With the Internet’s ability to reach worldwide for the brightest talent, we are starting to see an increased use of crowdsourcing to create the best products. Check out a great example of crowdsourcing a choir:
With the Internet’s ability to reach worldwide for the brightest talent, we are starting to see an increased use of crowdsourcing to create the best products. Check out a great example of crowdsourcing a choir:
Thanks to @blakerutherford for pointing me to this. Yesterday, I wrote about brand-sponsored music done right. Today’s example is film. Spike Jonez, of Where the Wild Things Are fame, has released a short film (30 minutes) titled I’m Here that was paid for by Absolut Vodka. Although the brand has no representation or product placement within the film, the Absolut brand has prominence on the website where the film can be watched online and had 230,000 unique visitors just last weekend. While it may be difficult to understand why a brand would make this kind of investment, with the historical success of Spike Jonez Absolut could feel that not only would the investment generate a creative and profound product, but that people would seek it out. And ultimately, Absolut endears themselves to consumers with support of arts like this film. It is brand-sponsored film done right.
Here is the trailer:
This video is way cool, but did you notice the State Farm sponsorship? OK Go is a band mostly known for their videos (remember the one with the treadmills?), and I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel session at South by Southwest (SXSW) where Damian Kulash of OK Go talked about the making of this newest video and working with State Farm.
The band’s record label didn’t have enough money to pay for the video, so OK Go reached out to State Farm. Kulash talked about this being scary for them because the band did not want to be in the business of making advertising. But, he said that State Farm was surprisingly hands-off and understood that they are not content creators. When they first formed the relationship, State Farm requested that the video be available only on the State Farm website for the initial launch. OK Go, a band that understands the power of the internet, refused to do this: there is no sense in trying to control where people go on the internet as they will always find a way around the limitations you put on them. Ultimately, State Farm agreed and the video was posted everywhere. To give State Farm their money’s worth, the brand as made part of the story, with no attempt to hide the relationship (remember, the internet is about transparency). And, the video is so interesting that people watch four or five times. State Farm managed to relinquish control, introduce and endear themselves to a whole new set of consumers, and come out unscathed. There are even positive comments on YouTube about the brand and the sponsorship.
This is a good lesson for brands looking to expand their audience base in new and interesting ways. To tap into consumers beyond the brand’s existing reach, sometimes it is necessary to play by the rules of those consumers. Attempting to force corporate rules on potential new consumers can have disastrous effects (see Nestle’s Facebook meltdown).
Interesting facts about the development of the video:
Allow me to step away from advertising, social media and technology for a moment today and honor Navy SEAL Adam Lee Brown, an Arkansas native, who died in Afghanistan just a few days ago. He was serving with my brother, also a Navy SEAL. From my brother:
“I’ve known him since 1999 while we were going through BUD/S together. He was a good friend and probably the most religious, moral man I knew in the teams. Huge loss for us and I just wanted you guys to take a minute and give a toast to him. He left
behind his wife and two kids.
“Adam considered Arkansas to be the center of the world and will be buried there…We are making a memorial patch with a Razorback on it…”
This was the last day of the South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive festival in Austin. The conference lasted five days and was been jam-packed with educational sessions about emerging technology. It was long, fun, exhausting, engaging, informative, crowded and worth every minute.
According to reports, the interactive portion of the festival outsold both the film and music portions. There were 12,000 interactive badge holders this year. For those that have been attending SXSW for several years, this number was almost too much to handle: they complained about the mass and accompanying lack of intimacy among the group. This being my first year, I was in awe of event and appreciated everything it had to offer. Maybe they are right and SXSW interactive has jumped the shark, making it less valuable than before, but that was not my experience.
The last day offered approximately 140 sessions, of which I attended the following:
“LBS 101: Geolocation on the ‘Horizon’” was a continuation of the location theme that was prevalent throughout the conference. This particular session focused more the technology aspect of the services rather than the user aspect. To emphasize the demand and opportunity for location-based services (LBS), the presenter started with the statistic that approximately 55% of all text/SMS messages sent are some variation of “where are you?”. That equates to almost 650 billion location-based service text messages in 2009. To further demonstrate the potential, the presenter revealed that of the 200 million mobile subscribers in the United States, 18.5% are smart phones with built-in technology for geo-location. However, for most of the market, downloading an app for updating location status is a barrier to entry. The benefit of using a location-based service will need to be pretty great to jump that hurdle with the mass-market user.
