Takeaways from #SXSW 2013: No next big thing

The focus, particularly for the media, at this annual five day festival (10 days if you include the music aspect) which takes place in Austin, Texas has primarily been on what “the next big thing” is likely to be. Twitter was launched at SXSW in 2007 and Foursquare in 2009, so expectations are always high about what that might be.

However this year, put simply, there was no “next big thing.” Attendees were instead exposed to a huge variety of apps, ideas and platforms with a distinct lack of buzz around any one technology.

3D printing


Bre Pettis revealed the 3D ‘Digitzer’ – the ‘3D photocopier’

Bre Pettis, CEO of the Makerbot (the $2k desktop 3D printer), kicked off the event’s keynotes with a talk on 3D printing and DIY. 3D printing is increasingly being referred to as “the next industrial revolution” and the expectation is that the technology will do for manufacturing “what Photoshop did for photography.”

3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using a process whereby successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes

There are already hundreds of 3D templates you can download on sites such as thingiverse – everything from jewellery to art, toys to instruments – demonstrating that it’s possible to 3D print just about anything, despite the technology still being a relatively recent innovation.

There is enormous potential for brands to leverage the 3D printing revolution – e.g making 3D templates of product samples or concepts designs available online for anyone to download. However, the growth of 3D printing will also mean that brands need begin thinking about the copyright implications of anyone with a printer potentially being able to replicate their products.

Living the meme

‘Grumpy Cat’

‘Grumpy Cat’ reluctantly posed with SXSW attendees who queued for hours to have their picture taken with the event’s unlikely star

In terms of generating online buzz, the internet meme sensation Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce), was the standout winner from the event, getting more than 3,000 Twitter mentions per day throughout the conference. Grumpy Cat is famous for being, well, a grumpy cat whose photos frequently appear online, often adapted to make funny posters.

(Adult) conference goers lined up for hours to get into Mashable House and have their picture taken with the annoyed looking cat. Grumpy Cat was accompanied by the creator of Nyan Cat (possibly the world’s most annoying viral ever made), illustrator Christopher Torres, and star of the Scumbag Steve meme, Blake Boston.

The popularity of the meme reemphasises 3 Mobile’s message: “Silly Stuff. It matters” – both to get an audience and to make an audience remember you.

As Jonah Peretti, founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, says: “Cute and LOL are so powerful because it’s not the joke that matters: you remember that you laughed…Emotion brings you closer.”

Wearable technology

Wearable gadgets were a recurring theme throughout the conference, with a particular focus on the ways in which technology is being more subtly and smartly integrated into our everyday lives. Leading the charge on this was Google Glass. Although Glass is still in prototype, Google’s Timothy Jordan talked about how existing platforms will be able to integrate with the technology. When formally launched, Glass could open up an array of innovative opportunities for brands to engage with current and potential consumers via the development of branded apps and experiences for Glass.

Also discussed widely were gadgets that could collect and report massive amounts of data from our everyday activities, such as sleep patterns, steps taken and heart rate. Rather than simply gathering data however, developers discussed the potential for these devices to make life-style suggestions to improve your health, based on your own actual daily habits

Once again Google generated greatest the interest in the concept, with demos of prototypes such as their “talking shoe” which aims to translate movement data into relevant witty messages to users and their friends. The concept is part of a new project “Art, Copy, Code” which aims to add a social element experience to everyday objects. Google say that the “Art, Copy, Code” initiative, “is explicitly aimed at how translating how Silicon Valley thinks about technology into how creative agencies think about advertising”.

Talking show

Prototype of Google’s ‘talking shoe’

Vertical social networks

Topic specific social networks (“vertical social networks”) are gaining popularity as “Facebook fatigue” sets in. People want to share content relating to their specific interests with like-minded people and not their family or old school friends.

There seemed to be wide agreement that businesses shouldn’t put a halt to their Facebook activity presences but should also consider social subsets such as Reddit.com’s “subreddits”, LinkedIn Groups or even create a new network from scratch. For more info and examples of vertical social networks see this SXSW presentation deck by Rebecca Lieb of Altimere’s Group, NYC.

Creative Hacks

At its essence SXSW is about pushing the boundaries of, and combining, the arts and tech and this year was no different. Here’s a small selection of the weird and wonderful things that were on display this year:

  • Fruit salad piano keys – created using the KickStarter funded Makey Makey inventor’s kit
  • 3D printed records of MP3 music
  • A mobile app that reads measures your brain waves and plays music based on how active you’re feeling
  • Boosted Boards – An electric, remote controlled skateboard
  • Memoto – “wearable life-logging”: A tiny, wearable, automatic camera and app that gives you a searchable and shareable photographic memory of your day

And finally….Hackney House does Tech City proud

Hackney House

In collaboration with a group of Tech City organisations and businesses Hackney Council ran Hackney House at SXSW: a 4,000sq/ft pop-up space hosting the best of Tech City (often referred to Silicon Roundabout) companies and a programme of events spanning art, design, music and film over four days.

