Sunday at SXSW Interactive

I didn’t attend quite as many sessions today because I worked a booth on the trade show floor part of the time. Also, I cruised by the huge and wonderful Knowbility booth at the trade show to check out the competition my team has in the AIR Interactive accessible Web site redesign contest. My team worked on remaking singer Sara Hickman’s site. I’m proud of the fact that our four-person team produced a site that is beautiful, uses CSS layout, is accessible (even the Flash) and is comprehensive. Some of the other sites that were redesigned for the contest still have the old inaccessible site up on the Internet, so it is necessary to go by the Knowbility booth to see the new ones. After SXSW ends, I’m sure the entire list of reworked sites in the contest will be available on Knowbility’s Web site. Winners will be announced tomorrow night. If you are interested in accessibility in action, it would be worth your time to look at all ten of the sites, since about 40 professional Web folks went through Knowbility’s training and turned out these 10 accessible and beautiful sites during the contest.

The first session I attended today featured Virginia Postrel, a New York Times economics columnist. She is the author of The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness. Apparently the SXSW organizers thought there would not be much interest in her talk, because she was in a small room, but people crammed in and filled every available chair, wall and floor space to hear her talk about aesthetics and style. She didn’t say much about the Internet, but talked in extremely interesting but more general terms about aesthetics. She stated that there is an increasing awareness of aesthetics and an emphasis on the look and feel of people, places and things as an object of cultural value. A design becomes valued because it gives aesthetic pleasure and because it provides a way for people to express themselves. She said that with technology, the outside of something IS the thing, her example being computer chips. The chip is one thing, but then there is the thing the chip is in. So the outside aesthetics of the thing the chip is in become the thing. And because we seek novelty and notice the new as a natural human behavior, there is always pressure and competition to create new and more pleasing containers for our technology. She talked quite a bit about how novelty is an important aspect of design. I asked her if she thought that meant that Web sites should be redesigned regularly in order to keep people coming back. Her opinion was that the Web is still more about function, so redesigns should not be done unless functional systems from the previous design were maintained or made easier.

Another session I attended was called Moblog Nation and was about mobile Web logging, mostly from cell phones. People use their phones to email images and text directly to the Web on a blog. This new technology is not quite two years old. So far there is no ability to publish instantly from mobile to mobile, just from mobile to Web. The panelists were Mie Kennedy, Mike Popovic, Molly Steenson and Adam Greenfield. Because typing text using a phone or other email capable handheld is not easy, moblogs tend to be highly visual while still giving people a way to document events to the Web instantly.

The keynote for today featured Zack Exley and Eli Pariser of The duo was introduced by Texas political columnist Molly Ivins, who received a huge outburst of applause and general loud approval when she came in. Ivins commented that Move On has “almost single handedly put people back into politics.” Exley and Pariser were quite humble about their accomplishment with Move On and claimed to have accidentally tapped into people’s desire to create change, be involved and be politically active at the exact moment when the technology (chiefly email and databases) to make it easy was ready. Their first action to get petitions signed immediately after 9/11 resulted in hundreds of thousands of signatures on petitions within just a few days, and completely overwhelmed the server and web site that Pariser had put up in his desire to do something helpful after 9/11. Following that, they began the email and database work that has resulted in connections created between people and events like organizing candlelight vigils by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world in only five days from the first email to the actual vigils. And, of course, most everyone knows about the money Move On raised for the Dean campaign, which most pundits claim has changed the face of political fundraising forever.

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