SXSW in retrospect: The Last of the Launch-and-Leave ‘Ems

I’ve been meaning to do a quick post about how my SXSW panel went. Mel Exon has put up her slides, so take a look below, and SXSW have put up the audio recording of the event, which may interest some of you. I think it went off fairly well (though listening to one’s own voice is rather strange!). Peter Parkes, Conrad Lisco and Mel were great panelists who were all up to the challenge of talking about things that are often pushed under the carpet. I particularly enjoyed Peter’s point about the infrastructure of death marketing, or what warning bells to look for when a client comes to you to commission a project you think will fail: what makes up the personalities of those kinds of people? Mel spoke eloquently about all advertising not being bad, and that in some cases it is actually better to launch and leave, and know when to exit and what you’re good at, and Conrad was quite good with using Nike+ (yes, even if it’s been mentioned a number of times before!) as an example of how agencies and clients can work together to build something that is useful on an ongoing basis.

SXSW Madness 2011

I did a photojournalism piece for Imperica after my trip to SXSW last week. Here it is:

Every March, Austin has an influx of geeks. SXSW is almost legendary in its popularity as the place to be seen if you are, you know, with it – but that’s not what it is. SXSW Interactive, at least, is about people who love the internet coming together to be inspired, network and party in an atmosphere soaked with sun, margaritas and BBQ – and then so much more.

This is a snapshot of the 5 days I was in Texas this year – Austin as I will always remember it:

Austin is super-connected: taxi drivers accept payment by Square, Foursquare and Gowalla users battle it out for supremacy in every bar. One of this year’s new features from Foursquare during SXSW is a partnership with American Express where AmEx users get $5 back for every $5 spent – an Austin special.

SXSW this year was bigger than ever before, with close to 20,000 attendees for the Interactive festival alone. Everywhere you went, and especially in the Austin Convention Centre which was the heart of the festival, you saw people, people and more people.

And within the Convention Centre, I couldn’t fail to notice stickers, posters, screens and corporate logos. They shouted at you everywhere: ‘look at the number of check-ins, the number of Instagrams, the special offers, the competitions, the freebies, look look look!!’


Austin in spring is wonderful: the buildings seem brighter with the sun’s rays bouncing off the walls, colours seem to pop everywhere, and the world in general seems a nicer place. Yes, the sun can do that, for those of us who live in London that don’t remember! You will also find yourself being constantly distracted by quirky signs of all kinds.

But as soon as 6pm falls and the daily SXSW talks and panel sessions end (the evening does start earlier for many though!), the bars of the city become the focus. It’s like an exodus, but thankfully there are so many places to choose from that the question is only really whether you want to party or chill, down tequilas or swig the beers.

And so 5 days passed by in a cloud of sensory and information overload.

Did anyone say it’s time for SXSW 2012?

Are you going to SXSW? Come and see my panel!

If you’re reading this on the homepage of my blog and not Google Reader or an RSS feed, you’ll notice the SXSW Interactive speaker badge on the right. Yes, it’s that time of year when the geeks of the world migrate en masse to Austin, Texas. A few of us from work are going this week as well. I’m moderating a panel called ‘The Last of the Launch-and-Leave ‘Ems’ – there’s more information below (re-posted from the Made by Many blog). If you’d like to find out what’s going on there, follow @madebymany on Twitter, and I’m @anjali28:

So this week is the beginning of the week-long party conference that is SXSW Interactive. Austin is going to be submerged with geeks from across the globe, including, of course, some of us from Made by Many. A lot of tequila will be drunk, and a lot of interesting conversations with people we otherwise only know on Twitter will be had (I anticipate ‘you look nothing like your avatar’ and ‘you look exactly like your avatar’ being oft-used phrases!).

Last year was a most overwhelming (positive) experience, it being the first time a lot of us were heading there. We were excited much before we left – some of you may remember our Twitter-powered Made by Many people-tracker homepage which we created specially for the event.

The excitement levels are still as high as ever, and this time we’ve got something else we’ve created just for SXSW up our sleeves: the Hollergram iPad app. You’ll soon hear more about how we went about building it and our thought process behind it, so watch this space.

