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The latest from our team at South by Southwest in Austin

SXSW: Interactive Storytelling, By Everybody

Lots of folks have a story to tell. For generations, the only way to really find an audience was to get it published, have your work performed on the stage or (if you were really lucky) make it to radio, film or television.

That changed as the Internet became ubiquitous, and audiences began to develop for unique online content. Yet stories still stayed fairly linear, often being told through online serials, YouTube videos or audio narratives from public radio producers. Telling a story interactively often meant a co-collaboration between one or more writers, designers and a programmer or three who could translate the concept into an online application that was easy for people to use and explore. The technical hurdles inherent in the process made more complex projects difficult to build, and even then, viewing them often required special software or plugins such as Adobe Flash, which won’t work on iPhones and many other tablets and mobile devices.

(From left) Kara Oehler, Jesse Shapins and James Burns are building the Zeega open-web storytelling platform. (via news.harvard.edu)

A new non-profit endeavor is aiming to change that. Zeega is a new project that “enables anyone to create participatory projects that combine original content with photos, videos, text, audio, data feeds and maps via APIs [short for ‘application programming interfaces,’ systems that provide organizations a way to open up their data for others to use] from across the web.” Zeega, funded by grants from the Knight News Challenge and Harvard Library Lab, was started by journalist Kara Oehler along with Jesse Shapins and James Burns, all of whom worked on the ambitious Mapping Main Street project that chronicled life on Main Streets in towns across the United States.

Oehler, explaining Zeega’s origins in a SXSW Interactive session on Sunday, said the Main Street project led the team to ponder how collaborative, interactive projects could be made possible on smaller budgets, with less grueling schedules. The site will be built around the “open web” concept, using HTML5 to allow easier manipulation of multimedia content in a way that will work across all browsers and smart devices, and all within their online editing tool. In other words, creators won’t necessarily need to buy expensive software or require special browser add-ons for their work to be viewable – they can use Zeega’s platform to build the project from start to finish.

Zeega is still in “early alpha,” meaning under construction, but Oehler showed the SXSW audience a sample project created on the Zeega platform, and said new developments are forthcoming. In addition to their primary funders, the founders are also building a community of supporting organizations, including the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) and Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), to help the project grow.

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SXSW: Jay Z by Request

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Categorized Under: Music, South by Southwest

AUSTIN – Couldn’t make it down for SXSW this year? That doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of the show.

Tonight at 7, Jay Z will perform at the new ACL Live theater, which will be streamed on YouTube. It’s part of a promotion that American Express is doing.

On Saturday morning, AmEx distributed the tickets to SXSW badge holders. Of course, you had to have an AmEx card (check) but then you were also required to somehow link up your credit card account to your Twitter account. I’m sure that it’s all on the up and up, but I just had visions of tweeting out my account info and figured that probably wasn’t worth it.

If you want to take part in tonight’s show, tweet your request with #JAYZSyncShow and #SongTitle when you tweet. If your song is the most requested, he’ll perform it during the show. And for the pranksters out there – the details I’m reading don’t say specifically that it has to be one of his songs. So if you want to get a Twitter campaign going requesting “Tip Toe Through the Tulips,” well, who am I to stop you?

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SXSW: How To Design Simply

We all think about user interface more often than we realize. From our cell phone, to our DVR, to Facebook, or the parking garage kiosk we fight with leaving work each day, UI is everywhere – and has truly become a functional art form. And as we continue to add more devices and electronic gadgets into our circle of daily interactions the quality of that experience continues to grow ever more important.

Dave Hogue, October 2011 (Michael Clawson / Flickr)

User interface/experience is a topic that comes up again and again at tech conferences like SXSW Interactive. Last year, UK designers Cennydd Bowles and James Box gave an excellent presentation on how interaction design is like music. This year saw another outstanding presentation on the subject, this time from Dave Hogue, who heads up Experience Design at San Francisco interactive agency Fluid – but who came to the position from a successful (and still ongoing) academic career, with a doctorate and stint as professor of psychology at Xavier University in New Orleans.

Hogue built his talk around a specific premise: Complexity is easy, but simple is hard. As Bowles/Box mentioned last year, government forms are a great example – they get designed, augmented and stuffed to the gills with questions and explanations coming from multiple departments without anyone taking the time to make them easier to navigate. And it happens everywhere – whether it’s a website, a form or a brochure, too many stakeholders weigh in until the product is irreversibly cluttered.

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SXSW: Secrets of 'The Daily Show' Revealed

Rory Albanese

Rory Albanese, Executive Producer, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Eirik Helland Urke / (cc) Flickr)

AUSTIN – One of the hot panels at the Interactive portion of SXSW was one that focused on the confluence of the Internet, comedy and politics. With this being an election year, there is plenty of opportunity for those fields to intersect.

