University goes South by Southwest

By Rachel Premack, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 11, 2013

Ann Arbor resident and Information alum Hung Truong didn’t think he had done anything wrong when he created Mapskrieg, an apartment finder app that used data from both Craigslist and Google Maps. But in May 2011, Truong received a cease-and-desist request from Craigslist that threatened legal action for copyright infringement.

Mashups — digital services that use data from multiple sources, like Truong’s — are one of many hot-button issues that members of the University community and tech lovers from around the world discussed at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin — abbreviated SXSW. The conference began March 8 and closed March 12.

Truong is set to participate in a panel discussion Tuesday on the topic.

“(Another question is) whether you should base a business on someone else’s data that has more control over your company than you do,” Truong said. “If I developed on Facebook and today they say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s totally fine to do your app’ and the next day they say, ‘Oh, that’s not allowed anymore,’ how do you plan for that?”

SXSW is a 10-day trio of festivals, each of which focuses individually on film, music and interactive. University community members are most involved in the interactive component, which includes a trade show, technology presentations and networking events.

Heather Newman, the School of Information’s director of marketing and communications and the coordinator of the University’s SXSW representation said the school’s presence at the festival is bigger than any other college.

“The innovators, entrepreneurs and heavy hitters in tech and creative industries all come here to share ideas,” Newman wrote in an e-mail interview. “It's an ideal opportunity to show the creativity, innovation and agility that sets Michigan and the School of Information apart in these industries.”

Truong has met innovators from different fields during his time in Austin.

“It’s a great experience to meet like-minded people and speak out about what you love,” Truong said. “It’s like having a conversation with a really good friend but you met this person five seconds ago.”

While this is the Information School’s third year at SXSW, and the Ross School of Business has hosted a networking event for two years, this year is the Business School and the College of Engineering’s first time the schools will make presentations at the show. The School of Information also presented at SXSW Music with materials from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

The University’s booth features demos from the University Solar Car Team and presentations conducted by 22 members of the University’s faculty, student body and alumni throughout the festival. Members of the University community are also participating in panels on technology issues.

At an event on Monday, the Solar Car Team announced that the name of their next car, Generation. They'll be racing the vehicle at the World Solar Challenge in October.

Engineering junior Eric Hausman, the Solar Car Team project manager, said it is the first time since 2001 the team has constructed a four-wheel car. Hesaid the four-wheel design mandates an upright driver, allowing the car to look more realistic. The full design will be unveiled in June.

“It’s about finding creative solutions to make the car as aerodynamic as possible while making the car (have) four wheels and having an upright driver,” Hausman said.

Information graduate student JJ Pionke gave a presentation on digital badging — a tool used in social media and other platforms to show skills or knowledge attained by an individual — and on her overseas internships in Singapore and Uganda. Pionke said digital badging is in its nascent stages and lacks a credentialing process, but has generated techie enthusiasm.

“It’s a very ‘try things out’ period,” Pionke said. “There’s something for everyone, and that’s the big key there. Whether you’re a programmer or a English teacher, there’s something there for you — so don’t give up, and go for it.”

Digital badges are not only for Foursquare or fitness sites. Pionke argued they could be used on a résumé to show experience in leadership or other intangible qualities a degree might not explain. She added that badges could also be used in education to award students for participation or writing.

“This is a way to say this particular student is really good at X, Y and Z,” Pionke said. “It’s about being creative with lesson plans. Do you want the students to read Shakespeare and be bored or do you want the students to build a digital story platform?”

Correction appended: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misidentified the majors of JJ Pionke and Hung Truong.