“Content As a Means for Social Change”

By Marcie Barnes


This is a live blog post from the talk entitled ”Content As a Means for Social Change” at SXSW. Speakers are Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter and The Obvious Corporation, which focuses on building systems that help people work together to improve the world) and Brian Sirgutz, SVP, Social Impact, AOL/Huffington Post.


Sirgutz was motivated to do philanthropic work after helping volunteer after 9/11. Part of his introduction includes Biz’s passion for incorporating value into businesses before profit.

Evan Williams (co-founder of Twitter) and Biz at one point were working on an idea to be “kings of podcasting” but realized that they didn’t really want to do that, wouldn’t make them happy. He was critiqued early by a lot of people who said twitter was not useful – and Even said “neither is ice cream, do we ban ice cream, and all joy?” It has turned into something quite useful (example: people checking in during earthquakes). It reminds him of something like a flock of birds that can allow people to move together as if they are one.

After 2007 SXSW it seemed that every world event had twitter as part of it. He worked at Google previously and learned that no matter how sophisticated machines get/algorithms we write -  change is not a triumph of technology it’s a triumph of humanity – technology is the tool. Give tools to people that help them do good things, and they will exhibit that behavior for the most part.

An apprenticeship as a book cover designer taught him basics of design that led him to being a “web guy”. The lesson learned was that creativity is a renewable resource. Every challenge at work can be fun or a game.

Movie “Wings of Desire” – an angel falls in love with a trapeze artist but can’t do things that mortals can so he left his immortality. The lesson for startups is that if you want to be successful you need to be willing to be equally as unsuccessful and fail.

The Lazarus effect  – example of a medicine that vastly improves the health of HIV+ people – there is a compound interest in altruism. You don’t need to be rich to help people. If you are job hunting you should go volunteer somewhere – you’ll feel great and it fills you with confidence. Altruism should be part of every startup, should be part of the culture. Weave causes and meaning into your culture and you will also be able to recruit the best talent – people want to contribute to something meaningful.




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