Hanson Hosein of the UW MCDM program.

Our guest this past weekend on the inaugural GeekWire Podcast was television news veteran and gadget aficionado Hanson Hosein, director of the University of Washington Master of Communication in Digital Media program. We talked about everything from his recent visit to South by Southwest Interactive to his thoughts on the new iPad 2 and the New York Times paywall.

If you missed the show, or just prefer text, continue reading for selected excerpts from his comments.

His impressions after a trip to Austin for SxSW: It kinda feels like Woodstock for a certain generation of geeks. It’s basically a lot 20 somethings and 30-somethings there with their Apple computing devices, all there to geek out on the latest and greatest. They’re basically two years ahead of the rest of the industry, and looking to where we’re headed. … (This year) I was actually kinda disappointed with the whole thing. In the past, South by Southwest was the launching pad for things like Foursquare and geolocation and whatever else. This time it felt like it was the revenge of the marketers. Social and digital media have become so mainstream that it’s all about co-opting it into business applications.

For example, FedEx had a truck out there where you could get free curried chicken as long as you liked them first on Facebook. That’s what it’s gotten to! Three years ago we were fighting the battle of whether Facebook or Twitter is even useful or relevant and now you’re getting curried chicken from FedEx. … It really felt like monetization was really the focus. There was a lot of conversation about gaming and user interfaces, but monetization (was the focus).

On the MCDM’s plans for a similar initiative in Seattle called “Four Peaks”: I love Austin, I think Austin is the Seattle of Texas or the Southwest, and I think it’s kind of sad that Seattle doesn’t have an equivalent of South by Southwest, and I think there’s a lot of people who would like to see that happen. So we’ve created this notion, this concept called Four Peaks. The peaks represent mountains, but they also represent these four crucial elements of our region from, say, Vancouver, all the way down to Portland and across to Spokane and Boise. Which are innovation, entrepreneurship, community and entertainment. We’d like to see and create more connective tissue among all the organizations, companies and individuals who are engaged in those. And create festivals and salons and events that really help bring people together so that they work together. I think our biggest challenge in this region is that we’re very siloed, and we don’t get a chance to connect outside of our normal organizations and groups.

How Four Peaks might compare to SxSW: I went to South by Southwest to look for a little inspiration, to see how a really established event does it. They’re big, and they do it really, really well. But I also think they’re too big. And I didn’t get the sense of community that I was hoping for. We’re looking at doing things a little bit differently with Four Peaks, and being much more interactive and much more face to face. There were way to many people with their heads down in their computers and iPads at this thing, tweeting. They weren’t really paying attention to what was going on up there at the front of the room.

How to break people out of that heads-down mode? I wrote about this recently on our Flip the Media blog. I call it tricorder nation. Remember from Star Trek they had tricorders? They knew this was going to happen 40 years ago, as soon as you land on the alien planet, you take out your tricorder and figure out what’s going on. Well, in our situations, we never stop looking up from our tricorders, we’re just analyzing what’s going on.

We face this challenge on a daily basis in the classes that we have. We teach digital media to people who are hugely connected. So you can fight it, or you can say, you know what, I know they’re going to be on their computers and their phones while they’re trying to teach. It’s up to me to be engaging and to force them to interact with me. Not by telling them to shut down their computers but by giving them such great content that they cannot help but engage and interact with me. That’s what I think you have to do when you’re doing events, you have to say let’s ring them more into this. It’s not us and them. There’s an accountability and a participation that’s required of everybody, and that’s what we want to do with Four Peaks, as well.

How he’s using his new iPad 2: When the first iPad came out, I actually came out on the record quite negatively towards it. I felt like it was a very passive computing experience. The fact that they didn’t have a webcam or a USB port meant that you really couldn’t do much with it. It was meant to be an appliance that you could consume news and information with. I like the form factor of this new one a little bit more, and I’m warming up more and more to this notion of using a device to consume news, whether it’s BBC or the New York Times or whatever else. I’m using it as that, also as a basic email and web device. And I love things like AirPlay, with the remote app that it’s got, so I can manipulate my audio devices at home. So it comes with a lot of great functionality now.

His evolving thoughts on the New York Times paywall plan: A year and a half ago when we were talking about that, and the future of journalism, I was actually somewhat negative about it. There was a sense that we would had never gotten accustomed to paying for our news. We thought we had, but it was all subsidized by advertising in the past. But as more and more of these devices come into our hands, I think there’s a sense that even if we don’t really want to pay for the New York Times, the convenience of actually being able to pull it up on your tablet in the morning and the multiplicity of news sources I think is great.

I’ve just written a very short book about my thoughts on storytelling, which I’ve made available for free as a PDF on Scribd.com, but I also but it on Amazon on the Kindle, and so I’ve had to charge a minimum amount of money for that. So it’s $2.99. And I’m not looking to make money off it, but I recognize that there are people who, even though they have access to the free version, are going to pay that $2.99 so they can hit that one button on Amazon and download it immediately to their iPhone or their Kindle. People will pay for convenience and access to good information. So I’m actually a little bit hopeful, as long as it’s not too convoluted — and there is some criticism of that right now — that the New York Times is actually going down the right way. Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal have a better model, because people are willing to pay for the value of financial information and intelligence. But as you go further down the chain it becomes a harder value proposition.


To hear Hanson’s comments on those and many other topics — plus our news roundup and Name that Tech Tune contest — listen to the full audio of the show below. Subscribe using this RSS feed (http://feeds.feedburner.com/geekwirepodcast). Here’s the MP3 for this episode.

Look for Episode No. 2 of the GeekWire podcast this weekend.

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