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SXSWi This presentation was shared with BBDO / Proximity in April 2011 at the Digital Lab. It’s a summary of our experience down in the great city of Austin, Texas over SXSW Interactive in March 2011. If you would like a detailed summary of my personal experience check out a series of posts @ http://bit.ly/zach_sxsw

SXSW Interactive 2011

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This presentation is a summary of ten themes that made an impact on me at SXSW Interactive in 2011. The contents are broken into two sections: 1). Five themes relevant to marketers 2). Five themes that aren't so relevant but rock. Feel free to contact me.

Text of SXSW Interactive 2011

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SXSWiThis presentation was shared with BBDO / Proximity in April 2011 at the Digital Lab.

It’s a summary of our experience down in the great city of Austin, Texas over SXSW Interactive in March 2011.

If you would like a detailed summary of my personal experience check out a series of posts @ http://bit.ly/zach_sxsw

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What is SXSW Interactive?

Appropriately named “March Break For Nerds” - SXSWi transforms Austin Texas into the epicenter of interactive media, technology and experience.

SXSW Interactive is a five day conference and one of three parts of the SXSW Conference, which includes a music and film component.

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Why do we go down to Austin?

The main reason is rooted in the fact that digital is ubiquitous. The “digital world” is no longer restricted to computers as it now permeates all aspects of our lives.

Specifically, SXSW helps marketers understand how:• How people communicate and provides thoughts on future possibilities.• How to make the best of emerging technology (not just the flashy stuff).• How to built interactive experiences that rock.• How to understand culture in this “digital world” so we can be relevant.

SXSW is an incubator of what is to come. SXSW is inspiring and humbling. SXSW rocks.

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How the SXSWi conference works.

Digital is a broad term that represents a complex world. SXSWi does a good job of taking a multidisciplinary approach at this “digital world”. Sessions fall into a number of categories including: Design / Business / Marketing / Video games / Technology /

Great stuff happens at the intersection of these disciplines.

SXSW is a lot to take in. There are over 80 sessions a day crammed into six time slots. Attending SXSWi is really a practice in the art of sacrifice. At any one time, there are at least four different topics you want to attend.

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We’re going to go through ten themes in this presentation that had an impact.

Five are completely relevant to your marketing job and your clients’ business. You’ll be able to use any of these themes and look smart in a meeting this afternoon.

Then we’ll go through five themes that aren’t so relevant to your job but are pretty awesome.

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Let’s get into it.

Section 1Themes from SXSWi that are relevant to your job today.

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If you’ve read any summaries of SXSWi you are certainly aware of gamification as a dominating theme this year.

In short, gamification is the study of the video game experience, specifically the individual mechanism go into a video game. The intention is to understand the design of a video game experience and it’s ability to drive rich engagement.

By understanding the levers that make video games a rich experience, one can apply these behavioural levers to interactive experiences that aren’t video games.

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The idea of gamification is nothing new.

American Express has been using game mechanics for as long as I can remember. Think of the different levels of status that come with AE cards from Gold to Black. We’ll that’s a game mechanic.

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A contemporary example that gets a lot of credit for adopting game mechanics is Foursquare.

Foursquare was certainly not the first location based service, however, it was able to set itself apart from other location based services by creating a sticky experience with the use of points and badges. In other words, the gamification of location based services set Foursquare apart from the competition.

Interestingly, Dennis Crowley from Foursquare suggested that people shouldn’t think of the service as a game. Hm.m, if you want more information do a search.

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So why do we care?

Well grasshopper, the answer lies a video game’s ability to create very immersive experiences. People spend a terrifying amount of hours playing video games and for what? The answer doesn’t lie in the “ask” of the game, for example “growing the biggest farm” (Farmville) or “killing all the pigs” (Angry birds). The answer rather lies in the mechanics or design of the video game experience. In other words, it’s not the end but the means.

Given marketing is no longer about what brands say, brands are now focused on “doing” and that “doing” includes creating experiences. And it’s not enough to just create an experience, brands need create amazing experiences. Gamification helps achieve that goal.

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Here’s a brand (albeit shallow) example of gamification mechanics used by Molson. It pretty much adopts the same strategy as Foursquare and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Molson idea was a direct lift from the location based service.

In short, Molson had badges aligned with seizing the summer. You did something like have a campfire and you’d get a badge for it. The idea is that people would want to collect all the badges and let their respective networks know when they achieved any of them.

Check out the video if you’d like more details.

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Video game mechanics can be applied to any form of experience.

Seth Priebatsch from SCVNGR explained how the education system could be designed with game mechanics to encourage participation and engagement.

You can learn more about his presentation by going onto the SXSW website. A majority of the sessions are recorded.

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Here’s an example of another form of game mechanic. You can see how this mechanic could be applied to any experience. Pretty straight forwards huh?

You can find a massive list of game mechanics by doing a search query for SCVNGR GAME MECHANICS.

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There’s no such thing as above and below the line. Marketers, we need to get over this imaginary divide. Content does not live in isolation. We can no longer think in silos.

As long as you are able to connect to the Internet, mobile devices provide a digital layer over everything.

