SXSW: Stop waving your arms you’ll knock over my printed mug. And are those Google Glasses Ray Bans?

By Daimon EklundBased on this past week’s shenanigans at SXSW Interactive in Austin, very soon we will all be sitting at home gesticulating wildly at monitors or TV’s in order to make a booking on a rocket to space while our shirts are connecting us to the internet and our glasses are telling us we better book our Car2go and leave now if we are going to make our space rocket because the traffic is terrible – even before we think to check. We won’t need to carry any little plastic souvenirs back with us from space because we will be able to print them from our 3D printers when we get home. And because we are all “just storytellers” we will never bore anyone with our space travel tales.

Ok, so maybe the space travel thing is a little far off (Elon Musk is working on it even if NASA isn’t) but gesture technology, wearables, ride sharing, 3D printing and the importance of content and story were all front and center in Austin this past week.

As you, dear reader, will already know, six of your Flip the Media correspondents made the trip to Texas to cover SXSW for you – as well as learn a few things for themselves and perhaps partake in a barbecued rib or two. Having now been on two of these sojourns, I can confidently tell you it’s all at once an inspiring, fascinating, educative, frustrating, tiring and irritating experience. But it’s not to be missed. And on behalf of the Flip 6, I want to thank the MCDM powers that be for supporting the initiative.

Crisis Communications panelBut before we get into it, we have to mention Flip’s co-editor Ana Visnecki who orchestrated and participated in a panel on crisis communications the first day of SXSW. Roping MCDM’s Director Hanson Hosein into moderating the panel proved a winning formula. Not only did they have a full house to begin the session, they kept it full to the very end. Not an easy feat at SXSW. Ana told me they had lots of great follow up. Congratulations on the success, Ana.

So what were the big themes for SXSW Interactive for 2013? Well, it definitely wasn’t some cool new app. Past years have seen the rise of Twitter and Foursquare and last year was definitely all about location based apps. But this year it would be hard to pinpoint one particular app as having caught everyone’s imagination.

What seemed to have everyone all a twitter – so to speak – was hardware. Making a big splash was MakerBot’s 3D Digitizer. In its current form, people’s homes will soon be littered with cheap plastic trinkets and coffee mugs but the potential is clearly there to take customization beyond the realm of services to physical products. Priced at around $2,000, 3D printers are now well within the grasp of the consumer and who knows where they will take it once they get their hands on it. Lets hope it’s not creating guns, as some have speculated.

The next extrapolation of the hardware “phenom” is wearables. Google glasses were a focal point of the conversation – not that I saw any of those at SXSW. I did get to try a prototype from Japan called Telepathy One, but I wouldn’t call it a mind blowing experience – more an eye crossing one. Flip’s Carolyn Higgins and Bizzy Schorr got caught up arguing the pros and cons of a jacket needing to do more than control the volume of an iPod versus a pilates shirt that can correct posture mistakes. Suffice to say “smart fashion” is on its way. Lets hope the tech nerds are not in charge of the fashion part.

Patrick tries the Telepathy One by Patrick Doherty

Patrick tries the Telepathy One by Patrick Doherty

This all leads to the idea that the next frontier is “humans as the new interface.” Whether it’s intuitive gesture based tech (see SXSW darling Leap Motion), programmable clothing or technology embedded in our skin we are creating another “screen” beyond the TV, the tablet and the mobile – ourselves.

Staying in the physical sphere, there was also conversation around the “physicalisation of digital experiences.” At the conference none trended more forcefully than Grumpy Cat – who made an appearance at the Mashable tent causing people to line up around the block for a photo opportunity with said cat. But beyond the hype of an (actual) sour puss, there is an opportunity to bring what were once purely digital experiences into the physical world. The app of SXSW for me was Pulse BioBeats – it monitors your heartbeat when you put your finger over the camera light on your smartphone. It then takes your heartbeat and – in your preferred genre – creates music! So dancing to the beat of your own drum/heart is now an actual thing.

All this leads to the internet of everything, or the internet as a utility. This is the idea that the internet and its information and knowledge is just there and in everything. We won’t even think about it anymore. It just happens in the background. Amit Singhal, Google Fellow and senior vice-president and head of search for the company, talked about building the “Star Trek” computer – allowing search in any modality (type, voice, etc). For example,  Google Now anticipates what you need to know so you don’t have to ask. In other words, it tells you your flight is late. Without you having to check. The ultimate goal, according to Singhal, is that people can walk around connected to all of humanity’s knowledge. Everyone will have access to all the information they need to improve their lives. Lets hope so.

SXSW by Daimon EklundFlip data nerds Daimon Eklund and Conrado Tapado wouldn’t let me get away without mentioning big data. It’s all a bit murky to me but a thread I picked up is the idea of  “feedforward” as opposed to feedback. In other words, how can we use data to better predict or map future actions such as plot career paths, hire the right person to fit an organization, or make a purchase decision. Sounds all a bit “Minority Report” to me. Needless to say – Big Data is now omnipotent. But now its about how do we mange it all? As Conrado cited in his post, “Our definition of ignorance has changed. It’s no longer a result of the lack of information, but rather the over-consumption of it.” (Clay Johnson, The Information Diet)

Somewhat ironically this piece of content will (almost) end on the subject of content. It was a hot topic.  It went as follows. It’s not about digital or social strategy anymore. Big data is the way to better content. Is  long form content dead? Is it all about micro content? Blah, blah blah! From what I was exposed to with regard to content strategy this year at SXSW, the clear content strategy is much like losing weight. Regardless of the latest fad diet, it comes down to calorie intake and exercise. Equally with content whether the fad is content based on data, whether it’s long or short form – it all comes down to story and narrative. Well, duh!

Any session I went to – and a couple of those attended by others in the Flip 6 – always came back with the same quote “in the end its all about story and narrative.” Yawn. Disappointingly, even Amit Singhal when asked for his best SEO tip said build high quality content, adding value that people want on fast web sites. No secret ingredient there.

030813_SXSW_Doherty_006I can’t quite finish without espousing the virtues of the sharing economy. We zoomed around Austin using Car2go, Uber and Sidecar to and fro our excellent AirBnB accommodation. I paid for one cab ride in Austin and stayed in a very comfortable house of a friend of friend that I found not through the friend but through AirBnB. This is just the beginning.

Thanks again to the Flip 6 for a great adventure and to the MCDM for making it happen. I finish both my tenure as Flip the Media editor and MCDM student this month and am more than grateful for the amazing opportunities and learning experiences both have afforded me. I encourage MCDM students both present and future to support and get involved with Flip the Media. It’s one of the best learning experience you will have – hands down. I look forward to the reports of next year’s Flip at SXSW crew.

And finally don’t forget to check out Jason Rundell’s video – Al Gore on Spider Goats.

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