Among the panelists were a couple of comedians and Carol Hartsell, the comedy editor of the Huffington Post (cool job, huh?).

They talked about why comedy these days is largely the terrain of the left (short answer – there’s just more material emanating from the Republicans because of the never-ending nominating process) and how comedy affects the political process (it’s kind of the sugar that gets people interested and helps the medicine go down).

The star of the show was Rory Albanese – and with good reason. He’s the executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – the alpha and omega of political comedy. As anyone who watches The Daily Show knows, one of its calling cards is playing its near-nightly game of political gotcha.

“I think one of the things we’re very good at is pointing out absurdity and juxtaposing different moments in people’s political careers and saying, ‘Well, we have a video clip of you saying this from four years ago and here you are today saying it this way’,” Albanese told me as we talked for a few minutes after the panel.
And that begs the question that I imagine lots of frequent watchers of The Daily Show probably wonder – How are they able to dig up all of those ancient clips?

Albanese says there are a couple of ways. First, if you work for the show, there’s an unwritten rule that you’re a news junkie – if you’re sitting on the couch at home, you’d best be watching those Sunday morning news talk shows and taking notes. And yes, there are people on staff whose job it is to take in all that CSPAN footage when they know something of note is being debated.

But the real secret weapon the show uses is software that enables producers to search the closed captioning of these shows for keywords and phrases. When they find what they are looking for, they can cut straight to the important part and skip all of the blabber.

And now you know how the sausage is made.

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SXSW: The End of LCD Soundsystem

AUSTIN – This year, I’m doing my best to hit as many of the music documentaries as possible. With films on Bob Marley, Ginger Baker, hip-hop and the L.A. riots and the Sunset Strip music scene, there are just too many intriguing ones not to.

Saturday night offered up the one I’d maybe been most excited about: Shut Up and Play the Hits. The film is a Last Waltz-esque look at LCD Soundsystem’s final concert at Madison Square Garden. For those in need of a quick LCD primer, the New York dance band released three albums, culminating with 2010’s critically acclaimed This Is Happening. Then, in a move that only Barry Sanders would understand, the band’s leader, James Murphy, announced that LCD was calling it quits after one final gig.

Shut Up and Play the Hits follows Murphy just before that final show and during the day after as he starts to come to terms with the idea that it’s all over. (In between, we get lots of footage of the actual concert. Kudos to co-directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace for capturing the event in brilliant HD and letting complete songs play out.) We see him wake up, still wearing his tuxedo shirt from the night before. He makes coffee and takes his dog for a walk before hopping on the subway. Part of his thinking in ending the band is going out on top. But also part of the mix is a desire to be able to live like everyone else. From what we see in the film, it looks as if it’s mission accomplished on both fronts.

But there’s a third element to Murphy’s decision. Most of the talking he does comes from an interview he did with Chuck Klosterman close to that final show. And while Murphy doesn’t have quite the ego to come out and say it, the idea he leaves you with is that, at 41, he feels like he’s got lots of other great things to do in his life. They just might not necessarily be in music.

Shut Up and Play the Hits screened in the space that for years was occupied by a Spaghetti Warehouse.  It’s been converted into a dance-club setup with multicolored LED lights surrounding the room. And it’s also got the stacks and stacks of speakers you’d find in a dance club, making this the first movie I’ve ever been to during which I really wished I had earplugs. (In fairness, LCD’s music isn’t something you light a candle and listen to.)

Directors Southern and Lovelace said after the film that they were working on a four-hour cut that included all of the concert with a plan to show it at dance clubs. If you’re a fan, I’d suggest you see it. Because unlike, say, the Eagles or Van Halen, LCD Soundsystem doesn’t sound like a band that’s going to have a hard time calling it a career.

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SXSW: 'Steal Like An Artist'

“Good artists copy; great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso, via Steve Jobs

Austin Kleon - 'Steal Like An Artist'Where do artists draw the line between creation and theft? Does there really need to be a line at all?

These questions formed the basis of an intriguing conversation Saturday morning at SXSW Interactive between Kirby Ferguson, a Brooklyn filmmaker whose “Everything Is a Remix” web video series explores how mashup culture has been around for much longer than some might think, and Austin Kleon, an author from Austin whose new book Steal Like An Artist covers similar themes.

