Posted by Rob Knies

danah boyd

It’s no surprise, really, that danah boyd, senior researcher at Microsoft Research New England, has been named the second inductee into the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival Hall of Fame.

After all, boyd has established herself as one of the world’s leading lights when it comes to analysis of trends at the intersection of technology and society—especially when it comes to youth culture.

The honor, presented March 12 during the SXSW Interactive Awards, is intended to recognize trendsetters whose career accomplishment s have paved the future of the new media industry.

That’s danah, and nobody knows better than Jennifer Chayes.

“danah is one of the leading scholars worldwide in social media,” says Chayes, managing director of Microsoft Research New England. “Her work has helped to shape our understanding of the interplay between social media, youth, culture, technology, and policy. She has had a profound impact on Microsoft, academia, and the tech community.”

Boyd follows Jeffrey Zeldman, a New York-based designer, writer, and publisher, in the SXSW Interactive hall, which recognizes essential members of the interactive community who have made numerous contributions to the underlying SXSW goals of creativity, innovation, and inspiration.

Her list of credentials is extensive. In addition to the above, consider that she is:

  • A research assistant professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.
  • A fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
  • A Research Advisory Board member of the Born This Way Foundation.
  • A longtime blogger at Apophenia.
  • An alum of the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Author of the forthcoming book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

So, no, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that boyd should not qualify for this lifetime-achievement accolade—no reason at all, except that … well, that she’s still in her 30s.

So what gives, danah? How do you explain this to your friends?

She just laughs.

“Last year at SXSW,” she recalls, “I was asked to sit in on a discussion among activists working to address fundamental policy directions that were affecting startups. The organizer introduced me to the group as one of the ‘elders.’

“In some circles in which I run, I’m a child. In other circles, I’m an old lady. Remember: I spend a lot of time with teenagers who think I’m ancient.”

Levity aside, this is just one of those things you learn to take in stride when you work in a highly visible research area such as social media.

“I take all of this age stuff with a grain of salt,” boyd cautions, “but the reality is that I’ve been in the tech world for a long time now—at least, a long time by geek standards. I’m grateful for this honor, but I hope no one takes it to mean that I’m at the end of my career. From my perspective, I’ve barely begun.”

Make no mistake, though—she’s not about to discount the importance she assigns to the recognition. Her association with SXSW over the years has run too deep for that.

“Almost a decade ago,” she reflects, “I committed to helping make SXSW as diverse a conference as possible. “I’ve worked with the organizers and the community to make sure that a wide diversity of voices were heard and recognized. I’ve loved watching SXSW grow and have been grateful to help be a part of that. I’m deeply appreciative of Hugh Forrest [director of the SXSW Interactive Festival] making my dream of a diverse conference a reality.

“SWSW has been an important intellectual and social home for me for a long time. The SXSW community has made it possible for me to get numerous jobs, speaking gigs, and professional opportunities. Through SXSW, I’ve developed meaningful professional connections, countless friendships, and—perhaps most importantly—met my life partner. I feel like I’ve gotten so much from SXSW, and I’ve always tried to give back by connecting researchers and practitioners, pundits and users.”

In the end, boyd says, it’s all about giving back.

“I’m deeply humbled and honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” she says, “because my induction suggests that my presence at SXSW has been as helpful to others as the community has been to me. I only hope that I can continue to be of valuable service to SXSW and the broader community.”