Today I attended the 4th annual > Play conference, which is sponsored by the Digital Media and Entertainment Club of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. Last year I volunteered for it a bit, but couldn't attend during much of the day (I can't remember why.) This year I nabbed an early volunteering shift (6-9 AM!), which allowed me to catch the entire conference.
I almost always attend librarian-oriented conferences, or at least conferences that are broadly in the library space. (I'll be going to two next week, at the SPARC Digital Repositories Conference and a Society for Scholarly Publishing seminar where I'll be speaking.) > Play is a unique chance to go to something completely different, while still getting a glimpse at how people are creating and accessing multimedia content and information. So in the end it is all connected.
1. Biz Stone, one of the co-founders of Twitter, gave the opening keynote. I've written before about my resistance to using Twitter, which arises because I don't want to become attached to another tool that will fritter away my amazingly short attention span. And these days I'm more apt to comment on people's Facebook statuses than I used to be (people sometimes post these via Twitter). This is a lightweight form of twittering. And I like how the status comments are contextualized within whatever else people are putting on their Facebook page, rather than being part of a separate Twitter stream of brief comments.
So I'm a hard sell.
But with that said, Stone made a very convincing case for the usefulness of Twitter. Some examples: faster updates about natural disasters than the Associated Press can provide, as people provide real-time information via their Twitter feed; and immediate tracking of people's reactions to Presidential debates, as people record their reactions to what is being said.
A few days ago I wrote about Google Flu Trends, which tracks flu spread using spikes in Google search terms about the flu. It occurred to me that a "Twitter Flu Trends" could be just as powerful, maybe more so because of the more individualized information people would provide about their experiences (Google search terms are anonymous, one hopes, except by IP address.) Afterwards I asked Stone about this, and he immediately enthused about how the Twitter data would be so much better than the Google data. This might be true, but--of course--a small fraction of people are on Twitter compared to Google. So the objective observer (that's me) notes that a "Twoogle Flu Trends" is the best of all possible worlds; it combines the specificity of Twitter data with the scale of Google.
2. The TV panel featured people who, in various ways, are trying to push the boundaries of television content distribution. Most panelists endorsed the view that content is king, and that people will become less loyal to any given network. But an audience member challenged that, by pointing out that NBC's Hulu is a very popular web portal. I agree with the audience member. The panelists, although great, were on the "bleeding edge" and not really representative of everyday people. This is a general hazard of going to tech conferences. Lee Lefever of Common Craft blogged eloquently about this problem a few months ago.
3. The "social connection" panel offered an opportunity for the already somewhat tired debate about whether social networks (Facebook et. al.) are bad for in-person, in real life relationships. I have drunk the Facebook kool-aid in copious quantities, because this question irritates me.
Yes, if someone stays at home all day reading Facebook status updates, their life will be somewhat narrow. But such a person wouldn't have many Facebook friends anyway. I've found that the little nuggets people reveal about themselves on Facebook, which they are not apt to communicate in other ways, usually enrich rather than diminish relationships.
4. The final event of the evening was a demo by Ribbit, a Silicon Valley company that transcribes voice mails to text so you never have to check voice mail again. Plus, you can search the text later. This is pretty useful, but one thing about voice mail is that you can hear people's intonation and can tell if they are happy, joking, or upset. Right now the transcript is lacking any of these cues; to be fair, this is a really hard problem. But I'm not going to hop on over to Ribbit just yet. I actually like listening to voice mail!
After all that I went home. There were drinks to drink, but after waking up before 5:00 AM I was pretty tired. Despite the fatigue, I am very glad I went to > Play.