SXSW Interactive2013 approaches… it's the the fifth year in a row I'm attending and the sixth in the last eight for me.  The event continues to thrive and is the one "must-attend" event of the year in my book.

A few quick thoughts on the panel I was invited to join by Carter Rabasa of Twilio and Hung Truong of NewFoundry — it's my first time speaking at SXSW.  I straddle marketing & technology professionally, and am speaking on the tech side in this session.

Discussion will center on mashups and/or "OPD" — other peoples' data.  To me, the term "mashup" is a little antiquated in sense that today's developers are doing far more with data than when the term "mashup" originated.  I remember, for example, when plotting points on maps was relatively novel. We've come a long way in the last 5-7 years.

Take for example the developer marketing paradigm that was of most interest to us during my ~4 years at Microsoft, ending in 2008. We wanted developers to write apps for .NET and in some cases Microsoft software… to build custom applications and experiences on top of the Microsoft stack.  Interestingly, the next cycle of web/mobile innovation has come from not building apps on existing software produts but rather from building apps on top of the data that apps and the web platform has enabled.  The apps and web frameworks are reduced in that paradigm to an infrastructure role, and themselves are not where the action is once the infrastructure is in place and mature.  Data is the star, not the infrastructure.

Think of it in a more tangible context — the interstate highway system is built in the USA in the 1950s and enables interstate commerce.  This creates a trucking industry, rest stops, Stuckey's restaurants, the need for more cars, faster travel, and so on.  Infrastructure was the enabler — tons of businesses followed.

When I was at Microsoft, we incorrectly focused on the infrastructure as the "star".  We did not recognize that the data contained in the applications was much more exciting than the platforms upon which the data were entered.  For example, the world's most interesting repository of information is arguably Microsoft Outlook.  Liberating that data & creating new things from it was the play back in 2008 (and arguably may be the case today).

I think today's major tech players differ from yesterday's in the sense that they value data as much as the underlying infrastructure that allows its collection.  Developers and platform providers are currently engaged in a natural tension — one wants innovation from modest to disruptive and the other wants to participate in the economic benefit of having its data used in new, compelling ways. Some, like Craigslist, choose to optimize for control. Twitter will let you do more or less whatever you want, if you pay them. I'd contend LinkedIn and Facebook are taking more of a "wait and see" approach, both allowing developers access but keeping a lot of goodies to themselves. There are no right/wrong answers in my opinion — it's really up to each company's strategy.

But if the open source model has one lesson for us, it is that the increased velocity and use of data creates economic value — typically for all the stakeholders. Developers play a key role in the ecosystem, bringing new use cases and creative ideas to bear.  Overall, I think that's a good thing.