Panels I Attended at SXSW

It’s my last day here at SXSW! Here’s a quick report on what I saw panel-wise and what I thought. Caveat: I’m so tired that I’m not going to even proofread it.

Democratization of Publishing: Survive and Thrive
SXSW Program Description: The publishing industry is evolving as authors, indie app and game creators and musicians are empowered to self-publish and distribute real time, on demand content to millions of potential customers. There are more opportunities than ever to get content in front of the right audiences. Hear from industry leaders on what the future might hold and tips for getting the right eyeballs on your content. With Guy Kawasaki, John Densmore (The Doors), an app publisher, Libby Johnson Mckee (the North American Director of Kindle,) and fiction author Steven Carpenter.  

This was a “beginner” panel and therefore I didn’t take away much that was new to me. Mckee from Kindle was asked the inevitable question about whether Amazon was taking over the world and basically said, “We’re here to make our authors and our readers happy and we’re all [in the industry] trying to figure out how to do that”….(and if we become a giant monopoly in the process of good who are we to fight it…) She also mentioned that she published her daughter’s book of poetry through Createspace, to give her daughter the sheer joy of seeing it up on Amazon. (That didn’t sit that well with me, but I have to think about it.)

The theme here that did take my mind in some new and exciting directions was co-creation: bringing the audience into the development and editorial process. It’s not a new idea – Tim Sanders is a huge advocate, having developed his most recent book with heavy interaction with his FB page – but with all the turn-it-around-on-a-dime book doctoring I’ve been doing, it’s kind of remote from my recent process.

Guy explained the editorial process for APE, the self-published book on self-publishing he’s just released. He took in feedback from his community at the outline stage, feedback before copyediting, and then feedback after copyediting. All done through Google docs. He said his takeaway was that he should have done the pre-copyediting circulation in waves. He had 60 people give notes and if he had sent it out 6 times, each with new revisions, he would have gotten further.

I think there’s wisdom in crowds that should be engaged and respected, and the idea of bringing this kind of dynamism to the process of books (and hopefully also to the reading of books) is both inevitable and exciting. But my takeaway (as an editor) is that that process requires you to have an even stronger editor – someone who can listen, analyze and process data flowing in, but not get completely caught and turned upside down in the whitewater.

For self-publishing authors, the most likely viable route to “thriving” as a self-publisher is to build the tribe as you build the book, making them part of your process. Most of me thinks that this will lead to better books and more satisfaction for authors (though they may fight it at first). But there’s a sliver of me that appreciates the concept of a book that comes from the strange visions of one crazy mind and is unique and wonderful because of it.

Social Media in North Korea
A look at social and technology access behind the DMZ by Jean Lee, AP’s Bureau chief there. Along with Johns Seely Brown and marine life, NK is one of my current top fascinations so I was very excited for this panel.  The AP is the only news agency to operate a full-time bureau there.

Surprise!: North Koreans don’t have much access. Cell phones are becoming popular, even among people who don’t have a ton of money, and even though they’re expensive. They have access to an intranet that’s used to broadcast state media and has some social functions—for example, she showed us a bulletin board where locals can post birthday songs for friends.

Other insights/facts that stuck with me:

•    Growing upper/middle class that travels outside of the country and brings in hard currency
•    Some burgeoning (but limited) entrepreneurialism thanks to that capital inflow
•    Lee thinks that NKoreans are truly one with their governments propaganda. Add to that the cultural conformity of Koreans in general, and she doesn’t expect to see countercultural/revolutionary movements emerge
•    Foreign journalists are completely sequestered by the government (Duh.) She can’t email them, has to stay in the foreign corridor of Pyongyang and can’t mingle unless she has her state-appointed minder with her.  So I’m not sure what to think about whether she can have much insight into what’s “really” going on.

Overall, great panel, although it only barely lifted back the veil on things I’d like to know about life in NK.

Storytelling: The Next Wave of Engagement

SX description: Most of today’s content strategies involve publishing hundred of bits of content per month across social networks, without any cohesive story or narrative behind the content. These random pieces of information tell a story to your fans and customers, whether intended or not. Are you telling the right brand story?

I went to this one both out of rabid interest (in transmedia storytelling specifically more than social generally) and because I’ve been doing some work with the CEO of the company whose Director of Social Strategy Mark Williamson was presenting (Liveworld).

Mark had the most advanced presentation skills of any panel I went to – not so much the slides, but his relaxed-yet-dynamic delivery and the near-seamless skype integration of a second presenter who had travel issues – it was almost like she was there.


-Storytelling in social needs to have arcs, but also be serial, so that people can jump in and out –  this was a tactical insight that really resonated with me, although I think I do this naturally on social.

Social Samba – platform to create “choose your own adventure”-like stories, for example for Norton Security. Originally the platform was inspired by the desire to be able to “Friend” James Bond and other favorite characters for a glimpse into their lives, to make your newsfeed more fun.

@PeggyOlson – the second presenter tweets as PeggOlson, originally of her own volition but now in partnership with the show creators. She gave an interesting look at how Mad Men has welcomed and supported fan-created content.

Space Out: Sketch Out Your Ride for the Next Century
SX description: Extraterrestrial travel is within our (civilian) grasp and it’s time for designers, dreamers, and wannabe astronauts to come together to imagine the future. Using pen and paper, we’ll sketch our ultimate personal spaceship while honing our ability to quickly illustrate ideas as physical objects and interfaces. Sketching is a great way to quickly express ideas, iterate and share with others.

I was surrounded by UI/UX/designers and self-identified “makers” and loved it.

“Makers” – many people were present who identified themselves as makers. I had only become conscious of this term a few months ago, when I read a NY Times article about 3D printing. It feels very William Gibson to me, this idea that there’s a countercultural or at least “alternative” niche community of people who identify themselves as unique because their passion is making real objects in the physical world. Real=counterculture, virtual=norm.

Most fascinating was to see how different brains approached the direction to “sketch your spaceship” differently. Many engineer-type brains in the crowd. Me, I approached it as though physics didn’t exist and my one task was really psychological: to make a confined space feel spacious for the interstellar traveler.

Beyond the Hype: The Data of SXSW
I had met Etai from Digitas, the presenter of this session, at the Mashable party, and was excited to see his near real-time crunching of everything everyone had been tweeting about, attending, and talking about at SXSW.

-    Because this kind of data is so granular, location, and time-bound, you can’t use it for anything predictive
-    panels picked 7 months ago maintained their hype-level at the conference
-    Elon Musk and Grumpy cat were the most tweeted personalities/subjects
-    Not that many people actually saw Grumpy cat or cared
-    Space, Stories, and Makers were the big themes of this year’s conference
-    Lyft (with the big pink mustache reps) made waves
-    People loved GM’s Brilliant Brew coffee frothe designs
-    I missed a shit-ton of cool stuff
-    Our speculation all week that Interactive had eclipsed music and film was correct: 27K+ people attended the interactive this year. 2012 SXSW had almost 19K for music, almost 16.5 for film, and almost 25K for interactive

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