SXSW Interactive has grown so much in the last decade, it feels harder to sort out what to go to and what to skip, but this year I feel there are a few that are ones that can't be missed:
Africa 3.0: A Look at the Future of a Connected Africa: To most people, Africa conjures up images of starving children, savage wars and greedy brutal dictators. But there is another view of Africa, the Africa of Isak Dinesen, once best summed up in a quote I once read that Africa, once you have been there, gets under your skin and you never forget it. But, honestly, most of this is just romantic tripe. Africa is an entire continent, with many cultures, many languages and many different levels of affluence. What everyone there shares is a lack of communication with the larger world that the other four or five continents (even leaving out Antarctica, which gets tied to the rest of the world due to the fact it's residents are Western scientists with satellite connectivity), that has to change in order for it's 1 billion people to become a part of this brave new world we are to believe we are constructing in the tech industry. While not everyone has access to a computer or internet access (regular electrical service would be required for a computer, and I can point to live journal entries I wrote while in Sierra Leone from what I viewed as a shed with a generator), the cost of a cell phone, with the money to buy more minutes for that phone and electricity from a generator for enough time to power that phone is not outside of the reach of as many people as less portable technologies. People there deserve the same access to the global flow of information as the rest of humanity, and focus on mobile technology as well as the first high speed line into the continent will change the future for many people there. I would like to hear about these plans and am curious, as a traveler whose travels once took her to West Africa, to see where the plans are being laid and how.
Nina Hartley: Porn Star, Sex Educator, Social Networker: I'm a resident of the city she got her start in, a friend of sex workers, and a personal fan of her style. As she has worked in the adult industry for over twenty-five years, I would love to hear her views on not only how the web has changed the adult industry, but how the recent changes in the web -- social networking and now video sites -- have changed both the industry, in profitability, interaction with fans and social perceptions of adult entertainment.
Migrating to Cloud Architectures and Its Best Practices (Jinesh Varia, Amazon Web Services): I'm hoping this year's cloud computing panel will be a little more technology-centric than the 2009 cheerleader session of cloud computing as the wave of the future. I know the guys on last year's panel were capable of more. This year, I'd like to see more actual details of not only the advantages of cloud computing, but actual discussions of data security, migration issues and even perhaps the mundane issue of cost differentials. The devil is in the details, and, if I were the owner of a start-up, I think it would take more than last year's panel to convince me that this would be the better choice for my company's crucial infrastructure.
Is Canvas the End of Flash? - why did Steve Jobs and Apple leave Flash out of the iPad? Despite the new device's poorly-chosen moniker, Jobs has many times over been proven to be a prophet of future technological behavior and maybe he's onto something here and I'm curious to see what others have to say.
Can You Copyright a Tweet? - possibly one of those honestly million-dollar questions. While many things on Twitter are often mindless drivel, one can often find some very quotable quotes on there. Who does the tweet belong to anyway?
Duh... It's Like Tech for Girls - this panel has a lamentable title, but I sympathize with a few of the proposed questions. I've been a sysadmin, and I can't rack a super-sized Sun server without help from a couple of guys in a data center. It's not because I don't know how the technology works, but it's obviously designed for people with more upper-body strength than I'll ever have, no matter how much I like the design of a Sun server (one has to admire quality machining, an attribute often lacking in their cheaper-made Dell cousins, and possibly a subtle point lost on the modern world), they aren't designed for me to handle. I'm curious, but hoping this doesn't turn into some grrrl power nonsense that was outdated when Bikini Kill broke up.
Can the Real Time web be Realized?. Google is the master of the search engine, and presumably if anyone has a stake in the future of search (and thus their own survival), it has to be them. I want a listen to what someone has to say and see if the real-time web is just another far off dream or something that will start showing up more than in just a few bits on a google search I make. Real-time search, in particular on mobile devices, stands to replace, and for many people already has replaced, the radio as the primary source of needed up-to-date information such as weather and traffic. Strangely, this seems to be the only panel on the topic.
Beyond Algorithms: Search and the Semantic Web. I really want to know if semantic search is a threat to google (I say that with all respect, because I have worked as an ontologist) but algorithms have worked so far, so why do we need to change it? I've always been curious about Nova Spivack's views on the power of semantic search and what it will take for it to realize the potential he believes it to have.
2009 Iran Election: Women's Revolution? Twitter Revolution?. Again, there has to be a better title for this panel. But the Iran protests last summer and the fact the rest of the world got the news via twitter was the first thing that made me think more highly of twitter beyond Ashton Kuchner's popularity stats and some of the mundane ideas for marketing using twitter being tossed around sxsw last year. So, again, it's curiosity that draws me -- the impact of a more interconnected world world via social networking I personally would hope would allow for the greater freedom of the individual to toss out a bad government (oh do I remember the first true savoring of modern technology and news when my roommate in Berlin got a text from a friend in DC in November 2006 of Rumsfeld's resignation). The news traveled instantly and one could hear whoops and hollers from every American expat in Berlin. Despite the bad results (such as recent riots in Nigeria due to rumors spreading via text message), something that draws humanity closer together cannot be altogether bad.
Hope to see all of you at SXSWi this year. - Jana