03/10/2013 08:31 pm ET Updated May 10, 2013

SXSW embraces the complexity of the web


MakerBot fonder Bre Pettis Kicked off this years SXSW festival in Austin. The thing about Bre is you know he has a real vision of how he can change the world - and he's just getting started. It's easy to think of MakerBot as a 3d printer -and while it is that - it is so much more. In Pettis' opening keynote - the shift he sees is more fundamental than that. It's about changing our society from a group of 'consumers' to a new world in which we are all makers. Creators. Contributors to the creative collective good. So when he says 3d printing is about more than just making a plastic shot glass or a lego brick - he means it. He shared with the standing room only crowd his latest piece of the 'maker' puzzle, a device called the MakerBot Digitizer. A pair of lasers, a camera, and a rotating platform. Now creating 3d designs doesn't require an art or engineering background. Just take the thing you want to replicated, and put it on the Digitizer. Minutes later, you have a 3d design that can be printed, and re-printed, forever.

Pettis sees this moment as a turning point - and he wants to see a whole generation of Makers doing more than writing code. He wants them to build things. Computers, devices, parts, solutions. He had the crowd fired up - and you can see why. Because makers are contributors - engaged citizens rather than passive passengers. So, 3d printing is only the beginning.

Reddit - Freedom or Abuse?
The highly anticipated panel about Reddit didn't disappoint. Slate's Farhad Manjoo, Gawker's Adrian Chen and Rebecca Watson of Skepchick were on stage.The conversation was strongly critical. Chen's article about a Redditer ViolentAcrez moderated a subreddit "jailbait." While the audience of mostly Reddit users defended free speech on the internet, the panel wasn't willing to be so forgiving.

Once the Q&A began, it was clear the audience wasn't happy with the direction the panel had taken. One audience member, Alan Schaaf stood and reported a long list of positive things that Reddit had achieved. And Schaaf should know. As the founder of Imgur, Reddit's defacto image host of choice and a highly regarded community member.

Clearly the panel would have been more productive if it had been balanced with someone from the Reddit team on stage, and that was the original plan. But Reditt co-founder Alexis Ohanian decided not to participate when he saw that the deck was stacked. And that it was.

Nonetheless, the conversation was spirited and interesting - leaving me wondering where the line between free speech and anonymous speech should be drawn.

The final panel of the day was a community Town Hall, an open discussion of Aaron Swartz's death and the laws that drove him to taken his own life. The panel was a remarkable group of thinkers and leaders. Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with inventing the world wide web, remembered Swartz as to make data open. "He had an intense feeling for what was wrong" said Berners-Lee . "He'd look at something like a world in which all data on government websites in public domains."

But most startling was the comments from Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She pointed out that the CFAA, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, has provisions that make it a crime to post inaccurate information on private web sites. That means lying on Facebook would be a federal crime. The EFF is fighting to reform Aaron's Law the CFAA in important and material ways, calling it Aaron's Law.

The day embraced all of the things that make SXSW so important. As Hugh Forrest said when he opened the conference, for 20 years SXSW has been the center of geek innovation. Twenty years is a remarkably long time - and given the complexity and importance of the web... there's clear need for this conference to continue to grow and remain vibrant.