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One thing marketers should note is that television is not dead.

Now the race is on to see who can augment and enhance the TV viewing experience.

Ask yourself, how can online data and interactivity bring the television viewing experience to the next level? What will a social overlay look like and what’s the experience? How can narratives expand through digital channels? How could gaming change engagement with the television medium?

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The History Channel isn’t crazy. They understand no barrier exists between the “digital world” and the “real world” which is why they developed a presence on Foursquare that realizes the potential of data ubiquity.

By being “friends” with the History Channel on Foursquare, a user is able to receive interesting historical facts specific to their check in location.

This seems like a no brainer and a perfect fit for the brand. Notice how History Channel isn’t pitching anything?

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American Express also did a good job on Foursquare.

As people check in to different locations, AMEX offers exclusive deals based on particular check in locations. Once again, you have to be friends with AMEX to receive this information.

For example, I could check into Stubb’s BBQ and because I’m friends with AMEX, I might receive at 2 for 1 coupon that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

Simple value.

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The ubiquity of data is not limited to geographic locations or mobile devices.

Inanimate objects are increasingly connected to the “cloud”. For example, this refrigerator can bring up recipes, call your friend or order milk.

The point you need to take away is that everything that surrounds you, everything that you touch, will somehow be connected to digital data and services.

Now think about what you could do with everything from a pencil to a branded experience.

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This should scare the shit out of you if you are a marketer.

Traditionally, our job has been to get in between people and their content. This was true during the period of traditional media and people are applying the old rules to our contemporary media environment.

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It’s time to ask yourself: are you leeching off the Internet or are you contributing to it?

If you are still supporting pre-rolls, you are getting in between people and the content they want to enjoy. Not only are people not listening to your message, your tactics garner no credibility and likely solicit frustration.

It’s time to get our of the way and start thinking as a publisher. What content or experiences are you creating that people actually want to enjoy?

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If we think of ourselves as publishers then we must ask ourselves what content and which experiences are relevant to our audience?

Take for example, The Creators Project by Intel and Vice. In short, this project celebrates creativity and provides a number of resources for artists. It’s a winner because Intel is able to communicate their values & pitch product while bringing something of value to their audience. If purchased media space disappeared today, how would you be relevant?

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Here’s another example of marketing that creates value while acting like a publisher.

Coca Cola partnered with Maroon 5 to create a 24 hours experience that consisted of writing a crowdsourced song with band.

There’s no doubt that this experience is brought to your by a big bad brand but the marketing ultimately creates a mutually beneficial relationship for the brand and the audience.

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The online space is moving away from social based graphs and towards interests based graphs.

In other words, connections online are being created based on what interests us as opposed to who we know in “the real world”.

Although social graphs will continue to be important, we expect to see a proliferation of services that connect people on their interests.

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Lists on Twitter is one way to look at this trend but it’s just the beginning. Beluga, Group Me and Foursquare are contributing to this transformation and they were a “big deal” at SXSWi.

For example, using Foursquare in the future, you could join groups like “Toronto First Time Moms” and get served tips, stores and deals relevant to this audiences’ needs. You might not know the other moms but you’re going to build networks with them based on aligning interests.

For marketers, our job is about to get a whole lot harder as our audiences become super fragmented and our tactics have to provide tremendous value.

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Instagram is another example of a movement from a social graph to an interest graph as people are meeting and connecting with one another based on the interest of photography.

Mobile devices and apps have accelerated this trend as we can now connect far more easily with those that share our hobbies.

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This trend is both a challenge and an opportunity for marketers.

On one hand, it’s an opportunity because we can speak directly to specific interests and audience mindsets. The amount of data generated is astronomical.

On the other hand, it’s a challenge because our mass audience is now fragmented into a multitude of groups. In order to be welcome and effective within these respective communities, we will need to become extremely granular in our efforts and understand what value we bring to these respective micro communities.

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You are entering the Age Of Relevance. Your online data trail is going to make the Internet serendipitous by generating content it thinks you will find relevant. It’s kinda like the creepy ways Google serves up ads based on what’s in your emails but now it pertains to all content.

There’s a dark side to this trend and privacy will certainly continue to be an issue. Nevertheless, we’re going to witness data being leveraged to make the online space a richer, more relevant experience.

How do you take an abundant amount of information, a rich social network and provide relevant information to your audience?

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Another way to look at this trend is the idea of “personalized serendipity” or “unexpected relevance”.

This poses a number of challenges because providing “contextually relevant information” changes all the time based on context.

For example, on Thursday afternoon I might be more receptive to content about weekend partying however I might not be interested in receiving that information on Monday at lunch. That’s an easy one – now think about the effect of emotions on relevance.

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An example of Contextual Discovery could be part of Foursquare’s future plans.

The idea is that based on past check ins and tips, Foursquare will be able to make recommendations that would match your preferences. It’s kinda like Amazon for the world at large.

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I found this graph on Mashable and it does a good job at highlighting the different platforms that speak to Contextual Discovery across the axis of:


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Here’s a quick summary of the five relevant themes from SXSWi we explored.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at [email protected]

Next, we’ll go through ideas that I found interesting however they might not be particularly relevant to a marketer’s day to day job.

