Highlights from South by Southwest

March 15, 2011 By Aminda

For those unable to attend the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas this week, here are a few notable quotes and highlights. The five day conference is the largest technology/Internet conference in the United States, features a trade show, networking events and an extensive educational program.

 Rebooting Iceland

A YouTube clip shares highlights from an inspiring panel of young Icelandic visionaries who have been part of a citizen group working to shape a new national constitution for the country recovering from a 2008 economic collapse. The process started in 2009, when a group of 1,500 citizens, representing a subset of voices from the entire nation, convened for a day. The event, based on Agile methods and crowdsourcing theory, resulted in a coherent set of values, vision and ideas. A second assembly was held in 2010 as a preparatory step in the development of a new national constitution. Inspired by open-source processes and leaning heavily on social media technologies, these citizens are rapidly prototyping new forms of democracy utilizing the web and open innovation. They are rethinking Iceland’s role in the world; determined for the country to be seen not only a tiny island but as a new developer of democracy.

 Innovation Motivation

In a session titled “Is Crowd-sourcing the Enemy of Innovation?” Moderator Robson Grieve, president of Creature asked a panel how to deal with the fact that open innovation, “flies in the face of corporations owning things”. Panelist Polly LaBarre, co-founder of Fast Company, answered, “If we help other people win, we win too.” It’s not a zero sum game. Companies can figure out ways to win together.

Jeff Howe, credited with coining the term “crowdsourcing, added that “the architecture of intellectual property hasn’t changed from the Industrial Revolution to the Information Age. There’s a younger demographic that is sees intellectual property differently from the prior generation.”

 The Future of Google

Marissa Mayer, Vice President of consumer products at Google spoke about Google’s latest tool, Hotspot, which allows users to rate places and provide recommendations. She also gave a sneak peak at how Google plans to expand upon this location technology.Contextual discovery”, would allow for smarter search results and better answers to questions. Mayer gave the example of a SxSW attendee that saw a bird outside and wanted to know what it was, Google could use the contextual information that they were in Austin and it’s March, to narrow down the possibilities.

“Structured recommendations” pull recommendations from a user’s social network to provide subjective judgments. For instance, if your phone knows you’re in an ice cream shop, and Google Hotspot has a lot of reviews of that shop, you could search for a term like “what kind of ice cream should I order” and the system would know to tell you “to try the mexican vanilla with strawberries.”

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