Last day of SXSW Interactive 2014. Concluding wrap-up. Final swan song. So so sleepy.
This is going to be a short post because I, like many other techies, am headed to the airport. Attendees are lugging suitcases over people’s toes as they take seats at panels. The crowd is almost 100 percent hipster-music-groupie at this point, and I’ve counted only one Google Glass today.
The keynote was Chelsea Clinton. I’m not sure how they pick keynotes for SXSW Interactive but it sure as hell is an eclectic mix. Why are we listening to Chelsea Clinton at an event for the multimedia sector? Because people wanted to see more programming related to social good.
Biz Stone also had his panel, chatting with Steven Johnson, host of the new PBS show How We Got to Now. The conversation started normally, aside from an awkward introducer who nervously read a stock description of Jelly off her phone.
Johnson and Stone chatted about the collective organizing power of Twitter with Stone saying likening it to a flock of birds. “A bunch of individuals all of a sudden became one organism and then become individuals again,” Stone says. He reminisced on how spine tingling it was in the early days of Twitter to see how people used the technology in unexpected ways.
“Stuff was happening all around the world and Twitter was being mentioned with it whether it deserved it or not,” Stone says. “People were doing amazing things and they happened to be using Twitter to do it.”
But the solid talk quickly deteriorated into a weird PR plug — and not for Jelly. Interviewer Johnson started airing seemingly irrelevant clips from his PBS TV show, like shots of old-timey clocks and magnesium flash photography. Maybe I missed the transition but it was a jarring segue to nothing. I wasn’t alone, the Twittersphere voiced their complaints.
When will you talk about something relevant to Jelly instead of plugging this new show? #askbiz
— Jessica Coghan-Kia (@JessicaKia) March 11, 2014
— Holly Cardew (@hollyccc) March 11, 2014
— Chad Davis (@ChadTech) March 11, 2014
Soon after that, Twitter itself went down. As Stone and Johnson finally dug into discuss Jelly, its origins, the business model, and other details, the audience tuned out. Everyone around me was hitting refresh on their laptops, iPads, and cellphones, trying to get Twitter back up and running. After all, Twitter was where SXSW attendees were told to direct their questions to Biz via an #askbiz hashtag.
Oblivious to the twit-panic, Stone and Johnson carried on. Stone told the story of Jelly’s inception.
“My friend Ben Finkel and I were walking around and said, ‘What if we had to build a search engine today? Not just to search the collection of documents that is the Internet, but to search a system that could answer any question you put to it?’” Stone said. Their hope behind Jelly was to harness the power of people and networks, not just Internet pages, to query the world.
Whether Jelly succeeds in doing that — against formidable competitors in Quora, Google, Yelp, and Twitter itself — is debatable.
They wrapped up the presentation by answering softball questions from the crowd that were sent in via Twitter before the service suffered an outage. Twitter itself released a statement explaining the site went down due to a service update that had unplanned complications. It was back up and working as the crowd exited the Biz Stone talk.
At the same time as Stone’s presentation, Pando’s Cale Weissman ate cricket cookies at a panel on why bugs are the future of food.
Winner of the coolest pedicab of the day goes to the dude biking a Game of Thrones Iron Throne around. It’s paid for by HBO to advertise the upcoming fourth season, but still. It’s awesome and I wish I could have had a ride in it. Fast Company penned a post about it cleverly titled South by South Westeros.
Before heading out I grabbed coffee with Pandora co-founder Tom Conrad. He had just got into town last night. Pandora is one of those companies that straddles the divide between Interactive and Music at SXSW. In the past, Conrad has attended both but this year his feet is firmly planted in music. He says he’s gotten old enough that his body can’t do it all. It’s also representative of how Pandora itself has changed as a company. It’s no longer part of the scrappy startup world.
Keep an eye out for my Q and A with Conrad on Pandora’s SXSW evolution, coming sometime tomorrow.
That’s it for SXSW Interactive 2014. A flight awaits me.