AUSTIN, Texas – Day four at SXSW marked the first day with access to the show floor, where the emphasis was more on design and booth presence than particularly new technology. The panel series pushed forward with highlights from Intel Fellow Genevieve Bell, College Humor, and Gowalla founder Joshua Williams.
Steve Jobs and the rise of the techno-priests
“We saw a point in history where the centralized control of content and knowledge shaped a belief system for thousands of years,” said Shane Kempton of Phase 2 Interactive. No, SXSW has not turned into a religious event, but rather Kempton explained major companies like Google Inc., Apple Inc. and Facebook wield similar mind-changing religious power to major organized religion.
Kempton remarked that it’s no accident Apple and Facebook both have “walled gardens” where they control exactly what type of content is going out. With such a strong following of devout worshippers these major brands will continue to grow and dominate the tech scene.
This topic lends itself extremely well to the discussion of net neutrality and how far certain companies can and will go to control the flow of content.
Senator Franken talks net neutrality, anti-trust
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) took the stage today to discuss net neutrality and how everything from pricing to content is affected by major companies hoping to control and monetize the flow of information.
“The end of net neutrality would benefit no one but these enormous companies. … I want this community to be engaged in this fight. Will you do it?” said Franken. The senator described the current state of net neutrality but added a sense of urgency when explaining how close we are to losing it. As huge companies begin to charge for different kinds of content transmissions, it will be particularly bad for consumers but particularly bad for independent artists and musicians.
Genevieve Bell of Intel describes how tech influences human behavior
Bell, an anthropologist by trade, hired by Intel Corp. to study the impact of technology on human around the world, discussed just how much humans are being consumed by smart devices like phones and computers.
“Smartness is going to bring with it new modes of interaction,” said Bell, mentioning a smart parking meter or gesture-based computer, things that might redefine the way in which we interact with our world.
Although these smart devices are becoming more and more prevalent in our daily lives, Bell warns there should be a balance between technology and human interaction.
The art of spoofing
The not-so-subdued folks from CollegeHumor.com took the stage, along with The Gregory Brother most famous for the “Bedroom Intruder” autotune video to chat viral video and what makes them funny. Admittedly, most viral video becomes popular around an event or person currently in the media. But when is it too soon to joke about a particular topic?
“I don’t think there’s ever a way to make a tasteful pun,” said Jeff Rubin of CollegeHumor.com. These sites make lightning fast decisions about what trend is worth jumping on yet try to avoid the obviously offensive like auto-tuning Hitler.
Internet celebs invade Austin to talk wine and “World of Warcraft”
In a session ran by Gary Vaynerchuk of the wine library, the Internet celeb made his usual speech on how much he loves wine and how passion is important when it comes to business. The future for Gary means giving more and caring more, mostly because “caring is scalable.”
Felicia Day, “World of Warcraft” fanatic and creator of “The Guild,” talked about social media, the importance of early adoption and having a niche on the Internet. For her, it’s all about interaction and immersion.
It’s all about location, location, location
The third piece of the Foursquare/SCVNGR puzzle is Gowalla, whose CEO Josh Williams ran a discussion on the future of location. Location-based services have been huge this SXSW, taking almost every incarnation from check-in services, to reminders, and ways to date.
“There’s been a lot of hype about the geo-location wars. In the end, fundamentally, what we wanted to do and inspire people to do is (trying to make it) a storytelling platform,” said Williams. Much like Foursquare, Gowalla is hoping to leverage the power of branding within the check-in services.
Williams maintains that it’s more about the social aspect and the game rather than the brand.