Today, location-based services are being used for navigation, family location (if on a shared mobile service plan) and friend finding through social media applications. The future of location-based services could include notification when friends are nearby, location aware advertising, location aware marketing/couponing, crowdsourcing traffic systems and fraud prevention. The technology already exists today for location-based advertising, but it is not being implemented. Just last week, Starbucks announced a partnership with FourSquare to award a barista badge to frequent visitors, but won’t be sending coupons or promotions through the service just yet. An example provided in the session for how location-based advertising/marketing could be used: the Starbucks on a corner in Austin is having a slow day so they push out a coupon for everyone within 25 meters for 50% off to bring in customers. Based on the amount of conversation at SXSW this year, it is safe to assume that we will see location-based services increasing in use over the next two years, both among business and consumers.
“Social Business” was a panel presentation from three communications people (marketing, PR, customer service) talking about how social media has impacted them. The panelists included David Meerman Scott and Captain Nathan Broshear of the Air Force. David Meerman Scott, a professional marketing and leadership speaker, as well as author, started the session. Scott presented many quotable one liners for this captive audience: speak to buyers in their language, not yours; create triggers that encourage people to share; the most overused terms in press releases include “innovate,” “unique,” “pleased to” and “leading provider”; lose control of your brand. Although his presentation style was engaging and entertaining, the content was pretty generic.
Captain Nathan Broshear is Director of Public Affairs for the Air Force. He talked about how the armed forces can use social media with every airman acting as a spokesperson using his iPhone and Flip cam as tools. The Air Force now allows members to post content to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, knowing that this assists in spreading the message about their work efforts and can help with recruiting. The embracing of social media has resulted in media calls to the Air Force to expand on intriguing stories, rather than the Air Force having to reach out to the media to “sell” their stories. As a result, the Air Force claims to have not issued a news release in eight years. The Air Force is using social media is used to humanize the organization.
Tuesday’s keynote presentation was an interview with Daniel Ek, CEO and founder of online music service Spotify. It was a nice transition from the interactive portion to the music portion of the SXSW festival. Spotify is a music sharing site that is not yet available in the United States. The site and service allows users to build playlists, access them from anywhere (mobile or online) and share them with friends. Because most in the audience was unfamiliar with the service, Ek did a demonstration and overview of how Spotify works both online and through a mobile app. Ek’s stated the Spotify goal as wanting “to make music like water” in its availability. He talked about the social nature of music and our human desire to share it with others.
“Interactive Infographics” was a session for designers to understand the impact of presenting data as interesting graphics. The panelists include designers from the New York Times and GOOD magazine, as well as a representative from Processing.org and Stamen Design. The majority of the session was spent showcasing the work of the four panelists as examples of the possibilities.
There was a lot to take in over the five days of SXSW. As we digest the information and figure out how it applies to our businesses, it will be interesting to see if and/or how the predictions hold true.
It was a big day at South by Southwest (SXSW) as there was much anticipation for the keynote presentation from Twitter’s founder Evan Williams. Williams enjoys celebrity status here at the interactive portion of the festival, causing a line to form for entry into the room where he would be speaking. The presentation turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, but there were plenty of good sessions throughout the day to make up for the letdown.
There were almost 150 sessions available today. I was able to attend the following five:
“The Future of Context: Getting the Bigger Picture Online” was a panel-led discussion about journalism in an online news distribution channel. The session topic was developed under the premise that news distribution has become too “bite-sized” with information shared in headline format, lacking any background information that would allow the reader to actually understand the “bigger picture” situation. The panelists used healthcare as an example: at the pace of daily news, healthcare looks like a total mess. However, when healthcare is explained at a broader level, it is easier to distill and understand.
This was another discussion that presented more questions than answers. With many journalists in the room, the discussion was lively. The general consensus was that news needs to be delivered with more in-depth context than “click here for more information” after a breaking news headline. Consumers have been conditioned to read only the headlines and hope that the torrential wash of information over them will eventually cohere into understanding and knowledge. However, this understanding is not developing, and the public is ending up uninformed during a time when they have more access to information than ever before.