Highlights from Hackney House included a range of design workshops hosted by artist Daniel Hirschmann and Acer, coding workshops hosted by Decoded, and a talk by MakieLab, creators of personalised 3D printed dolls.

SwithCity: Great FREE addictive festive app

SwitchCity IconChristmas may be over but festivities continue and if you’re anything like me you’ll spending most of this holiday period drinking, eating and catching up with those all important iOS updates, games and apps you’ve been meaning to look at for the past six month. So in this spirit I present to you SwithCity, an iPhone game designed and coded by my friend Mat Ryer (under his new company name Little But Mighty Games), who I met whilst working on David Miliband’s Labour Leadership bid – we were in desperate need of a super coder and Mat came to the rescue.

More importantly though, SwithCity is Mat’s first game and for that reason alone I’d like to plug it. I respect anyone who designs and codes their own app, whilst also being very jealous of the necessary coding skills. However, it also turns out that SwitchCity is both fun and addictive. The game is simple, keep the switches turned ON for as long as possible. As switches short out, the city starts to lose power – but it slowly rebuilds provided all switches remain on. Meanwhile, there are a few special things to collect in the clouds, and a few nasty ones to help or hinder you while you keep the lights on in Switch City.

In Mat’s own words: “Switch City is our first ever app in the App Store, and it’s our first ever game as developers. We wanted to build a very simple (little), but highly addictive (mighty) game that’s easy to pick up but difficult to master… and with Game Center integration, we can’t wait to see some of the scores people can get.”

Have you tried SwithCity, if so what do you think?

Available in the App Store - get it now


Has a 16 year old Brit shown us the future of web browsing?

16 year old brit genius: Nick D'Aloisio

16 year old brit genius: Nick D'Aloisio

Last week 16 year-old boy genius Nick D’Aloisio burst onto the tech scene with Summly, a mobile app which could set the standard for web browsing. Summly aims to offer users a simpler way to browse and search online by summarising content, making it easier to consume and ensuring that results are made more efficient and relevant.

We used to struggle to find decent, useful information online because there simply wasn’t enough of it  and/or it wasn’t easy to find, yet now there’s simply too much. Indeed, I remember when back in the day (1996 I think) for Christmas I got given a Yellow Pages type directory (it was an actual book with real paper pages) listing the addresses of all ‘the best’ websites. Then search got good, then Google came along and then it all got social. Content now finds us in abundance and it’s simply impossible to consume as much of it as we’d like. It’s this problem of information overload that Summly is hoping to solve. Rather than try and explain in detail how it works here’s a video which will make much more sense…

Amazingly, it can do this in any language and utilises highly specialised algorithms in its process. The new app is integrated into Mobile Safari and other applications through its application programming interface (API), allowing for widespread summarisation across a range of platforms.

Summly, recently received investment from Horizons Ventures, the technology venture firm which was also an early investor in Facebook, Spotify, Waze and Siri, the technology recently integrated into iOS by Apple. Not bad for a 16 year-old!

Have you tried Summly, what do you think? And do you think viewing web pages in summary form is the future?

Talk To Me @ MoMA – chaotic, engaging, weird and brilliant

Last summer I went to New York where I visited the ‘Talk To Me’ exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which I really enjoyed so I thought I’d share my thoughts and some personal highlights – it’s taken me a while to sit down and write.

The exhibition is curated by  Paola Antonelli and explores ‘design and the communication between people and objects.’ So what does this mean in practice? Well, lots of things: from strange interactive objects, data visualizations, guerilla tech projects to commercial iPhone apps. In fact, there were so many different types of contrasting exhibits that at times you could have been fooled into thinking that you’d accidently walked into an adjacent exhibition. Indeed, Creative Review described the Exhibition as ‘Chaos’. Chaotic it may be but I really enjoyed it and as a creative agency type looking to  be influenced by innovative creative ideas I felt spoilt for inspiration. Part of me also felt as though I was in an adult version of the London Science Museum’s Launchpad – the place in the basement ‘where science comes to life’.

