Blog Post
Aug. 23, 2010

The string of acronyms in the headline translates to “vote for New America’s panels for this year’s 2011 SXSW Interactive Conference.”

The Open Technology Initiativeand the Media Policy Initiative of New America have pulled together five stellar panels that cover a range of topics. From Open Government to Measurement Lab, we’re excited to bring these discussions to one of the largest Interactive conferences in the nation.

SXSWis a yearly conference held in Austin, Texas, which centers around music, interactive and movies. According to the website, the interactive portion “features five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders, an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new digital works, video games and innovative ideas the international community has to offer.” Sounds just like the place for our team to be.

This will personally be my third year at SXSW and if it’s anything like the past, it should be a whirlwind of an adventure. The vibe and energy of the conference mixed with a diverse range of people from all walks of life makes this a unique experience for anyone in attendance. A self-proclaimed veteran, I’m excited to see a more technical and more challenging crop of panel ideas this year and am hoping our submissions add substance to this year’s discussions.

We encourage everyone to peruse the listings, make comments and vote! And if you have a panel you’d like to recommend, let us know.

Measurement Lab is an open, distributed server platform for researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools to advance network research and empower the public with useful information about their broadband connections. More info @

Tools for Users: Many researchers are developing tools that allow users to test their broadband connections by briefly communicating with a server elsewhere on the Internet. This session will dig into M-Lab’s most popular open source measurement tools, showing even the most savvy of participants information they likely don’t know about their Internet connections.

Open Platform for Researchers: M-Lab assists scientific research by providing widely-distributed servers and ample connectivity for researchers' use. This session with review the open source software that makes up the platform, the operations software used to manage it, and show participants how they can build and engage in their own measurement platform.

Open Data for Everyone: All data collected via M-Lab is made available to the research community to allow researchers to build on a common pool of network measurement data. The session will end by showing participants how to access, interact, and analyze the Terra Bytes of data that the M-Lab platform has collected on the Internet via Amazon Web Services and Google BigQuery. We will show infographics and visualization reports of the data created by outside academic organizations and M-Lab partners.

It may start with open data, but it doesn’t stop there. This panel will address the need to provide not just open data, but better designed and communicated information ecosystems to empower and inform communities. Panelists will also discuss some of the challenges around community engagement once data is opened and in user friendly forms, and examples of efficacy around open data participation and engagement.

So far we have confirmed the following participants for this panel:

Sarah Schacht, executive director atKnowledge As Power

Donny Shaw, Blogger and Researcher, OpenCongress

DeAnne Cuellar, Exec. Director of theMedia Justice League

And we are working to secure another participant.

For decades, public policy discussions centered heavily around moral concepts, but as we’ve recently experienced, utilitarianism changes everything. Today policy questions aren’t analyzed in "moral" terms but in economic ones; across professions, even practices such as information sharing are subjected to cost/benefit analyses. While academics, government, journalists and researchers all have strong personal incentives to produce unique and original research, the importance of sharing the knowledge they produce remains paramount—no longer just for moral reasons, but also from an economic standpoint. Why does sharing make sense, and why should the government, universities, non-profits and research institutions alike institute policies that incentivize transparent and open information-sharing practices?

Almost two years after Obama’s directive to promote Open Government (Open Data) standards, we ask the following questions: 1) what are the most significant advancements made possible by this movement? 2) what have been some of the challenges in implementing and executing on the President’s call to action? 3) How are the private and public sectors working together to make this a possibility? 4) What other technical advancements lie in the horizon? This panel will explore the good, the bad and the “what’s next” for the Open Data movement.

We’ve been asking the same questions about digital activism for years now: Does digital technology give activists or repressive governments an advantage? Are these technologies actually changing the dynamics of political or social power or is it just hype? We’ve got cyber-utopians and cyber-pessimists, but are both overstating their cases? We’ve dissected siloed cases of digital activism to death—the Iranian Revolution, the No Mas FARC Facebook page, etc.—but have we developed any long-lasting frameworks? But it doesn’t seem like we’re getting any closer to the answers. What do we really know about digital activism anyway?

The reason we aren’t closer to answering these questions is that we’re stuck in lazy discourse and unwinnable ping-pong debates based on sets of contradictory narratives and messy comparisons across different contexts. We lack a standard for analysis, leaving us in a free-for-all where legitimacy is based mostly on the boldness of claims and the catchiness of neologisms. The goal of this panel is to move the discussion of digital activism in a direction that supports development of foundational knowledge...and eventually a bona fide field of discourse and study. We’ll spend some time constructively dissecting the current problems in how digital activism is discussed and debated and get right to the meat of what we really SHOULD be talking about in order to identify concrete ways to move the field forward.