One of the other things we’re really looking forward to this time though, is our very own panel.  We’ve got a talented and opinionated bunch of people in Mel Exon, (managing partner and co-founder of BBH Labs), Peter Parkes, (social media lead at Skype), and Conrad Lisco (mobile and emerging platforms lead at R/GA New York) on a panel to discuss a topic which comes up in discussions often at Made by Many: the ongoing shift in advertising and marketing from one-off campaigns to more valuable and meaningful communities and platforms, and what that means for agencies and clients.

It’s not an easy subject to delve into – everyone and their brother has something to say. Traditional advertising folk are likely to have the view that campaigns are the wind that feeds a brand’s success, while at Made by Many, we’re of the opinion that building platforms of value to the user are really what it’s all about. But what does the client really think? And is it practical to think that communities and platforms are the way of the future for brands? Where do community management and a propagation strategy come in?

These are just some of the questions we will attempt to tackle during the panel discussion. Are there things you’d specifically like to see us discuss? If so, leave us a note in the comments and we’ll do our best to cover it if we can in the one hour we have.

The panel session is at 3.30pm on Monday March 14th in Ballroom F at the Austin Convention Center – it promises to be interesting, as our panelists cover a cross-section of traditional and digital, agency and client-side. Mark it in your calendars if you’re heading SXSW-wards – we’ll see you there.

SXSWi 2011 Panel Curation Ahoy!

OK, so there are 2392 panel proposals for next year’s SXSW Interactive Festival and it’s not an easy job wading through all of them – heaven knows not many people have that kind of time nowadays. I thought it would be useful to pull out the panels I’m definitely voting for, for one reason or another, and I urge you to give these your vote too.

First off, Made by Many has 3 panels in the fray, including one from Yours Truly:

1. “Daddy, You Should Tweet That: Parenting Goes Digital”, which will draw on, amongst other things, our experience with the parenting web thanks to Ready for Ten.

2. “Good News: Apps, Paywalls, Publishers and Content”, whose panellists will include some of the people behind FT Tilt and the Telegraph news website.

3.  “The Last of the Launch-and-Leave ‘Ems”, where I’ll have a presence and Made by Many, Mel (BBH Labs) and Peter Parkes (Skype) will discuss the ‘new’ kind of digital platform and the processes involved in making them smooth and successful projects.

A project that I’m affiliated with:

4. “Better Crowdsourcing: Lessons Learned from the 3six5 project”, because in addition to being a part of it, I think Len Kendall and Daniel Honigman are really putting a lot of effort into what I think is a truly innovative and entertaining endeavour.

Smart folk, smart thoughts:

5. “Community Thunderdome: Branded vs. Unbranded, You Decide”, because Bud and Mike were super entertaining last year and I’m sure they will be in Part Deux.

6. “Genius Steals: Remix Culture IS Culture”, because I believe it is. Period. And because Faris rocks.

7. “Who’s Following Me: Privacy and Social Media”, because I’m constantly trying to balance my concepts of the private and the public, sharing and over-sharing in this networked world.

8. “People Are Stupid, and How to Fix Them”, because sometimes the web vexes me. And Clay’s a smart chap.

9. “Ideas Die in the Dark”, because good ideas deserve to see the light of day and this throws the issue into the issue of being people precious about the ideas into the open.

10. “Ladies Claim Digital Strategy is the New Creativity”, because the panellists are smart. And OK, I want to fly the flag of feminism this once.

11. “Persona-fication, or Falling in Love with a Bot”, because where’s the line between IRL and online personas?

12. “Tuttle2Texas: London-Austin via railroad and social capital”, because I thought it was brave of Lloyd to do this and his trip is an example of something most people probably wouldn’t have believed can be done.

13. “FTW: Building a Killer Professional and Personal Network”, because I’d like to know how ;-), and Stephen promises it will be ‘interactive, fun, and connect folks attending’.

14. “Ad Agencies Need A New Mindset To Survive”, because they do, and Edward and Ben are good candidates to ask the difficult questions.

15. “A Guide to Long-Term Perspective on Trends”, because too many people (including me, on occasion) jump to conclusions too swiftly and it will be useful to discuss how to identify useful long-term patterns vs. short-term ones.

Voting ends August 27th. If you think these panels will be as interesting as I do, please give them your support and spread the word – thank you!

