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Overheard in Austin: Apps, Tools, Sites

A quick list of digital goodies I encountered at SXSW

Wow, what a lot to digest from my first trip to South By Southwest. I’ll be chewing on everything I learned for weeks to come, but here’s an ultra-quick roundup of my “need to check this stuff out” list. I jotted these items down during sessions, bar chats, lunches & plane rides. Lightly annotated and satisfaction most definitely not guaranteed, but I’m thinking there’s some gold in these nuggets.


  • Ready-Media. InDesign templates for firms that want to publish on the web, the iPad, and other platforms—all from one source. A big attraction here is the involvement of legendary publication designer Roger Black (who also gave a pitch for another project he’s worked on: Treesaver, an open source JavaScript framework for web content that looks good on a wide range of screen sizes).
  • SlideRocket. Web-friendly presentation software. Features include: collaborative tools so teams can work together on the same deck, audience tracking, multimedia authoring, and built-in conversation tools (for your viewers).
  • PowerPoint’s tablet-drawing tool. Dan Roam showed this feature off during the talk he gave called “Shut Up & Draw: A Non-Artist Way to Think Visually” (along with Sunni Brown and Jessica Hagy, one of whom touted Adobe Ideas as a great app for quick sketches). He marked up and doodled on his slides during the talk. Great for making his point about the power of casual drawing, but could definitely be useful for anyone looking to add on-the-fly emphasis to their slides. Requires a tablet PC running Windows. Can’t be long before Apple adds this to Keynote, right?


  • Twirdie. “Twitter powered golf”: a “social word game”. Advance the ball across the links in this iPhone app by entering a search term; the more popular your term is on Twitter (over the past 60 minutes), the further your ball goes. Love how this game merges video game mechanics with word guessing.
  • SharedTime. From the people behind the Center for Digital Storytelling. This app lets you tell stories about the volunteer projects you’re working on…and find out new projects to contribute to.
  • Khoya. “Interactive fantasy adventure”. Melcher Media chief Charlie Melcher showed me this one (and the next two on this list). The blend of text, images, and animations in this iPad app really caught my eye.
  • Chopsticks Novel. This book app from Penguin (for iPhone and iPad) is composed primarily of visual items (photos, videos) that viewers explore, guided by a little bit of narrative text. Has gotten just the right mix of diametrically opposed reviews (“things that are more exciting than this app: #1, watching the floor…” vs. “totally engrossing iPad experience”) to make me want to download.
  • POST Matter. Magazine app for iPad that skews a bit more towards advertising and shopping than editorial, but some of the multimedia stuff (especially slo-mo twirlings of models) are good fodder for those interested in how to create lush digital imagery.
  • Monty Python: The Holy Book of Days. Speaking of Melcher Media, they just released this must-have addition to any Holy Grail fan’s collection. A 28-day journal that tracks the making of the cult film. Lotsa great integration here of video and text—and one of the first implementations I’ve seen of frame-by-frame scrubbing (attention how-to content producers: this one’s a must-add for any video tutorials where viewers would benefit from controlling the speed of the replay).
  • The Wider Image. Touted in one of the show directory ads as “coming soon” from Reuters. I’d ordinarily be skeptical of the launch site’s claims (“Re-experience news photography…an entirely new interactive experience…this immersive app will offer a multitude of ways to visually explore the world.”), but, hey: this is Reuters—they wouldn’t exaggerate, right?
  • SELF magazine. What I’m looking forward to checking out here is this iPad app’s “happy plate”: an interactive tool that lets readers load food choices onto said plate and find out whether their choices add up to a healthy meal. Goofy sounding, but potentially useful.


  • Lumarca. A lightshow rigged up in 3D “real space” in which light beamed from a projector onto a floor-to-ceiling grid of threads illuminates different patterns. 3D “info artist” Albert Hwang demo’d it during his fascinating talk “Detached Messages: Spatial & Immersive Systems” (given along with Adam Pruden).

Floor-to-ceiling strings illuminated by light beams from a projector

  • BoostUp. Mentioned by the Center for Digital Storytelling’s Joe Lambert during his session “No Brochures: Digital Storytelling for Nonprofits”. The site spotlights video profiles of young people facing hard times; after you watch the stories, more info (text, graphics, charts) is available on how to help. Interesting as a content design idea: attract visitors with video, then give them more info after they’ve watched these riveting mini documentaries.