Southby Interactive kicked off last Friday with unprecedented rain, traffic and long queues that took a couple of hours for attendees just to pick up their badges. What do you do when you are in a long queue? Two things, you can either pick up your smart phone or ipad and check emails, make calls and occasionally mumble about wondering if you were ever going to find the holy grail or you could start a conversation with the person next to you.
So I ended up talking to Katie in front of me who was a creative director of a boutique agency from New York and Pavan who hailed from the West Coast working for Cisco. We spoke about why she co founded her own company and how business was booming for certain industries, why talent is always valued. Suddenly the queue didn’t matter so much. You also realize that while social channels enable faster communications and provide the ability to stay in touch, connections are essentially made by people reaching out.
I call SXSWi the woodstock for social geeks. There were sessions on emerging technology, Lean American and start ups were the domain of the Hilton, the keynotes and yoga were owned by the Austin Convention Center, Sheraton covered Journalism/Media, Hilton Garden covered New Business, Mariott provided food for thought on the Future of Work. I am sure I have missed out a few. Book signings by known and unknown authors with business booming at the Barnes and Noble bookstore. In addition, Screenburn at the Palmer Event Center was dedicated to gaming and a Tradeshow that opened on Monday where one could load up on some great swag. There were sponsors with networking lounges. Breakfast, lunch and evening parties. No dearth of the good liquid and I am not talking water here.
SXSW depends on its volunteers who keep the this 9 day show combining Film, Music and Interactive and this year there were over 2000 volunteers at SXSWi.
What I learnt:
Big change is here. It was a concurrent theme. Use the technology to be the change. Adapt or die. I know, pretty drastic. But like Kat Mandelstein’s presentation, Small is the new Big and Big is the new small. Your business, whether you are a small business owner or a large enterprise, how well you leverage the tools that are there is going to make the difference on whether you are around for the next decade. I had the opportunity to listen to Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer.com and talk to him later about business models changing with companies and independents bidding for work done and delivered from any corner of the world. The day of the agile worker is here. Fast company’s panel featuring Pete Cashmore, Baratunde Thurston, DJ Patil, Raina Kumra, Beth Comstock, Danah Boyd and Bob Greenberg on Generation Flux sums it up as chaos so be nimble, adaptable and unafraid. Get ready for the four year career, with job tenure getting shorter and constantly updating your skill set, becoming the new normal.
Digital Engagement: For those who think the social layer is about Facebook and Twitter or even Pinterest, think again. The social layer is affecting every part of business. From the way products are being developed for consumers, to distribution, to pricing to promotion. The end user is collaborating internally and externally in defining how industries adapt. Companies, like Amazon which is now giving Walmart a run for its money, who understand the integrated ecosystem and digital experience will bring in the dollars.
Social Voice Opening keynote Baratunde Thurston talked about comedy and satire to bring about social change. From Eygpt to Iran to America. Comedy is not a laughing matter anymore. There is a growing concern to shine the spotlight on corruption and greed. The power of the internet and social media channels are allowing for individuals to come together to affect change on policies that even five years ago would not have been contemplated. Think Susan B Komen. Think Kony. Think SOPA/PIPA.
Citizens not consumers. “We are the ones we have been waiting for” Stop complaining about the problem and be part of the solution. Code for America founder, Jennifer Pahlka’s rallied passionately about American cities needing its people to step up and help. Pahlka worked with Tim O’Reilly and Web 2.0 before starting this program which is helping cities across America by working with developers. Pahlka showcased some good examples of the cities stepping up and stated that government does not equal politics and we should enable collective action through technology. Her 7 ways that you can help included going into public service, joining the brigade, leveraging open data, living like citizens not consumers by helping the government and taking part in rewiring society. Her speech ended up inspiring one person to actually tweet “Pahlka for President” :)
The Future is Magnificent if you prepare for it. I had heard Ray Kurzweil keynote at IBM’s Impact Conference two years ago and was looking forward to the keynote at SXSWi and he didn’t disappoint. On Monday, Ray spoke to the audience first and was then interviewed by Lev Grossman, Time magazine and author of The Magician, Codex and others. Ray spoke about technological singularity which is about a time when human beings and artificial intelligence will combine to accelerate innovation at unprecedented speed. Calling out IBM’s Watson which could understand the subtlety of language, he predicted that search engines would be able to search conversations to predict human requirements. These technologies will be at 1000 times more powerful in 1o years. He also spoke about the promise vs the peril of biotechnology about the greater good vs its use for bio terrorism. Every other aspect of biology is scaling exponentially. We are walking around with updated software in our body. Health and medicine is now information technology. In twenty years, nanobots in your bloodstream will make you live longer. Ray Kurzweil is essentially an optimist who believes that “we truly are what we think”.
