SXSW: Are You a Player Or a Fan?

At SXSW, there are really only two camps: players and fans. The players come to play. These are the musicians, actors, directors, promoters, press and the like. Fans come to watch the acts, have fun and judge.
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At SXSW, there are really only two camps -- players and fans. The players come to play. These are the musicians, actors, directors, promoters, agents, press and the like. Fans come to watch the acts, have fun and judge.

Telling the player from the fan is obvious in music and film. I saw John C. Reilly in the lobby of the hotel -- he wasn't rushing out to get to a panel to learn about trends in new American cinema. I saw rock musicians wearing sunglasses on the plane and stumbling out of their hotel rooms into the lobby at two in the afternoon. These aren't fans, these are players. You know them when you see them.

Interactive? Same rules apply, it's just harder to see it. But it's players and fans, just the same. Do you think Mark Cuban spent a whole bunch of time in Interactive panels? I just checked his Twitter feed and blog -- the answer is no. Check out any major keynote speaker or panelist leader's Twitter feed -- very little on panels other than their own, I'm sure. The rest is about the fun they're having.

This year, I came as a fan, and sought out experiences that I thought a fan should seek out. And I was actually kinda moved by a number of things I saw and did. Now, keep in mind that being a fan of technology means you're turned on by different kinds of things. So, as strange as it might sound to John C. Reilly, going to Circus Mashimus and seeing API demos was pretty awesome. Seeing Chris Messina whip out some new verbs and objects for the Atom syndication platform gets my heart racing a little, too. Equally exciting is finding out about new online tools, either within panels or in between them, like where you can listen to music based on a city and the bands that are playing there, which I only got to see because a friend sent me a message saying I should meet someone. So I did. Or Tap11, which provides back end analytics for Twitter. Or Dynamo, an embeddable player for providing micro-transactions right where a video is playing. Or even just admiring a ZeFrank social experiment or a Michel Gondry video. Sure, I'd seen it before, but you've heard The Shins before, too.

So, the correlation, as hard to relate to as it is, is there. But it gets all messed up, ironically, because of Twitter. Because of Twitter, the fans are acting like players. Everyone is involved in the medium while learning about the medium, using the medium to discus the medium. And it makes them feel like an expert and they make expert-ish comments to their followers. Could you imagine if everyone at a concert expressed their opinions on the band through instruments? Or if all movie-goers made movies of themselves watching the movie in order to convey their thoughts on the movie?

Twitter is also, while bringing people together, causing some problems. The art of long-form discussion is eroding. The audience is Tweeting during presentations and, in turn, panelists are checking on Tweets during their discussions. It can feel very twitchy and impersonal. I was at one panel that opted to take questions on Twitter, rather than speak directly to the audience. Which was only about 20 people. That's a miss. And, often, people are committed to a voice of skepticism on Twitter, like a persona, and so it is almost a responsibility to be critical.

But it's not totally necessary to engage in all of it - you can simply wait for critical mass, or until it appears on TechCrunch or NY Times or BuzzFeed or Switched. But that's where the technology and the music/movie industries meet back up -- you could wait until a song was on the radio, too. But then you're not in the action. You're not at SXSW. And where's the fun in that?

Clearly, the buzzword of the Interactive portion of SXSW was "curation." The buzzapps were Foursquare and Gowalla. The buzzfood was taco. The buzzparty was so full you couldn't get in. The buzz people were Mark Cuban and Danah Boyd. And the buzz reality is that everyone is a critic.

It appears that Interactive has reached the mainstream.

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