepys Inc.”: Having seen Joe Price’s work in D.C. twice before, including this real-time work of improv (his “crack team of data analysts and improv performers will remix the audience’s actual Facebook data in real-time to create the show’s content”), I think Austin should check it out too.

Media, journalism included:

“If It Ain’t Broke, Can Television Be Fixed?”: As a cord-cutter, I’m skeptical of the “no, the TV industry really is innovative” lines at the top. But Jeremy Toeman (Dijit Media) and Sherry Brennan (Fox Cable Networks) know that things are changing: “The new season of Arrested Development will be released exclusively on demand, in a non-linear fashion on Netflix. Will the HBOs of the world be forced into an a la carte model, or is Arrested Development the exception?” The panel should also be a good counterpoint to the next one on this list.

“Tomorrow’s TV: The Industry’s Shift to a La Carte”: Aereo’s Chet Kanojia thinks “we’re at an inflection point where new programming and viewing platforms will help fulfill the vision of an a la carte platform that offers consumers only the content they want at a more reasonable rate.”

“It’s Reddit’s World. We Just Live In It”: Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, Gawker’s Adrian Chen  and SkepChick’s Rebecca Watson have their eyes open about the popular social-news site, noting that it’s “home to some of the most helpful, and the most misguided, Internet vigilantes.”

“Sh*t PR People Say”: Allie Herzog Danziger of integratePR and Caitlin M. Ryan of CultureMap “will uncover the hidden truths about what goes on behind the scenes before a story hits your news source.”

“The Case Against SXSW”: Slate’s Jacob Weisberg and David Plotz want to teach attendees “how to think differently—about politics, about culture, about pandas—in order to come away with a deeper understanding of the glut of news you’re presented with each and every day.”

“Journalism for profit? News startups killing it”: Belo Corp.’s Mark Briggs and Mike Orren of Speakeasy say they’ll explain how startup news organizations “have cracked this nut… this fast-paced, informative session will show you how.”

Space and beyond:

“Space Tech After NASA: Boom Times for Innovation?”: Jeffrey Kluger, co-author of “Apollo 13” (his co-author Jim Lovell’s name appears in larger type on the book originally titled “Lost Moon”) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Marc Rayman “consider just how the privatization of manned spaceflight could ignite a tech race unlike anything we’ve seen.”

“@NASA: The User Experience of a Space Station”: The space agency’s Sam Hashemi and Steve Hillenius “are two NASA designers who want to share a little about what we do, the situations we design for, and where UX in space is heading.”

“Understanding the Universe in 59 minutes or less”: Astronomers Alyssa Goodman  and George Djorgovski “explain in 59 minutes how a supernova explosion in our neighborhood many billions of years ago made it possible for the world as we see it today,” as visualized with Microsoft Research’s WorldWide Telescope.


“Raise Your Profile Using SXSW”: Brian Zisk (I spoke at his SFMusicTech summit in 2009 and 2010) discusses “tips, tricks, and best practices you can use to effectively raise your profile” at SXSW. Seems like it would be useful self-promotional advice.

“Connective Consciousness: Influencer Back Channels”: Between “e-mail, Facebook messaging and groups, Twitter direct messages, closed e-mail lists, and […] offline interaction,” which work best for “a) sharing ideas, b) making new connections, c) promoting your work?” Sarah Granger (Center for Technology, Media & Society), Brian Reich (little m media), Allyson Kapin (Rad Campaign) and Ritambra Rana (CitizenGlobal) propose to tell us how.

“SXSW Research Walkabout – Results Revealed”: Econsultancy’s Stefan Tornquist will interview people on the streets of Austin to “find out what happens when you expose 25,000 SXSW-goers to alcohol, barbeque and each other.”

“Tweak Your SXSW Talk”: Dan Willis of Cranky Productions invites other SXSW presenters a chance to “test drive your SXSW panel or solo presentation in front of a critical, but highly supportive workshop audience.”

Update, 10/21: To my dismay, my panel didn’t make it past the first cut. Sigh. Of the others I endorsed, “Location as Biometric,” “The Cost of Surveillance,” “The Future of Ambient Location,” “The Making of a Meme,” “Disrupting Dinner,” “Tomorrow’s TV,” “It’s Reddit’s Web,” and “Space Tech After NASA” appear among the majority of panels already listed (others may show up in two upcoming announcements os SXSW 2013 programming), while Matthew Inman got the keynote slot.

If you, too, are feeling the pain of a SXSW no-thanks e-mail, I strongly recommend Matthew Creamer’s brilliant “Open Letter To My Social Network Upon the Rejection of my SXSW Panel.”

1 thought on “SXSW suckup, 2012 edition

  1. Great post Rob and I’d say that even if you didn’t include a panel in which I’m participating. In fact I’m way more intrigued with the other panels!

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