Jim Carroll

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SXSW 2012: sorry, I have no business cards

Leagues O’Toole on why networking is not for him Ask any delegate what is the worst thing about SXSW and they will, nine times out of ten, tell you it’s the lines, the constant queuing, queuing in one line with …

Thu, Mar 15, 2012, 08:00


Leagues O’Toole on why networking is not for him

Ask any delegate what is the worst thing about SXSW and they will, nine times out of ten, tell you it’s the lines, the constant queuing, queuing in one line with the hope that it’ll mean you can queue in a slightly shorter line that evening. Queuing for gigs, films, panels, food, drink, registration, wristbands, passes, toilets. Queuing for queues. Queuing to get in, queuing to get out. When I get back to my hotel room at night I sometimes stand at the door for a few minutes just because I’m not used to not having to queue for something.

It’s not the queuing that bothers me so much. Standing around doing nothing, people watching, is in my top 5 all-time talents. It’s what happens, or could happen, in the queue that bothers me. See, I don’t network. I don’t have an awful lot to say to people I don’t know. If there’s someone out there I need to talk with I just assume that that will happen by some methodical process sometime in the future. And worse again, I have no business cards. I hate them. I hate giving them out, I hate receiving them. I hate watching them become dog-eared and decayed in my wallet. I hate deciding whether I should bin them or keep because maybe someday I will really need to call that person who does that thing that’s something to do with the internet.

Naively, of course, I assumed, at an Interactive conference in 2012, the notion of business cards would be laughable, archaic novelty. “Woah, look what someone gave me; a piece of cardboard with a name and address on it! This is what they must have done in the 90s, before we were born! Anyway, I was wrong. The physical business card is still alive, spreading like a disease, from one sweaty palm to another.

The other fear of networking at an interactive conference is my inability to understand what anyone is saying ALL of the time.  But something I do get a very palpable sense of this year is the expectancy in the air regarding what will be the new break-out social media app? Will there be a new break-out app? Where now for social media in general? This area of discussion isn’t a jargonized talking point for the early adopters of Silicon Valley, this is something that absolutely everyone here can relate to whether you’re a band, a film producer, promoter, developer, designer, fan, entrepreneur…

Although it wasn’t launched here, Twitter generated a massive buzz in 2007 at SXSW Interactive. There was also the small matter of a train-wreck interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2008. Perhaps these memories are bearing heavily on the mind of Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann as he takes to the stage to discuss his heavily tipped, fast growing social media application with blogging guru Chris Dixon (Hunch).

Although Pinterest interests me in theory, the thought of welcoming another log-in and password into my life is not appealing. I barely remember my own name at the best of times, and finding the time in my day to update another site seems like an impossible equation.

As it happens, Silbermann couldn’t be a better advertisement for his business. A charming, thoughtful, intelligent man, he brought none of the unpleasant tech-talk arrogance and alienation to the stage. He spoke about Pinterest as a platform for presenting personal “collections”, an online tool that will inspire and facilitate people with real life activity.

In essence, the site is a “virtual pin-board”, with the emphasis is on the visual. The user curates their own themed image boards put together with media found online using a ‘Pin It’ button, and from there the social interactivity expands through follow systems and boards. So far there has been a strong emphasis on interior décor, cooking recipes, garden design, etc, but in theory the possibilities are endless, even if issues of copyright and intellectual property seem vague at this point. It’s still a small company, developing since 2009, but growing with unprecedented momentum.

At a time when it feels like we’re close to some sort of social media saturation point, Pinterest might just be the application interesting and original enough to become part of our lives.

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