** Late bonus entry – Pies, Ties and Behavioural Economics, because you probably will vote for it anyway as soon as you read the description: “We’ve disguised behavioural economics and experiments in play as a pie cart and a tie cart.” The only thing that would make this better is if it featured robots as well.

Image by mädchenkrawall via Flickr courtesy a Creative Commons license

Translating words into art

One of my favourite talks at SXSW was danah boyd’s, on privacy and publicity in a socially networked world. She’s put up the transcript of her talk here, and you should read it if you haven’t already.

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Heather Willems of ImageThink, a company that translates talks into real-time visuals, was hard at work during the session and what you see above is what she drew as danah was speaking at SXSW. Heather kindly sent a clean graphic of her work to a bunch of us who requested it after the talk – thanks Heather!

I also thought her work on Daniel Pogue’s double review of the iPad in the New York Times last week (one for techies, one for everyone else, as he says), was quite amusing:

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The technological equation of my social interaction!

Whoa. So there is hell of a lot going on in the social media world. It’s like starting this blog has opened up a whole world that I knew of only from the sidelines. It makes me all the more glad I did, because it is all so fascinating.

This post is likely to be long, but I have tons of thoughts and information that I’d like to put on the table.

I’ll try to keep the focus on three things: Facebook, Twitter and Qik, and I’m going to briefly mention another: tinyURL, which I touched upon yesterday.

Given the scale of Facebook’s impact today, I don’t think it is unwarranted for me to admit I’ve been following Zuckerberg’s his words closely. It’s a fascinating website socially and culturally, even if I have some suspicions about it. It’s never been easier to follow a person’s actions than it is today, thanks to social media applications and platforms, so I am able to track what he thinks of Facebook reasonably carefully if I keep myself plugged in online.

Robert Scoble tweeted sometime last evening about Zuckerberg’s desire to have a re-do of his SXSW interaction with the public. I caught that video on Qik because Scoble posted it as it happened (or soon after). (Qik is a website that allows you to stream videos from your phone).

So Twitter became the starting point for my being able to listen to Zuckerberg. I got to know some interesting things about Twitter yesterday, when I listened to this interview with Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, Rob Pegoraro, columnist with the Washington Post, Holly Willis, professor of media studies at the University of Southern California and Robert Scoble, about Twitter’s impact on the world. The interview was last year but the issues are as relevant now. I’m not going to get into all of it (it was a 1-hour interview) but some of the topics under discussion were how Twitter is basically an extension of Facebook and MySpace, where people broadcast their actions to their friends – and others – in the hope that it is interesting, about how it is voyeuristic in a sense but it is a construct of who we are, about how people are therefore willing today to have that level of surveillance of their lives. Also, however, platforms like Twitter create a culture of synthetic closeness (this phrase, coined by a caller who had some questions for the panel, was fascinating) and potentially alienates some people because users no longer feel a need to go out and meet people as they are meeting them online and are satisfied with those interactions.

Yesterday, the second time round at SXSW, Zuckerberg took questions only from the audience – a very wise thing to do. I’m going to mention some of the issues I found interesting (these were Zuckerberg’s responses to questions from the audience):

  1. What happens when all relationships online become social relationships, as often happens with Facebook? You don’t really know or want to know, say a thousand people, but many people do. Zuckerberg mentioned the concept of Dunbar’s number in response, which basically says that a person can have stable inter-personal relationships with about 150 people – he thinks most people, while they may have a huge number of people on their list, ultimately stick to 150 for reasonably close relationships.
  1. Facebook has become so much about games now, and games allow people to connect socially though they may not otherwise. When Facebook started, the thought of games becoming such a big factor in Facebook’s success did not even strike him vaguely. Zuckerberg himself said that there were many people on his own list who he does not communicate regularly with except for the times he plays Scrabulous with them! He went on to mention that the great thing about these platforms is that Facebook does not have to play an editorial role at all, because the market will sort out what is successful and what isn’t.
  1. Facebook’s plan to share information with other countries: While Facebook wanted to allow as many people as possible to use the site, Zuckerberg recognized that there are certain countries like China, for example, that maintain high levels of data policing. They could deliberately slow down servers if they don’t like what is being transmitted, or if Facebook decides to host servers themselves then they may arrest the administrators of the servers. Keeping people’s private information private is crucial to them, and it is an issue they are working on with regard to expansion to other countries.
  1. Another interesting bit of data that I gleaned from the video is that apparently Robert Scoble, who runs a popular blog himself (I heard someone sitting next to him call him part of the ‘blogerati’!!), was kicked off Facebook in January this year for attempting to ‘scrape’ information off Facebook. Basically he ‘scraped’ information of more than 5,000 of his friends off Facebook for import into a new feature being run by Plaxo which allows users to import Facebook information. This violates Facebook’s service agreement so his account was disabled, but subsequently reinstated when he contacted their Customer Service division.

