SXSW Notes: Creating Building Blocks for Independents

Loose notes from SXSW 2006 session “Creating Building Blocks for Independents” with Tantek Celik of Technorati.

Overview summary of a handful of technologies / movements / sites that have provided powerful foundations for independent, bottom-up, independently run platforms.

Blogger: An ideal early example of allowing tools for non-experts to establish independence. And everything that flowed from toools like it (arguably, Blogger was not the first, but they were a great enabler).

Creative Commons: Publishing your content is one thing, but for anyone to re-use your content as a building block meant people had to contact you and ask permission. GPL was the opposite: No permission necessary. CC was somewhere between – a legal building block that allowed for re-mix/re-use without contacting anyone, but with stipulations as necesssary.

Wikis: Collaborating on a document through Word always means going through a single person to merge edits. Wiis mean this power is distributed – a significant difference.

IRC: – Declare a group and use instantly. How different from AIM, etc.? IRC is open, platform-independent. No registration needed. IRC uses very few network resources – very efficient.

Tags: No need to think about taxonomy. The cognitive load is taken off of adding information, because so easy. No need to check in with some library service to see what are the proper 10 keywords to use with your photos.

Microformats: Tantek helped found this. Most new technologies are designed by programmers for programmers. What does that mean to you if you’re a writer, or a designer? XSLT means nothing to you. What do content producers really do / need? People are already publishing structured information – chunks of data that are smaller than the whole page. What can be done with this? Microformats explores the possibiilities.

SuperHappyDevHouse: A geek hack-fest. Invite all your friends, everyone program on something. Leave your corporate ID at the door, get quick turnaround feedback on your code, in person. A lot of inspiration came from this.

Foo Camp: Tim O’Reilly’s camp/conference – 150 people/coders to hang out at ORA headquarters, bring their tents. ORA would supply power and WiFi, an empty grid, projectors. Let people figure out what to do with it, decide on and arrange the sessions themselves. A human wikipedia, in a wya. People hacked Segways. People wrote code. The “program grid” contained time slots, but everything empty – 100 session slots. A pile of markers. People decided what to do with the sessions. Completely decentralized.

Bar Camp (2005): Set up by Tantek and non-ORA people in response to Foo Camp. Six days before scheduled to begin, they registered the domain and set up an IRC channel. Synergy happened. Leaving only six days to plan ties perfectly into Jason Fried’s talk about the value of constraints. The meme caught on and Bar Camps popped up all around the world. People used the first wiki as a template and reproduced the unplanned human synergy. Creating building blocks : Of art, of process, of legal stuff, of code. Actual working groups came out of barcamp, such as cocoadevhouse, a rails group, etc. Just because it came out of the programmer’s community doesn’t mean it stays there — a Virginia Wolfe bar camp appearerd in Santa Cruz.

The more we can lower the barriers, lower the cost of time, lower the required planning involvement, cost of attendencee etc., the more evenly you can distribute independence.

What about the Bozo factor? A few difficult humans can ruin everything.

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