One of the first things I noticed upon entering the exhibition is that every exhibit (194 in total) had its own QR code and associated Twitter Hashtag. Being a geek I took to exploring the QR codes before actually looking at the exhibit. Each QR code linked to each exhibit’s individual page within the exhibition website which contains a Twitter feed of the exhibit’s Twitter hashtag. In this way the exhibits record people’s views and discussions about it in real-time, thereby becoming a timeless platform of conversation. The whole online aspect of the exhibition adds a timeless dimension to the exhibition and the accompanying website could in fact be described as a piece of art, but that’s a whole other story.

Gotham Guide: QR code on NYC fire hydrant

Gotham Guide: QR code on NYC fire hydrant

Sticking with the theme of QR codes…There were a number of exhibits which featured QR codes, one of which, or rather project representations, was the ‘Gotham Guide’. This is a series of yellow QR codes on walls and surfaces throughout New York . When users come across one of the Gotham Guide QR codes they can use their smartphones to access a wealth of historical facts about that particular site or neighbourhood. The idea being that this allows users to ‘explore the city at their own pace, or even to stumble upon these troves of information while running an everyday errand; for those who desire a more directed, comprehensive tour, Gotham Guide publishes maps clearly indicating where all their QR codes are located.’

There was also a picture of a QR code crop field, created by Bernhard Hopfengartner. Now I’m

QR crop field: visible on Google Earth

QR crop field: visible on Google Earth

guessing there’s no SmartPhone big enough to make use of this so it must therefore be ‘art’ – either that or the lawnmower man is was hoping aliens have QR code readers. I found this concept interesting as it turns on its head the notion that  QR codes are ugly patterns. Indeed, the QR crop field is useless and big enough for everyone see from Google earth.

Moving away from QR codes and onto augmented reality…one of my favourite exhibits was the ‘Augmented Reality Flash Mob.’ Human-statue performers appear in public places around the world (those annoying people who pretend to be statues in city centres). However, using QR codes (sorry I tried to get away from them, honestly!), Layar technology and smartphones, users can connect to an augmented-reality platform to take the phenomenon one step further. The designers coordinate, on a specific date and time and place, a series of virtual three-dimensional characters—including Darth Vader, zombies, Spider-Man, the Beatles, and Smurfs—which anyone with a smartphone can see and walk among. The characters can only be viewed (and photographed) through a device; pictures of the event can then be uploaded and printed, creating a visual record of a virtual event.

Augmented reality flash mobReading this you’re probably thinking the whole exhibition was about QR codes but it was in fact a lot more varied, in fact it’s difficult to really pick out what could be described as quintessential exhibits. The exhibits varied from showcasing the brilliant work of the agency world, including BakerTweet (the tweeting oven) from Poke London (updated to show croissants from the MoMA cafe) to infographics (nothing more thant the bog standard stuff you see sent around on Twitter on a daily basis), to just plain weird things (or art I simply ‘don’t ‘get), such as a chess set made of dildos.

It’s fascinating to see what creative digital ideas people come up with when there’s no client brief or other commercial pressures. As such, the exhibition has inspired me to pursue some of the my own non-commercial digital interests (watch this space). Ironically perhaps  a lot of the non-commercial ideas could easily be repackaged for commercial campaigns (I’m going to be hated by some for saying that). Although I agree with the sentiment that the exhibition is perhaps chaotic it was also engaging, interesting, weird and made me think, which is surely the point of an exhibition?

Mexican side replace shirt names with Twitter handles

Mexican Primera Division side Jaguares have taken their dedication to Twitter to a new level, by printing players official account names on the back of their shirts.This isn’t the first time that soccer and social media have collided, as many Premier League stars use Twitter and Facebook to interact with their fans. However, most initiatives so far have come from players themselves, rather than from their clubs. The club even added its own Twitter handle to the front of its players’ shirts.Although the initiative is a first in Mexico, it’s not completely new; in fact, the Spanish club of Valencia had already done almost the same last month. In the absence of a sponsor, the club had used its own Twitter handle on the front of players’ shirts in lieu of a sponsor’s name.While Valencia’s campaign didn’t involve a sponsor, Los Jaguares’ shirts combine both worlds and promote their sponsor’s Twitter account at the same time as their players’. As you can see on the picture, the club is sponsored by the beer brand Cerveza Sol, which largely benefits from this marketing stunt.However, it doesn’t seem to have converted that well so far: the official Twitter account for the club only has 10,000 followers as we write. As for its Colombian striker Jackson Martinez @jacksonm9, the two tweets he has posted only won him a mere 569 followers.

via Mexican side Jaguares de Chiapas replace shirt names with Twitter handles | Football Marketing.

Guardian’s Open News List initiative – What does it mean for PR, if anything?

