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The Seattle Interactive Conference: Jacob Caggiano reports

Journalists have always covered the tech industry as a section of the newspaper, but now, due to the personal media explosion, the very existence of the trade is dependent on conversations and decisions that happen at events like this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference.

About Jacob

Jacob Caggiano writes about his “healthy obsession” with communicating online, and more, at  He has worked with innovative groups like the Knight-Mozilla Partnership, Journalism that Matters, and the Washington News Council. He helped create the Seattle Journalism Commons, and co-organized the 2011 Open Video Conference in New York City.

#SIC2011 had many of the same trimmings as the now messianic #SXSWi (South By Southwest Interactive). The obligatory cute cartoon logos, fancy afterparties, overt corporate sponsorship, installation exhibits, free marketing schwag, and custom smartphone app were all part of the $300+ ticket, a tad steep for your average journalist trying to get a bite on how to stay alive.

So how does this deliver in terms of fulfilling the “information needs of a community?”

First let’s talk mobile. “Social/Local/Mobile” #SoLoMo was the expression I picked up from Jason Karas of Seattle startup Trover, who put up some interesting stats on rapid mobile adoption:

  • 350 million people are using Facebook through their phones
  • 4 billionTwitter posts come from phones each month (maybe not all through smartphones)
  • 1 billion photos are shared through phones each month (not clear if this is the entire web, or just social media)
  • 1 billion Foursquare checkins have been logged to date

What’s more interesting is the motivation behind the SoLoMo phenomenon. The Location Based Marketing Association has research that breaks down the motivations of early adopters:

  • 54% want Discounts/Coupons
  • 33% want to meet friends
  • 32% want to learn about the location
  • 30% want to promote the location
  • 38% want to participate in games/contests/receive badges, e.g. become a “Mayor”

The premise behind Trover is to tap into the human desire to discover and share discoveries, not by means of text reviews and pins on a map (Yelp and Foursquare), but through a rich photographic experience.

My question to Jason was, how can Trover enable journalists and citizens alike to break stories and receive critical information in their communities?

He agreed on the importance of this notion, and noted that they are working on an algorithm behind the scenes that can push noteworthy photos and content based on number of views, shares, and “thanks.”

Draw-vatars from Filter Digital at Seattle Interactive Conference

Draw-vatars from Filter Digital sketch out first digital memories, as suggested by those passing by.Photo by Jacob Caggiano.

Part two of my question was how to break critical content out of the walled garden and make sure people across the rest of the web can see it. Right now the strategy is to allow sharing on Facebook and Twitter, which is helpful, though a truly open standard data protocol like RSS, JSON, Odata, etc. would yield more amazing potential as far as rich mashups and robust archives that are accessible by researchers and the general public. It’s touchy however, as privacy, data portability, and intellectual property add complexity to the mix. Plus the financial incentives of keeping people locked into your company’s platform need to be balanced with the public need of having accessible data in a variety of formats and devices.

Another cool mobile tool that was demoed is called Echoer, which has a really neat lava lamp style interface of thought bubbles that are easy to sort through. I only caught a quick impression, but it seemed like a more malleable version of Twitter. Slick interfaces are one thing, but journalists need ways to get data in and out quickly and easily, and more scenario testing needs to be done to see how feasible it is to push things out to the masses in a smooth meaningful way.

I’ll provide more insights in the second part of my report, but let me sign off now by mentioning two other tools which got shout outs at the conference.

Summify — based in Canada, Summify got mentioned by Mike Davidson of Newsvine as a way to surface nuggets within the muck of your information feeds. It sorts your Google, Facebook, and Twitter feeds, analyzes which links are most popular among your friends,  and provides a top 10 summary. Interestingly, Mike also mentioned an idea that was pitched at Ben Huh’s Moby Dick gathering at Stanford, which is a sort of “Anti-Summify.” It can fight filter bubble syndrome by summarizing which important stories you or your friends didn’t pick up on.

Evri — A monster aggregator of ~15,000 feeds for the iPad (only) and soon available on the Chrome browser (only). Evri has a beautiful way of letting you thumb through the news and keep track of your favorites through Instapaper or Read it Later.

Were you at #SIC2011? What are your thoughts on the path we’re headed? How do you see the needs of journalists and the public balancing with the demands of the industry and marketers?