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Section 2Not so relevant things I learned at SXSWi but they still rock.

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The idea of "biomimicry" is certainly not new.

For much of the past decade, the notion of borrowing engineering solutions from the natural world has inspired architects, industrial designers and others.

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A really neat example is a project Nissan is currently working on. They are essentially trying to figure out a “cure” for traffic by exploring the idea of “swarming cars”.

In short, they are studying the movements of schooling fish. Schooling fish follow ultra-simple mathematical rules to ensure that they never collide with each other when swimming in schools. By studying this algorithm, the people at Nissan hope to develop an automobile navigation system that applies their learnings from schooling fish.

After all, most traffic is cause by bad drivers and “group think”

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Here’s another example – the Namibian Beetle.

This little creature lives in a very arid environment where water is scare. In order to harvest water, the beetle crawls to the top of sand dune during the evening and radiates heat from its shell. The heat was garnered from the sun during the day. As a result of the radiating heat and cool night air, water condenses on the shell and the insect is able to drink. The shell is built in such a way that its surface holds onto water well.

Engineers can look at this system and develop architectural designs that are better suited for a desert environment.

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There’s more of this great stuff online. Check out this TED session.

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Clay Shirky, a prominent supporter of social media and social technologies argued that social media in isolation cannot be revolutionary.

In short, social media allows people to organize at a level that was only once possible by governments. Social media is a tool for change, however, it is not the sole driver to change.

Shirky argues that you need a strong, organized community behind social media in order for change to be meaningful.

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Just ask the people of Sudan.

When the Sudanese government was feeling pressure from neighboring revolutions, they organized a preemptive strike. Using Facebook, they started a protest against themselves. When people came to protest, patty wagons were waiting for them. Essentially, the government set them up.

Shirky argues that Sudanese protesters lacked the organizational infrastructure behind the flashy tools discussed in the media.

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Shirky introduced the idea of the Dictators Dillema, which states that the internet is such a pervasive part of peoples’ lives that if the ruling party blocks certain sites or simply turns the whole thing off their plans will backfire, angering protesters further and therefore making matters worse for the ruling parties.

In other words, if you turn the Internet off, you’ll make enemies. If you leave the Internet on, you’re giving protesters the ability to organize.

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NUI stands for Natural User Interface. In short, it is the means by which we engage with computer spftware and other technology. For many years, the mouse was the leading form of computer NUI and we are now evolving into other forms:

Touch – ipods and ipadsGestural – Microsoft XBOX Kinect.Thought – the future*

We’ll focus solely on Thought NUI.

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“The future is here, it’s just not well distributed.”

Thought NUI is a reality of our contemporary world however it is restricted to certain sectors, mainly medical. There are approximately 80 000 people who have implants in their brands to alleviate conditions like dystonia and Parkinson’ Disease.

Other people are getting RFID chips implanted in their skin so they can unlock their cars or homes. Although this is not Thought NUI it’s setting precedence for technological implants.

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Which raises a few interesting ethical questions like:

Singularity – As technology advances, individuals becoming equal to one another. For example, if all humans are connected to the Internet through chips in their brains and have access to the same amount of information, what will make us different? What are the repercussions on society? This is a well discussed topic with many tangents so I’d recommend looking into it if you are curious.

Transhumans – Humans are becoming more like computers and computers are becoming more human. What happens if we evolve into one species. How will we feel when computers are smarter than us? Again, lots on this too…including this awesome flick.

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The proliferation of the digital world is forcing us to redefine our environment, particularly sovereign borders.

Are you aware of the implications of this change?

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Traditional geographic partitions and sovereign borders are becoming increasingly obsolete with the evolution of the online world and the data that moves through cyberspace. This online world does not operate according to the same channels & rules as the sovereign world. We need new models for sovereignty & data but what does that look like?

This session made the point that borders are merely imaginary and it’s in social dialogue that they become “real”. We have the ability to redefine our surroundings in ways that benefit us. Check out Walking through Walls operations conducted by the IDF.

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A Google patent spoke to the increasing ambiguity of borders.

Apparently, Google is developing data servers in the middle of the international waters. A quick search on Google will reveal this project.

Who owns this data? Which sovereignty is responsible for ensuring the proper use of this information?


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I’ll wrap this up quickly with a point from Marc Ecko’s presentation on Creating AWEthentic Connections.

The next slide is a summary of an “equation” that was shared during the session. Marc decided he’d take a shot at putting numbers towards abstract ideas.

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Here's how he suggests you evaluate a Unique Voice.

Action, the great equalizer: Action = 100 (doing) Actionless = 0.1 (talking)

Fear: Fearless = 0.1 (manifests itself as saying things that have physical consequences) Fearful = 100 (being completely fearful arrests you from being yourself)

Self: Selfless = 0.1 // Selfish = 100

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Here’s what we reviewed in Section 2.

I hope you found this presentation valuable.

If you have any questions you can reach out to me @Zach_ary or [email protected]

Thank you for your time.