“After Magazines: WIRED’s Digital Rebirth” was the coolest session of the day. WIRED magazine recognized the movement from print to digital and is the first magazine to translate its design into a format for consumption on a digital tablet. The creative director of WIRED magazine and an Adobe representative led the presentation in which they demonstrated reading the March issue of WIRED on a digital tablet. This session was tailored for designers with conversation about the custom typefaces designed for WIRED and the workflow process of design for print versus design for digital. However, the live demonstration could have been appreciated by all magazine readers, especially those that appreciate the high-end design of WIRED magazine. The designers have translated the print experience into a digital experience that is just as pleasing but with added features to take advantage of the digital format. From 360-degree viewing of objects to audio interviews to video to varying views as the orientation changes from portrait to landscape, the designers and developers created a complete experience. The digital magazine was shown on a Dell tablet, an Android tablet and an iPhone. They noted that there was much anticipation for iPad and that the WIRED app would be available for the iPad this summer. Although a pricing model has not yet been determined for the digital subscription, WIRED’s creative director said that subscribers would have a library of previous issues for their future reference, much like a music or e-book library. They will also be integrating social sharing features into the digital magazine to allow readers to instantly post articles to Facebook or Twitter without leaving the magazine.
“The Life Graph: You are Your Location” was another discussion about location-based services and applications like FourSquare, Gowalla, Loopt and Google Latitude. Location-based services are definitely garnering the most conversation this year at SXSW. The panelists predicted that in three to four years everyone with a smart phone will use location-based applications because location is what makes mobility fundamentally different.
Much of this panel’s discussion about location focused on data privacy. Again, sites like Please Rob Me were dismissed as irrelevant to security concerns. Like the panel from the earlier session on location, this panel noted that a person’s absence from home can be determined from simple status updates without revealing an exact location away from home. The privacy concerns will be with how companies use the location data they are collecting. For example, with enough data, a company could predict with 90% certainty where a user will be at a specific time in the future. (Although, according to the Loopt representative, 95% of Americans are incredibly boring, going from home to work everyday.) Additionally, they could sell the data to hedge fund managers as a prediction for success of retail locations. Interestingly, it was noted that location data can not be anonymized: it is very easy to identify who a person is based on their location data.
There will be much more talk in the coming months about location-based services, how consumers use them and how businesses will use them. This session only scratched the surface of advertising and promotion (texting coupons to your phone when you walk into or by a retail location), social etiquette (will it become rude to not “check -in?”), predictive technology services (for example, the heat in your home turning on as you get closer to home), and potential abuse (for example, tracking people with Google Latitude enable phone hidden in the trunk of a car). A survey of the 300 people attending this session revealed that approximately 90% of attendees were using at least one location-based application regularly. This is obviously not a representative sample of the general population, but SXSW attendees are early adopters and predictive of future trends.
The keynote presentation with Evan Williams, Twitter founder, was disappointing. This highly anticipated session was jam-packed with SXSW attendees; there was not an empty seat in the room when the presentation began. The format was interview-style with Umair Haque serving as the interviewer.
Williams was expected to make an announcement about Twitter and the prediction was that it would be an advertising model. Instead, the reveal was the @Anywhere platform, a way to integrate Twitter accounts/data/links onto partner media sites, allowing readers to follow Twitter accounts of people/brands/organizations mentioned in articles without leaving the media site. Williams made this announcement off the top of his interview. He went on to talk about the Twitter business model for the remainder of the hour. Unfortunately, the discussion was not very engaging and after just 30 minutes the room was half empty.
Using Twitter, SXSW attendees complained loudly about the presentation and Williams was listening. After the session, also using Twitter, he posted the message (from @ev on Twitter) “I heard on the backchannel that people want me to answer tougher questions. What’ya want to know? Will answer 10. Go.” He was, of course, flooded with questions, some relevant and some silly. The one question that was not answered, however, was whether there would be an advertising platform introduced in the future.
“Mikey Likes It: Does the FTC?” was a round-room conversation with bloggers and lawyers debating product endorsement versus editorial product reviews. The bottom line is that the FTC requires bloggers to disclose if they have been provided a product at no cost and they talk about the product on their sites. A representative from the FTC assisted in the conversation moderation and iterated that the FTC does not regulate editorial content. The FTC will step into the conversation if they believe there is a high likelihood of a consumer believing that the message is not influenced by a brand or advertiser, when in fact it is. While the FTC representative acknowledged that there was nothing improper about these relationships between brands/advertisers and bloggers, she said it was necessary to be transparent about the relationships with readers.