Just think about all of this. There is so much going on online that makes this world clearly one that is going to be almost debilitated without recourse to social media in the years to come.

Back to what I started off talking about: this is how I got the data I have – Scoble used tinyURL to create a succinct link of his Qik video of Zuckerberg talking to insert into his Twitter feed, which I then clicked. So

Qik=>tinyURL=>Twitter=>Facebook video

The technological equation of my social interaction!

Zuckerberg, Lacy and the SXSW conference event

I had to write about this after the deluge of information online about Mark Zuckerberg’s interview by BusinessWeek columnist Sarah Lacy at the SXSW Interactive conference yesterday. You can view part of the interview here, but the essence of the controversy is that Lacy got majorly heckled by the audience and wasted her (and Zuckerberg’s) time by asking the reasonably high-profile and not-always-easily-accessible-by-the-media entrepreneur very few of the questions that millions of people are keen to know about his multi-billion-dollar website Facebook. Over the years – well, the last one year, to be more precise, Facebook has evolved into a movement of sorts. It didn’t exactly pioneer the social networking movement but it certainly took it to new heights, in a way that other similar sites like Orkut, hi5 or Friendster were not able to. Jeff Jarvis, associate professor and director of CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism has already blogged about where she went wrong and what she could have done to save the interview from going down the drain. He, in fact, plans to use the whole event as a lesson in his journalism classes about how not to conduct an interview.

I quickly tried to find a response from Sarah Lacy on the subject, and my trusty reference website YouTube came up with this. Take a look.

Zuckerberg says in his interview, in response to one question that Lacy did ask sensibly, that one thing that Facebook still needs to master is giving more control, or, if you ask me, more user-friendly control over the information they choose to let out on Facebook. From here:

“Almost all of the mistakes we made, we didn’t give people enough control. We need to give people complete control over their information,” said Zuckerberg. “The more control and the more granular the control, the more info people will share and the more we will be able to achieve our goals.”

I use Facebook quite often, and as a user, that’s probably my biggest issue. Sure, you can control who sees what – ‘only me’, ‘only my friends’, ‘all my friends and all my networks’ and all that, but with the privacy meter reading going up and down as it indicates red (for high privacy levels) or stays blue (for most publicly available stuff), it somehow leaves me with a very uncertain feeling. I’m just not sure at the end of the day what is going on. Plus of course, you have the million applications which mandatorily require you to allow them to ‘access your information’ before allowing you to install them. And again you are left with this uneasy feeling of how much information and what exactly this information that they are accessing is. No one knows, or even, as far as I can see, can know. So even if it is a very fun application, I often find myself not installing it because I don’t want to keep releasing my data to the holders or creators of random applications.

Last but not the least, you have the troublesome screen which always pops up after you decide that you’ll take the risk of adding the umpteenth application to your Facebook profile, inviting you to ask all or some of your friends (at the very least) to add the same application. In fact, Facebook even has a group to petition the owners/administrators to put an end to this. I think at some point eventually the group’s going to get some response, because that’s what happened with another issue it faced not so long ago: it finally caved in to user requests and removed the ‘is’ from it’s status message boxes. This meant that people could finally say ‘XYZ wants to eat chocolate’ instead of ‘XYZ is wanting to eat chocolate’, and generally just makes more sense, in addition to letting the user feel that they have more control over what they want to type.

Anyway, back on the topic of the SXSW conference, here’s a piece by BBC journalist Bill Thompson on the ‘sense of being there offered by Twitter’, so that he can keep up with the happenings at the conference though he wasn’t able to get to Austin this year. I looked at their speaker line-up for the interactive panels, and it looks very interesting. It ends tomorrow, though. I think it is by far one of the more interesting conference-festivals that we have today. No wonder it is getting so popular.