I spent the weekend attending my first ever SXSW interactive conference and left with countless stories and photos to share (typically in 140 character format).
But only when I got home to New York, did it become so clear to me how truly unfortunate the juxtaposition of SXSW parties next to the terrible tragedy unfolding in Japan appeared, most noticeably on Twitter.
To even call SXSW a conference is a bit narrow. Yes, there were panels and quite a few tweets about them, but I’d be willing to bet that a breakdown of panel vs. party tweets would be way heavy on the latter. The real action is at the parties.
And Twitter, whose breakout moment occurred at SXSW five years ago, is a great platform for party chatter (“tweet me if you can’t get past the door!” “THERE IS KARAOKE UPSTAIRS“), which was a major contributing factor to its very breakout. And now services like Foursquare and Hashable (breakouts ’09 and ’11, respectively), which feed to Twitter, amplify the parties even more.
One of many conversations I saw on Twitter calling out the SXSW/Japan juxtaposition was between @thecajunboy, a Yahoo! national affairs reporter, and The Atlantic’s@gabrielsnyder. These two (in my esteem) smarties also raised that the party tweeters were many of the same Twitter users they’d typically look to for breaking news, as well as the folks they’d expect to condemn such frivolous tweeting during a crisis. A fair point, but on the other hand–the entirety of Twitter is not wholly focused on Japan with the exception of team SXSW.
People are still tweeting about their baking escapades, non-Austin bar check-ins and the merits of Zach Galifianakis. Whenever there is a major tragedy, it’s to be expected that people have to go on with their lives, is it not? It’s not as if the New York Times were devoting A1 space to SXSW parties. The Twitter platform is a means of communication, too. It’s a little media; it’s a little social, no?
Is there not a way to segment tweets by topic that could solve this conundrum? I don’t know what the solution is, but I’d challenge Twitter to find it. I was at a party at a power plant on Sunday night in Austin, while at a nuclear plant in Japan, the threat of a meltdown was endangering thousands of lives. I wasn’t the only one who recognised how distasteful all the Foursquare check-ins must have looked to the partygoers’ millions of followers who weren’t there. Could Foursquare have quickly changed the venue name to just Nikon & Vimeo After Dark, and left off the whole power plant part?
Perhaps this is simply an idea for the giants of new media to noodle on, or a topic for a panel discussion at the next big Internet confab: how can we create channels or segmentation within social media that allow us to use them for all the possible ways they were designed or have become used for, without sometimes coming off like insensitive jerks?
When I turn on my TV (ok, Hulu player), I can opt to watch the news or something mindless like a reality show. Why can’t Twitter offer me the same opportunity to choose?