SXSW: Wrap-up

Leaving SXSW I think I noticed two major themes at the conference this year:

Software development. Jason Fried’s talk on small teams set the tone here. Get close to your users, start building the real thing early, and keep it small so you can change easily. In “How to Inform Design”, Jeffrey Veen took part of that one step further. Instead of user-centered design, he strives for self-centered design. If you become the user, you’ll know how to build it.

Thinking about software development approaches — especially when they take an extreme position — is useful to me because you can take those statements and stamp them onto past successes or failures to see whether there is any connection. Many interesting work conversations followed.

Metadata. Tags, folksonomies, and the lowercase semantic web. There were at least four sessions on this topic, from Eric Meyer’s introduction on XHTML-based microformats to the panel of RDF skeptics lead by Matt Haughey. These problems are hard to solve. When I was originally interested in an internet of rich metadata it never occurred to me that the solution might come from the grassroots, a virtual community of taggers bringing structure with nothing more than keywords and a few smart pieces of software.

Ultimately it’s a UI issue. Flickr and are successful because they make it easy and provide a clear incentive (the ability to find things again). Other distributed metadata initiatives are simple to use because they work within the existing web we know (XHTML and URLs), but we still need applications that will provide that same incentive for users to care. Maybe Rubhub is a start.