Day four of five is complete and the conference is almost over. Austin has been a gracious host with its abundance of Tex Mex restaurants and pleasant spring weather. Leaving will be bittersweet.
This post also appeared on Talk Business.
South by Southwest (SXSW) is known for the parties every night. It has been called “Spring Break for Geeks” on more than one occasion. On Sunday morning, the third day of SXSW, it was very quiet. The people that were vertical weren’t saying much. And the empty rooms indicated that there were many who were still sleeping off last night’s activity.
Of the almost 120 sessions offered today, I was able to attend the following four:
“Exploiting Chaos: How to Spark Innovation During Times of Change” was a presentation given by Jeremy Gutsche, Chief Trend Hunter at TrendHunter.com. Gutsche was a high-energy presenter, which was a good thing at 9:30 AM on a Sunday morning. He opened by talking about “popular” versus “cool.” Popular is not cool. Cool is unique, cutting edge and viral. We are on the lookout for cool because cool is what inspires a culture of revolution. Gutsche talked a lot about brand messaging: being concise, consistent and relevant to your target by speaking their language.
“Monkeys with Internet Access: Sharing, Human Nature and Digital Data” was a session led by Clay Shirky, a frequent and well-known speaker on emerging and social technologies. Shirky’s presentation focused on humans’ innate resistance to sharing when doing so takes something away from us, whether it is goods, services or time. But when sharing allows us to do so at no cost to ourselves there is no reason not to do it, so we do. This is the sharing of information.
To demonstrate this point, Shirky used music. When we listened to music on CD, we did not give our CDs to our friends, because then we would not have the CD anymore (sharing of goods). If we really wanted our friends to have our music, we would spend significant time and effort to make a mix tape (sharing of services). When Napster made it possible to share music as information, we had no reason not to share as it as easy and we didn’t have to give anything up.
The ability to share of information has become super abundant and abundances change the way the world operates: when things are abundant, they no longer have to managed carefully due to limited supply. Information is now being shared freely, so there is no reason to limit access to it. Wikipedia did not show up as a competitor to Encyclopedia Britannica; rather, it changed what it meant to be an encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica still exists as a resource, but one that no one uses as the information is out-of-date and requires registration for access. The Patients Like Me organization and website has the potential to change the American healthcare culture by turning the premise of privacy on its head with the sharing intimate health details in an effort to help find cures. Shirky called these actions positive deviance: deviating from social norms in positive ways. The sharing of information has continued to manifest on the social web and has changed definitions.
“Not Just for Obama: New Media Gets Local” was a conversation led by two young online political strategists with campaign experience. The attendees in the room skewed younger than many of the other groups and many had political campaign experience. While we had much discussion about the specific tools that can be used, the moderators talked about the importance of having a strategy in place before beginning use of the tools. As with any communications plan, strategy will be driven by the audience, or in this case, the voter base. There was a lot of discussion about email targeting, SMS communications, Twitter versus Facebook, and what to do with new tools like FourSquare and Gowalla. There was much discussion about the dangers of the candidates tweeting for themselves (no filter and no barriers) and interns managing the channels (there was a story told about an intern playing Farmville while logged into the candidate’s Facebook account). The session provided more questions than answers, but at least brought the issues to the surface. Do you create issue-oriented feeds or manage all messages through candidate-branded accounts? Do you use different tools for different messages, or do you pull everything through one RSS tool like HootSuite to blast the exact same thing to every channel? Many attendees provided examples and stories of social media use in political campaigns from their hometowns.
“Improving Social Media with Live Streaming Video” was led by Brad Hunstable, president and co-founder of Ustream, a live video-streaming site that gets over 75 million unique visitors each month. Hunstable had some fascinating case studies demonstrating that live events online can provide a significant return on investment. For example, when Nick Jonas tweeted that he was going to give an impromptu concert and livestream it on Facebook, he increased his Facebook fans by 30,000 in one day, an increase of 4.5%. Hunstable suggested using live streaming video as an impetus for driving traffic to other sources and platforms that may be lacking needed traffic.
