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Screw Monetization! It's All About Ethonomics at SXSW
[Photo: Flickr user Hiroyuki Hosokawa]


SXSW Interactive this year was all about ethonomics, or social media for social change. "How do we create a future we want to live in?" Danah Boyd asked in her keynote on "Privacy and Publicity in the Digital Age," based on her career's worth of astute investigations into young people's use of social media. She asked important questions about how changing norms of privacy (such as the Google Buzz "privacy fail") might affect an undocumented immigrant, a gay member of the military, or a woman fleeing a battered husband. Can online communities improve representation for marginalized groups and protect them at the same time?

Valerie Casey's keynote challenged the tech world to address sustainability through a systems thinking approach. (Jon Kolko of Frog Design is starting the Austin Center for Design to teach just that).

Ev Williams talked about Twitter partnering with 65 different cell-phone carriers to serve as an SMS news feed for the developing world, saying, "We've always held it important to make Twitter reach the weakest signals," and saying Twitter's number one goal was to "be a force for good" (hmm, sounds familiar!). There was practically an entire Haiti track featuring Cameron Sinclair of Architecture of Humanity and Andy Carvin of NPR, who talked about CrisisCamp, a wave of worldwide spontaneous hackathons for Haiti—volunteer, open-source geeks improving emergency response from afar through maps and apps.

Paul Rieckhoff of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America explained the social network he's building as a virtual VA.

Even at networking events and parties, almost everyone I met was working on an idea to improve democracy or education or sustainability. Casey Caplowe of GOOD magazine commented to me and Alissa Walker about the overwhelming feeling of convergence between his do-gooder worlds and the techy world.

At dinner last night I spoke to a popular blogger who recently lost her editorial job. She was bubbling over with enthusiasm for the next step. "Fuck monetization!" she said. "We're making a whole new world."

Was it all the free beer and tequila, or could "Social entrepreneurship" really become a redundant phrase? We'll find out when everyone gets back home. I know for myself I won't be pitching a story over the coming year without considering a company's or idea's broadest level of impact on the world.