Guest post by Matthew Hickley, Head of Media, Blue rubicon

You’re probably aware that the Guardian has started an experiment to publish its twice-daily news list on its website (or at least an edited version of it) and inviting readers to have their say and make suggestions. It’s worth our knowing about it. See here

What does this mean? Specifically, what does it mean for our clients and the way we help them communicate?

For daily newspapers the news list is the equivalent of a broadcast bulletin running order. It’s a working planning document which goes through two or three iterations each working day – being the basis for news conferences – and it sets out all the main stories being covered in the next day’s edition, lists the different elements being worked on and the angles being worked up and names the journalists writing the story.

Traditionally it’s been a very closely-guarded piece of paper, because newspapers are so competitive. At the Mail every now and then there’d be a leak inquiry, and we’d go through phases when the news list wasn’t distributed beyond the editor and his key henchmen. Often when there was some big exclusive the top item wouldn’t be revealed or discussed, but would just refer to a “special”. Certainly the idea of the Sun or the Mirror publishing their news list in advance is pretty unthinkable.

So the Guardian’s out on a limb among UK newspapers. Open news lists aren’t an entirely new approach among some broadcasters outlets, and the Guardian itself points out that a Swedish newspaper has tried something similar, but British papers haven’t done this before.

Why bother?

By the Guardian’s own account this is about crowd-sourcing – the idea being that by telling people what reporters are working on, they’ll encourage readers to make genuinely helpful suggestions about what angles to cover or where to go for information. Interestingly they want people to tweet #opennews rather than email newseditor@guardian.co.uk, so that everyone can see what’s going on.

It’s a bit like eating in a restaurant with an open-plan kitchen.

As news editor Dan Roberts wrote in the Guardian on Sunday: “What if readers were able to help news desks work out which stories were worth investing precious reporting resources in? What if all those experts who delight in telling us what’s wrong with our stories after they’ve been published could be enlisted into giving us more clues beforehand? What if the process of working out what to investigate actually becomes part of the news itself?”

He billed the open news list as an “experiment”, and made clear that they’ll only reveal parts of the daily news list, adding: “The idea is to publish a carefully-selected portion of the national, international and business news lists on this daily blog and encourage people to get in touch with reporters and editors via Twitter if they have ideas.

“Obviously, we’re not planning to list all our exclusives or embargoed content and we’ll also have to be careful not to say anything legally sensitive or unsubstantiated. Nonetheless, we think there are lots of routine things that we list every day which might provoke interesting responses from readers: everything from upcoming press conferences, to stories we need help uncovering.”

Critics may scoff, and question whether the Guardian will get anything useful out of this. They’ll also point, with some justification, to the stripping of newsgathering resources out of the loss-making Guardian, and question whether cheap crowd-sourcing is any substitute for experienced, talented and properly paid journalists.

In fairness, the move is very much in keeping with the Guardian’s digital vision. A few months ago you’ll recall that they announced a “digital first” strategy. Stories now go up on the website long before the print edition unless there’s a good reason to do otherwise. The Guardian put down a marker clearly showing their belief that the future of news is online.

It’s also in keeping with the paper’s aspiration to build and host online communities – to be the place where informed people go to discuss things online, as well as going to seek news coverage itself.

So, does the open news list give much away?

Not a huge amount, judging by yesterday’s effort. The public were able to learn that the Liam Fox story was top of the Guardian’s news list, that it was being written mostly by political editor Patrick Wintour, and that various other court cases and bits and pieces were being covered, including Home Affairs Correspondent Alan Travis covering the big speech on immigration.

So far, so unsurprising. The foreign news and business news lists were likewise interesting but not really startling.

How can we use it?

Blue Rubicon will be keeping an eye on the open lists as part of our media monitoring, and for quick-hit opportunity spotting. We’ll be checking for clients’ names on the morning news list – or more likely the business news list – and flagging up references. The list may highlight an issue our clients should be commenting on or reacting to in some other way.

And it might some offer reassurance if a story we’ve sold in appears on the list – although items often make it onto the morning list but then never actually making it into print. And bear in mind, if the Guardian’s got something properly juicy up its sleeve, it won’t mention it on the open news list.

Can we use this whole thing as a selling-in tool?

The Guardian claims not. Dan Roberts pledged that they won’t “pay much attention to pestering from PR people.” Well, that’s put us in our place!

Nonetheless we hope to be approaching journalists and making suggestions, as it should be a really good way to work with the grain of the Guardian’s news agenda and check for opportunities. In keeping with social media best practice and our own Blue Rubicon guidelines, we’ll always be transparent about this. If we’re speaking up on behalf of a client, then we’ll say so.

Will the Guardian’s approach work?

Hard to say, yet. It may catch on it or may well prove more effort than it’s worth and be allowed to die quietly.