Hunstable talked about the introduction of the iPhone 3GS with video recording capabilities being a turning point for streaming video. He stated that by 2013, 97% of Americans will own a mobile phone and 47% of them will have Internet on their phones. With that kind of penetration, video can be delivered anywhere, anytime. Online video viewership will only continue to increase.
Day three of five is now complete. I have been impressed with the number of smart people attending this convention who are willing to share their knowledge and help others learn. The convention center is getting easier to navigate. I have found the food and water supplies. I am looking forward to the final two days.
Twitter’s Evan Williams just wrapped up his keynote presentation at South by Southwest in Austin, TX. A probably over-simplified description of the announcement: this new application allows news sites to link to Twitter with a pop-up box and follow references without ever leaving the site. Publication authors can embed follow links. Amazon, bing, YouTube, and Digg are some of the initial partners. Below are some video clips from his presentation.
This post also appeared at Talk Business.
It was a long second day of the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, TX. There were almost 150 sessions offered today during the six scheduled time slots. In the five sessions attended, today’s themes were community and trust:
“The Era of Crowdsourcing” was a panel-led discussion with Scott Belsky and Jeffrey Kalmikoff. These two gentlemen have experience working at well-known social-based companies like Digg, Threadless and Behance, making it fitting for them to lead this presentation. The most common complaint about crowdsourcing is also the most common misperception: that is simply a means to access free labor. Crowdsourcing is a term that was coined in 2006 with the following definition: “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agency (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people.”
We can understand why a business would want to crowdsource: it gets the benefit of the crowd’s wisdom. But the definition of crowdsourcing begs the question: what is in it for the crowd? The benefit to the crowd is the opportunity to engage with a community on a level playing field, where it doesn’t matter what your resume looks like, and the opportunity to contribute to something larger.
Crowdsourcing is the next iteration of the social web. Ultimately, crowdsourcing is about the community that is created to solve the problem, not the challenge of the problem itself. Companies and brands may help foster the community, but the community can survive even if the brand ceases to exist. The example provided by the panelists was Harley Davidson: if Harley went out of business tomorrow, it would be unreasonable to assume that all the communities around Harley would cease to exist. Businesses will need to keep this in mind as they reach out for the wisdom of the crowd, help foster that community and become part of it.
“How to Create a Viral Video” was a panel discussion that included Director of Film and Video at TED, User Experience Manager at YouTube and an OK Go band member. This was definitely a team of people who know a bit about the magic of online video. I admit I was a bit skeptical having recently read that the odds of a video going “viral” are about the same as winning a lottery jackpot. Nevertheless, the panel had some implementable ideas.
This “Viral Video” hour turned out to be the most entertaining session of the day. Jokingly, they started the session by telling us all that in order for a video to be successful virally it must include boobs and kittens. This garnered a laugh, but is not necessarily untrue; there are thousands of examples to prove this combination, or elements of it, equal success.
Turning to practical advice, the panel discussed the components of a virally successful video: content, production value, a sense of surprise and wonderment, a positive tone, and accurate title and tags. Content must be relevant and interesting. Production value can be high or low, its effect depending on the end audience’s state-of-mind. A sense of surprise and wonderment comes down to the reveal. A positive tone because people prefer to spread the love than cause the shedding of tears. Accurate title and tags will help with search and not mislead the potential audience. Surprisingly, the panel never warned that doing all these things right does not guarantee a video will go viral.
Additionally, when it comes to getting the video viewership numbers up, the panel talked about the importance of actively building a subscriber base to communicate with before you are ready to promote videos. Online video is not about creating entertaining content and hoping people will come. We should never forget that the Internet is about community; if we want users to spread our message, we need to interact with them and encourage their involvement. This directly relates to the last aspect of a virally successful video: it should encourage shoot-offs, parodies and satires. If a brand is scared about what users might do to the original integrity of the video, then it should not put the content online.
“I Don’t Trust You One Stinking Bit” featured Internet and social media celebrities Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, authors of the New York Times bestseller “Trust Agents.” These co-authors and obvious friends were great together as they responded to each other’s remarks like an old married couple. Their loose presentation was entertaining, funny and informative, although they strayed far from the topic at times.