Beam me up, Scotty. Who knows what the future holds.
Pin this Many of us are into pinning and it was a treat to listen to Pinterest co founder Ben Silbermann talk to Chris Dixon. What I enjoyed was the honest, down to earth conversation where Ben speaks about the importance of relationships, getting thick skinned about your dream, seeing failure as one more option that is off the table, the importance of the team, staying in touch with the initial users whose feedback helped modify the platform and of course not taking too much advice. Every company must cut its own path. Chris Dixon did an excellent job asking the right questions. We often underestimate the importance of the interviewer and that a good interview becomes a great conversation.
Gaming is not child’s play. There were many sessions on gaming and SoLoMo. The one I enjoyed most was designer of alternate reality games, Jane McGonigal’s talk about her game SuperBetter. In 2009 after she suffered a mild traumatic brain injury that almost made her suicidal, Jane used gaming to bring her back from the edge. According to Jane, “SuperBetter helps you achieve your health goals — or recover from an illness or injury — by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.” Jane keynotes at IBM Impact this May as well so I am looking forward to hearing her again.
Technology matters. But art makes the merger magic. Of course you can’t go to SXSW and not be touched by the immense creativity of its artists. I had to listen to Joss Whedon as I am a huge Buffy fan. The Slayer was created at a time when vampires weren’t fashionable. The series covered groundbreaking topics in its story arc over 7 seasons. Despite being shunted out of Fox and then landing at UPN, Whedon continued to blaze a trail.
Heard film maker Kirby Ferguson discuss with author Austin Kleon on how everything is a remix. We constantly are influenced by others and derivative work and mashups are the new norm.
Lisa Kudrow joined a panel to discuss the success of web originals. She jokes, very Phoebe like, about how people looked down on her when she started making Web Therapy which is in its fourth season. The success of Web Therapy , Felicia Day’s Dragon Age and others, with the crossover of the web and TV, we are seeing shifts in entertainment, advertising and studio funding.
Daniel Burwen, Cognito Comics talked about taking comic book content on a game layer with interactive features to readers through the iPad. Like Kindle disrupted the book, Cognito takes the digital pen to comics
Heard Rainn “Dwight Shrute” Wilson go from extremely funny to spiritual with his Soul Pancake philosophy. It was actually humanizing in many ways to see someone who is known for being thick skinned and boorish on TV talk to a huge audience about what really mattered to him. “Soul pancake because spirit taco and metaphysical milkshake was taken”
Post Secret was started by Frank Warren as a blogspot project encouraging people to share their secrets about pain, fear, joy and ease their burden via anonymous postcards. Based on the number of postcards they received about people with suicidal thoughts, the site put up a suicide watch on Facebook. The site has more than a million fans. At SXSW, the entire presentation was put to music by Blue Brain Music which released its location based music testing app.
Starting Up with Lean America I try to make time to see the start up accelerator which is a little like American Idol only the company gets about 15 mins to pitch in front of a panel of judges and the audience gets to ask questions too. These were the ones I heard. If I had the time, I would have stayed the entire day to listen to these great ideas. Last year, I heard Hipmunk and Storify present. Both award winners.
Vox.io : Slovenian startup that provides an easy way to make free calls to other vox.io users from a landline, iphone or through the web. Provides profile urls and disposable urls.
Hoot.me : Austin based Facebook app that allows students to collaborate with classmates and teachers for study requirements and tutoring.
SceneTap: Another Austin based start up that utilizes facial recognition technology to track customer analytics in a venue or particular space. Provides an admin tool for venue operators and a social network for consumers. Politicians should worry about this app :)
Votifi : A mobile polling and analytics company that helps people explore issues. Could be useful for governments to ascertain voter pulse.
Thirst: Mobile app that aggregates updates from Twitter, Facebook etc by topic so the user doesn’t miss key conversations.
Word! At the Bookstore
- Get Bold: IBM’s Sandy Carter gets Social. Her top five trends. MoCoMac, Cultural Fluency, Gaming+SoLoMo, Social Micro Calendar, Ecosystems”
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: How habits shape our life and how we can shape our habits.
- The B2B social media book by Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey Cohen.
- The StartUp Owners Manual : by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf
If you can say it, we’ll draw it. By ogilvynotes. I still have their keynote infographics from last year and true to form, they commissioned artists to capture the essence of core sessions and provided copies for the attendees. For those interested, go to http://www.ogilvynotes.com to download these.
The company I kept: The highlight of any conference was, yes, you guessed it, the people I got to meet. I got to match the voices to the faces of the many cool IBMers I work with mainly on our conference calls. The IBM Social Lounge had a stream of visitors and marquee interviews.
I also enjoyed my own company. When you head out on your own, there are places you will go and people you will meet whom you never thought you would meet. Umm, yes that is me with a Glomper.