The key will be whether Guardian staff actually get anything useful out if. It will inevitably use up resources. Trawling through readers’ tweets is perfectly possible, but actually sifting through to find those that appear useful – and then pursuing them to check whether they really are useful – takes a lot of time, and news journalists don’t have much of that to spare.

Dan Roberts ends his piece on a moral high note: “In a world where many readers have been left deeply cynical about journalism after this summer’s phone-hacking revelations, it seems there are more people wanting to know where their news comes from and how it is made. Painful as it might be for journalists to acknowledge, they might even have some improvements to make on the recipe too.”

True. Or open new lists may attract a lot of noisy trolls, without adding much value. Time will tell.

We’ll be watching closely.

Engagement on the Facebook walls of leading brands is down 22%

This is just a list summary of an article, entitled  Four Things Mark Zuckerberg Should Tell Every CMO, which appeared in AdAge. It’s one of the best articles I’ve read on social media in a while. It looks at data on 300 Facebook brand pages and paints a picture of the future, given today’s marketing practices on Facebook. Main points are:

    • If marketers don’t get better, they will fail to capture the value of social media marketing.
    • Engagement on the Facebook walls of leading brands is down 22%. Brands aren’t playing for the long term.
    • Not all 300 brands saw a decline. The winners included brands like Deutsch, Renault, Hermes, Lowe’s, and Chanel. These brands didn’t have the most fans, but day in and day out, they are performing magic in keeping their fan base engaged.
    • Local pages drive 36% better results. Global results are built one region at a time. Regional programs perform significantly better then global ones.
    • Global websites often performed worse then targeted local ones. Local marketers often showed little support for global programs.
    • CRM databases performed worse as they grew bigger and lost focus.
    • Talk to your fans six to seven times a week at relevant times.
    • Many brands drone on 10, 15, even 20 times a week.

So, what’s a global marketer to do?

  • Build a structure for scaling social marketing across your enterprise. This is a business exercise, not a marketing one.
  • Run your brand’s community management in-house and hire someone to do it right. Outsourcing your brand “voice” is not a viable long-term option.
  • Stop pretending you don’t have the budget for headcount — you likely spend millions on media.
  • You can spare some to maintain relationships with your best and most influential customers.
  • Task your agency to develop original creative content. Engaging videos, flash experiences work best.
  • Stop being so tactical, and quit treating Facebook like a promotional wastebasket.
  • Most importantly, know and understand your data.
  • Build a dashboard of KPI’s you care about. Assign goals and track your progress against industry benchmarks.

via Four Things Mark Zuckerberg Should Tell Every CMO | DigitalNext: A Blog on Emerging Media and Technology – Advertising Age.

Blue Rubicon the only PR agency nominated for Brand Republic Hall of Fame #brhof

Delighted to report that the place I call work/my epmployer, Blue Rubicon, have been shortlisted by Brand Republic for its Hall of Fame programme.  We’re in the Innovators category up against Mother, Dare, Fallon, Google, Facebook and Sky.

At the end of September, Brand Republic will induct the first 6 organisations into its Hall of Fame, in which it is seeking to shine a light on, what it says, are the leaders of the brand and marketing world over the last 10 years.  Blue Rubicon is the only PR agency to be shortlisted.

The Hall of Fame is broken down into three categories – leaders, brands and innovators.  We have been shortlisted in the innovators category up against Mother, Dare and Fallon from the agency world and, amazingly, Google, Facebook and Sky.

To vote (hint hint), all you have to do is go here http://www.brhalloffame.com/, click on Innovators, click view first candidate (we are the first), click on vote for me, complete the gubbins then press submit

In case you’re wondering here’s a showreel showing some of our work:

Blue Rubicon Campaigns 2011 from Blue Rubicon on Vimeo.

Great creative or a step too far in the leveraging of human emotions? Thai Life Insurance Commercial [video]

So this advert is going somewhat viral. Have a look and see what you think. It’s highly evocative to say the least, but I find it too much. I’m not sure I feel comfortable with brands leveraging human emotions of sadness to this extent, I’d rather focus on positive messaging and the benefits of a brand as oppose to what consumers are missing out on without the given product/service. It’s clearly a powerful advert but part of me just doesn’t feel comfortable with it, it makes me feel cynical about the brand – that it’s being highly manipulative and disingenuous. I’m all for brands trying to be appear more human but this is too much for me….But what do you think?

Robin Wight: The Futures Bright, the Futures Social #LikeMinds

This speech by Robin Wight, President of the Engine Group, is from back in Spring 2010 at LikeMinds but I still absolutely love it.

Here Robin talks about advertising case studies, human evolution, sociology and why the future is necessarily social.