The session was meant to educate on building trust with a cynical and skeptical online audience. Brogan said that trust is now currency in our favor-based economy. As an example, Nikkon gave Brogan a camera to use under the assumption that he would like it and write about its greatness. Being a trusted source of information for his audience, if Brogan likes the camera and he writes about it, Nikkon will sell more cameras. Eventually in situations like this, both parties will have to work even harder, as online audiences are skeptical when they realize this kind of favor-based activity is happening behind the scenes.
The conversation shifted to building a personal brand, as this is the most fascinating thing about both Brogan and Smith. They talked about making yourself more interesting, investing in your network of people by showing reciprocal interest in them and doing something different to stand out.
danah boyd (she prefers her name be written in all lowercase letters) was the keynote speaker for opening remarks. As a social media researcher and ethnographer, boyd works closely with teens to understand their interactions in the online space. The theme of boyd’s presentation was privacy versus publicity in social media. According to boyd, a recent example of a privacy “fail” was the launch of Google Buzz, which integrated a very private channel (email) with a very public channel (news feed of user actions). Gmail users had to opt-out of Buzz rather than opt-in, and suddenly users’ actions were being broadcast without them intending that to happen.
She talked in depth about the difference between publicly available information and publicity: just because information is publicly available does not mean that people want it publicized. People understand that making their information available is necessary for social bonding. They recognize that they make themselves vulnerable by putting information online, but need to reveal that vulnerability to ultimately build trust and relationships. However, people are now thinking through when to make something private versus when to make something public; information is public by default and private through effort.
“What Happens when The New York Times Dies” was a discussion about the quality of journalism from a well-established, time-honored publication versus that of community bloggers. Panelists included a New York Times columnist, a New York blogger, founder of the popular Daily Kos blog, editor of Reason magazine, and founder of Blogads.
The moderator started the session by polling the audience to get an understanding of New York Times advocates versus dissidents. The majority of attendees would be disappointed if the New York Times disappeared and responded that they would be willing to pay for access to its content. The discussion following was whether the blogger population of New York could effectively take over the reporting duties of the New York Times staff if the paper were to disappear. There was clear animosity between the Daily Kos and the New York Times, as the Daily Kos believes that Times staff writers are allowed to be sloppy in their reporting due to the paper’s built-in credibility. Because the Daily Kos does not have that institutional support, they work harder to prove the quality of their work and that makes their work better. The Daily Kos representative went so far as to say that the New York Times is a stenographer for power. While no definitive conclusions were drawn, there was agreement that people will always want news and will be source agnostic while seeking out quality coverage.
Day two of five is complete. If you ever attend SXSW, adopt and live the following motto: “It is a marathon, not a sprint.” To prepare for SXSW, I read several blog posts from those with festival experience offering survival advice. While I processed all that information and took some of the advice, I didn’t take it all. Today was the first full day of sessions, with the opportunity to attend six hour-long sessions (with 30 minutes between each session to relocate and refuel). I only made it through five before I was thirsty, hungry, just generally tired and my computer batteries were dead (actually, my computer batteries were dead after only three sessions and then someone tripped over my power chord, causing an injury to the charger that is going to require duct tape). They were right when they said it was a marathon, not sprint. And when they said stay hydrated. And when they said bring extra batteries for all your electronics. They were all right. Oh, so right. Despite a few bumps today, I survived and will be better prepared for tomorrow, even if only by a little bit.
At SXSW, in the “How to Create a Viral Video” discussion, the panelists created a spoof of the “Surprised Kitty” video that currently has over 21 million views. I am in the very back of this spoof video, but you can’t see me, so don’t try.
Here is the original video:
Here is our spoof:
On Day 2 of SXSW Interactive in Austin, one of the sessions included “How to Create a Viral Video.” This was a panel discussion that included Director of Film and Video at TED, User Experience Manager at YouTube and OK Go band member. This was definitely a team of people who know a bit about the magic of online video.
Jokingly, they started the session by informing us that in order for a video to be successful virally all that was needed were boobs and kittens. It garnered a laugh, but is not necessarily untrue; there are thousands of examples of these successes.
But boobs and kittens won’t work for everyone. The panel had several useful tips for video success:
This recap is also posted on Talk Business.
