Several of the topics I was interested in at SXSW Interactive this year were set up in what they called the “Core Conversations” format. The (good) idea appears to have been round table discussions among colleagues, rather than an audience being spoken to by panelists. I really like that idea. However, the execution left me less than satisfied and, if you were following me in Twitter one day you saw, sometimes quite frustrated.
The tables were all in one big room, with different topics being discussed at each, and there were usually way more people interested in the topic than would fit at a table. So, you ended up with concentric circles about four people deep around each table and a cacophony of conversations bouncing around the room. It made it hard to hear anyone speaking that was not within three feet of you.
That said, I returned to that room several times because I really did want to participate in these conversations. The first one I attended explored status symbols in social media worlds and was facilitated quite well by PhD candidate Alice Marwick. We talked about how every community, from your kid’s school PTA to Amazon, has a hierarchy. In every different internet community, there’s some way to measure status and the measures are often very different from each other. As some people seek more friends or followers to increase their status, others take pride in the number of such requests that they turn down.
We also talked about microcelebrity and how Internet celebrity doesn’t really translate into other arenas of fame. One blogger, Kathryn Finney, shared how after appearing on television, she suddenly had a new group of people that connected with her and how that group didn’t really connect with her original online fans. I know I’ve often noticed that when I mention someone like Robert Scoble to my friends or family that aren’t as into the web as I am, they have no idea who I am talking about.
I was amazed and a bit disappointed at the number of people in the group who said they came to SXSW to meet people like Scoble who are “internet famous”, rather than coming to learn about emerging technology. But, as the group seemed to agree, social networking tools have moved much faster than our social skills. And there remains some innate human desire to not only be famous, but to also be near those who are.