Ferguson contends that the creation of art is surrounded by near-epic myths about divine inspiration, mad genius and magic, when in fact it’s often a messy process of learning by imitation. He breaks down the process into three basic elements: Copy, transform and combine. History is chockablock with great creators who started by simply repeating works that inspired them; through this repetition they gained the vocabulary to begin transforming these imitations into something more unique, and then finally mastered the domain enough to try combinations with other concepts or ideas.

Klein, who admits to being forgetful enough about artistic inspirations that he keeps an AquaNotes pad in his shower to get ideas written down before they disappear, takes a similar view: Good work can be derivative, as long as it still retains the power to be transformative (and comes from a single individual or co-collaboration rather than committee).

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SXSW: Finding Like Minds, Via an App

@vlucio (via Twitter)

The KERA/Art and Seek crew has hit the road – some of us, anyway – and headed to Austin for the next week or so, just in time for the annual South by Southwest confab. First up is SXSW Interactive, kicking off this afternoon with panels, roundtable sessions and a ridiculous registration backup (right) likely due to the rush into the Austin Convention Center after rain and hail began pelting central Austin during the late-morning hours.

Every year, pundits make their picks for the piece of technology that will be the breakout of that year’s conference. In 2007, it was Twitter, and two years later, it was Foursquare that got much of the buzz – and both have proved their staying power among mobile users in the ensuing years.

This year, Mashable took a look at which new product might be this year’s hit, and one of their picks could have cultural impact: Highlight allows mobile users to detect who around them has similar interests, by using GPS and Facebook connectivity to find like matches. At a music festival like 35 Denton, users could easily find people near them who love certain bands or singers; at an visual arts symposium, artists could more easily be able to identify others in attendance who dabble in their chosen medium. Another app called Sonar that is being talked about at this year’s SXSW works in a similar fashion.

Is the concept invasive? Maybe. Will this auto-generated connector supplant traditional ways people come together over shared interests? Probably not. However, the apps that explore this concept have been generating interest online, and you may soon hear more about them from connected friends.

Check Art&Seek throughout the coming week for plenty of SXSW coverage, including film dispatches from Stephen Becker and much more.

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The Big Screen: 'Friends With Kids,' Previewing SXSW

This week, Art&Seek’s Stephen Becker and Dallas Morning News movie critic Chris Vognar discuss Friends With Kids, which stars Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt as platonic friends who decide to have a baby together. Also, we preview the film portion of SXSW. Be sure to subscribe to The Big Screen podcast on iTunes. Stream this week’s podcast below or download it.

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Monday Morning Roundup

A GENEROUS GUEST: On Friday, Alec Baldwin stopped by the Winspear Opera House to talk about his life and career. And as any well-mannered guest knows, when you’re invited somewhere, you don’t show up empty-handed. So Baldwin announced that he is issuing a challenge grant – for every dollar up to $25,000 donated to the AT&T Performing Arts Center, he will match it. Got your checkbook out? Here are the details.

BEHIND THE MUSIC: Million Dollar Quartet opens Tuesday night at the Music Hall at Fair Park. The musical recounts the famed night when Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis hung out at Memphis’ Sun Studios, producing an iconic picture. The man running the boards in that studio was Sam Phillips, who is played in the show by Denton native Chris Grant. He talks about Phillips’ place in music history and what it was like performing the show in Memphis in an interview with theaterjones.com.

HEADING SOUTH: I’m just getting around to picking through the SXSW music lineup, which begins in, oh, about 10 days. But our local music writers are on top of it, offering 10 North Texas acts to catch and an update on a Fort Worth booking agency that will be highly visible.

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Thursday Morning Roundup

PACKING ‘EM IN: When I visited the Dallas Museum of Art the other day for a lunch meeting, I saw something at the museum I’d never seen before in all my trips there: the very end of the parking garage. And this was at noon. On a Tuesday. The reason, of course, is that people are still turning out in droves for “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.” The show closes this next weekend, so the crowds will probably only increase. But there is good news – the museum has extended the exhibition’s hours, keeping it open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. next Friday-Sunday (Feb. 10-12).

SXSW FILM: The complete lineup for the film portion of SXSW has been released. Predictably, the revamped 21 Jump Street will premiere there, as will documentaries about everyone from Jeffrey Dahmer to Ginger Baker. But I’m already lining up for America’s Parking Lot, which follows two die-hard Cowboys fans in the last year of Texas Stadium.

FORT WORTH’S NEW STUDIO: Downtown Fort Worth is getting a cool new addition – a recording studio. The space is the brainchild of Will Hunt, a producer who’s worked with everyone from Evanescence to Burning Hotels. Hunt tells fwweekly.com the decision was pretty simple – he and his wife have lived in the city since 2004, and this just another way of putting down deeper roots. The space should be open this summer.

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