This is my first time at the geek Mecca that is South by Southwest (SXSW), held annually in Austin, Texas. Anxious to jump into the experience, I obediently waited outside my hotel at 8:30 AM for the shuttle service to pick me up. The driver was there by 8:45 AM; eight stops and thirty minutes later, we actually arrived at the Austin Convention Center. (Keep in mind that the events of this first day did not actually begin until 2 PM that afternoon.) After securing my badge, bag and swag, I had nothing to do but park myself on the floor near an electrical outlet (convergence and socializing seem to occur around electrical outlets here) and geek-out with the rest of the geeks.
Guys definitely out-number the girls around here and the ages skew under 40 years old, but over 25 (although there are many that fall on either side of that range). If you are using anything but a Mac computer, you stand out as odd. Everyone walks around with his or head down, focusing on the mobile device of choice.
Themes heard on day one were (1) social media is diminishing human interaction and (2) location, location, location. There were over 60 sessions today, occurring in three scheduled time periods, so being one person, I could only attend three of those 60. My panel/event attendance for the day included:
“Program or Be Programmed,” presented by Douglas Rushkoff, was an argument against the passive approach to the digital space that we are taking. He cautioned against the use of long-distance technologies in short-distance situations, the oversimplification of choices we are given on the Internet and translating those into life, and anonymity that the online space allows. Rushkoff highlighted the fact that until five years ago, 80% of communication was non-verbal and now most of our communication is done online, thereby negating non-verbal cues. Perhaps a bit overly intellectual, but nevertheless fear-inducing, this presentation was not what I expected to hear at festival celebrating technology.
“Do Cool Kids Leave When the Suits Arrive?” was conversation about whether the early adopters of social media applications are right to feel ownership of the spaces, and insult when there is an attempt to incorporate aspects more amenable to the general public in an effort monetize the application or service. Basically, it was the “what do I do when my mom/my boss/my kid friends me on Facebook” discussion; “cool kids” and “suits” were simply metaphors for whatever a participant’s particular situation might have been. Because this session was structured as a conversation open to all attendees in the room, the discussion branched several different directions. Most interestingly, however, was that most people walked into the room assuming they were a “cool kid,” but soon realized they were a “suit.” At one point, even Google was likened to a suit, and it used to be the coolest kid around. The simple fact is that we are all in business to make money and to make money, we have to take on a “suit-like” attitude.
Another interesting turn in the conversation was use of the social media space and user maturity in understanding what can be said and what should be shared. There was a sentiment in the room that frequent users are being conditioned to share inappropriately; that his or her privacy filter has disintegrated. The moderator noted that the next iteration of social media will be more about improving human-to-human interfaces rather than human-to-computer interfaces.
“Time + Social + Location. What’s Next In Mobile Experiences?” was, by far, the most engaging session of my day. It was at last year’s SXSW that FourSquare took off, so it is fitting this year that there is a lot of discussion about location-based applications. In fact, there are eight sessions over the five-day festival where location-based applications will be discussed. It was standing room only in this panel-led session and a poll of the attendees revealed that almost everyone in the room had “checked in” with at least one service, and many people had checked in with two or more. Services, or applications, used included FourSquare, Gowalla, Loopt and Twitter (which just launched its location-based feature in the last couple of days), among a smattering of others. Location-based applications are services that allow the user to update his or her status (much like Twitter or Facebook), but attach a very specific location to that update, either with a dot on a map, a longitude and latitude reading, or a location defined and named by the users (a restaurant, retail location, ballroom at a convention center, etc.).
The big question about location-based updates: is it creepy and dangerous to announce your exact location to the world? The simple answer: no. The panelists quickly dismissed sites like Please Rob Me as irrelevant to the discussion because, in truth, we have been announcing our locations for years using Twitter and Facebook. By defining the location, we are creating a database for future reference of that location. We are giving those locations more meaning by being able to walk into that location at a later date and know not only who has been there before, but what they did there and what they thought about that location. The social power of location-based applications is in knowing where friends have been, not in where they are right now.
An additional twist to the location-based applications is that they award participants points for their check-ins. Frequent updating of status becomes a game, with users attempting to out-score people they have never met and reap the reward of badges and mayorship of locations where they check-in.
Day one of five is complete. I am excited to see what I learn during day two. Stay tuned.