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Top three tech trends at SXSWi 2010

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Realtime web + location-aware apps = Awesome

Unless you were hiding under a rock (no doubt driven there by the sheer volume of tweets tagged #sxsw), you will have noticed the power of the realtime web and location-aware applications. This double act has been a darling of the tech world for a while, but its true awesomeness didn't really hit home for me until last week. As The Next Web noted, as more web apps make the leap to mobile, all other services will be features of location, just as video and photo sharing are features of social media today.

Privacy is not a binary issue

Which brings us to the thorny issue of striking a happy balance between sharing one's lifestream with others while maintaining one's privacy. danah boyd's opening remarks on privacy and publicity can been seen on YouTube or you can read the transcript at her site. And of course, this is SXSW, so you also have the option of a hip-hop recap and a visual note:


Game mechanics FTW

Possibly the best session for me was Kickstarter founder Andy Baio's talk "Gaming the Crowd: Turning Work Into Play", which focused on how game mechanics can be woven into business applications to make otherwise dull tasks more engaging and, well, fun.

Switched has a good post on the talk, and you can see tweet-by-tweet coverage on Jason Wojciechowski's ScribbleLive blog.

The big lesson here is that you can get people to do almost anything if you turn the process into a game.

As Baio said, "Even though you know you're being manipulated, doesn't change the fact that the game is fun."

You could use that power for good - as games developer Jane McGonigal noted in her recent TED Talk on online gaming to improve the real world - or you can use it for evil, as demonstrated by now notorious auctions site Swoopo.


(Image courtesy of

Looking back at SXSWi 2010

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One week on, the dust has settled, the air miles and carbon emissions have been racked up, the bacon grease is sitting comfortably in those arteries and SXSW 2010 is over. How was it for you?

I went to Austin as a SXSW n00b, expecting something spectacular. I was disappointed. I've been reliably informed that this is the general n00bish experience, and that if I go again, my overall appreciation of the event will be much improved. Or my expectations lowered. Something along those lines, anyway.

For this first trip to SXSWi I joined the Digital Mission funded by UKTI which gives UK companies in the tech space a helping hand in exploring and expanding into new business markets.

This year the UK tech scene was represented by (deep breath) Amberlight, Audioboo, Blueleaf Digital, Brainient, Codegent, Codility, Cube Interactive, Face Group, FreshNetworks, GigLocator, Howard Baines, Illumina Digital, KMP Digitata, Likecube, Little World Gifts, Littleloud, Mendeley, Mobilized, MOFILM, Moonfruit, MusicMetric, Nsyght, oneDrum, Orange Bus, PageDo, Pixeco, Plug-in Media, Qhub, Rummble, Silence Media, Skimlinks, Slicethepie, Smidgn, SubHub, TweetJobs, UberVu, Vibio, Videojuicer, Wolfstar and WorldTV.

For these companies, and for the thousands more that were represented, SXSW was a massive networking opportunity. As with any big event like this, most of the action happened outside of the conference programme, at the parties and on the trade show floor.

At this point, I'd intended to include some video shot on my trusty Kodak Zi8. However, as nifty as the Zi8 is, it makes no allowances for people who accidentally delete their footage in the brainfog of jetlag. to the rescue!

See more at the Digital Mission blog.

I tried to make the most of the panels and conference sessions, but honestly, there was just too much choice. It seems the SXSW organisers prefer a hit-and-miss approach to quality control. It keeps you on your toes - or rather, your feet, as you're constantly hopping between sessions to find something worth listening to. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't.

One panel to pique my interest was What Guys are Doing to Get More Girls in Tech. And you can find out more about that over on Computer Weekly's WITsend blog, and finally, there'll be a report on this blog later today about the top three tech trends I spotted in Austin.


Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the Web (past, present and future)

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sir-tim-berners-lee.jpg What if you weren't using the Web to read this blog post? What if you were using the Mesh? That's not as outlandish as it might sound: the father of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, considered calling his invention 'the Mesh' and only ruled the name out because it "sounds like a bit of a mess".

That's something I found out last night when I attended a talk by Sir Tim at the Science Museum, here in London. The talk was part of the museum's centenary celebrations - and it's birthday cake all round because while the Science Museum is 100, the Internet has recently turned 40. The Mesh Web, meanwhile, is not quite out of its teens.

Some other snippets from the talk:

  • According to Sir Tim, there are 1x1011 Web pages in existence - "but I didn't count them", he promises. It's no surprise, then, that "technical properties that make it scale" are so important to the Web.

  • "The value-add of the Web is serendipitous reuse" - and to that end, it should be a place "where information can go no matter what its status".

  • Sir Tim on the early days of the Web: "What I look back on is the fun that it was, the spirit that everybody had." So is this spirit - of creative collaboration - intrinsic to the Web? No, says Sir Tim: after all, "the Web is a reflection of humanity". That means the bad as well as the good.

  • What about the question of paid-for content on the Web? As a journalist, I was particularly interested in the answer to this one. Sir Tim recognises that "the content industry is going through a huge change" and he has identified a "crying need for professional, high-quality, edited information". The real challenge, he believes, is making sure that people can find it. Perhaps the solution is to mark up information as 'written by a professional', 'an eye-witness report', 'not Photoshopped' - or whatever the case may be.

  • And so to the future. As well as his work with the World Wide Web Foundation, Sir Tim hopes to use the Web to create a "Domesday Book snapshot of the environmental state of the planet" which can then act a baseline to track change. And he made a final plea to the audience: "If you have any environmental data, stick it on the Web. You have a duty to make it available."

The slides from Sir Tim's talk are available on the W3C website.

Photo courtesy of Rex Features.

Mumbai attack - outsourcing impact

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Is India still regarded as a safe place for offshore call centres and software development? Following the attacks in Mumbai today, which targetted UK and US citizens, the two biggest India stock markets have shut down. The Foreign Office has recommended people avoid travelling to India unless absolutely necessary.

A representative of leading Indian outsourcer, Tata Consulting Services, told Computer Weekly he has just cancelled his trip to Mumbai due to the attack.

What do you think? How safe is outsourcing to India, given the current climate.

And will you be cancelling your travel plans to India? If so let us know by adding a comment to this blog.

We have pulled together a Twitter feed for latest updates from Mumbai terrorist attacks - see below.

Social networking in business at Gartner Symposium - live blog on Tuesday 4 Nov, 4 pm GMT

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Join Cliff Saran on Tuesday 4 November, 4pm, for live coverage from the Social networking in business session at the Gartner Symposium in glamorous Cannes.

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