At the Crossroads of Media, Culture and Technology

Spontaneous Planning at SXSW

Disrupting the format of SXSW sessions

(Graphic: Jenny Burns)

My name is Cynthia Alice Andrews and I am a Spontaneous Planner.

Some of you may think that saying so is an oxymoron. Some of you may know exactly what I mean when I say that and others may have no idea what I am talking about.

So, what exactly does it mean to be a spontaneous planner? Rather than put it in my words, I took to the interwebz to see how others who identify as such explained it.

I found this quote online and thought it did a great job of defining this contradictory personality type:

“I don’t know if that makes sense. I love to be spontaneous, but then figure out how to make it the best situation possible.” – Jamie (The Red Riot)

In my mind, there are three steps in spontaneous planning:

1. Have an idea
2. Figure out the logistics
3. Make it happen

So, what does this have to do with SXSW?

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Day 4 Wrap-up: Unexpected Moments Make SXSW Special

Hidden Gem of The Day

Chelsey Delaney and Chris Trew.

Chelsey Delaney and Chris Trew. (Photo: Katya Yefimova)

With the Austin Convention Center serving as the hub for SXSW Interactive, it’s easy to overlook the events that happen away from the hustle and bustle. I’m glad I ventured off the beaten path to check out a workshop on humor and design. The class was limited to about 10 people, and I joined an eclectic group that included a physician, a marketer and a developer.

I’m not a designer, but I thought the workshop would help me learn how to bring humor into solving problems at work and at school. The instructors, Chelsey Delaney and Chris Trew, did just that: They showed me that doing improv is similar to how I interact with people at work.

I asked Delaney, a UX designer, and Trew, a comedian and improv teacher, what lessons everyone can learn from humor:

“Part of being a humorist is being OK with failing,” Delaney said. “Using humor makes you more creative and more excited about (what you working on).”

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Forging Connections With Art and Technology

Connection is the new digital currency. Brands, individuals and groups actively seek new ways to harness social platforms, art and technology to build relationships. Technological advances on the internet, and now on mobile, make ideas easily sharable. For many brands (and groups or individuals) art is the preferred method to receive and distribute information because people often form quick, emotional reactions. Combined with technology and its amazing idea-sharing opportunities, art is an ideal way build connection.


(Graphic: Jenny Burns)

 Connecting Through Art

How are brands driven by  artistic communities? In a SXSW Interactive session, #BrandsByArt, experts shared their experience about arts and community-centric platforms as a form of social connectivity and branding.

Social media allows people to share their reactions to current events in real time. Josh Karpf, Director of Social Marketing at Spotify shared social sharing trends he noticed on Spotify about important issues. Users are able to use Spotify to express their views through music and trends show popular opinion and reactions to cultural, political and natural events. For example, Spotify playlists reflect popular music, theme songs to popular films and even current news events. According to Karpf, people curated and shared playlists expressing opinion of the government shut-down last year.

The Humble #Hashtag and its Uses

As one of the largest photo-sharing services on the planet, Instagram has a thing or two to say about the intersection of art and connectivity. One popular but often misunderstood way to find like-minded folk is the humble hashtag. Unfortunatley  “[...] only ten percent of hashtags are actually useful. The other ninety percent are random,”  said Bailey Richardson, Community & Marketing Manager at Instagram.  #thismakessense

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SXSW Day 3: That’s a Wrap

Something We Will All Do in 10 Years

We will all make better infographics. Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration but it seems more than likely that data visualization will become a mainstream activity. Three trends point in this direction. First, and we have heard this before, data is collected at unprecedented levels, so raw material is available. Second, current tools are still clunky and often have a high learning curve but newer ones will be more intuitive. Finally, visuals do better across the web, so infographics (especially the interactive) fill and growing need.

Best Surprise

Imaginary Radio’s Drennon Davis and Nick Stargu busted out their beatbox chops in an interview with Presarah Evans at the Paypal Lounge.

Mind-blowing Thought of the Day

Much of the wearable technology I’ve seen so far has had something of a nerdy cool-in-a-vacuum vibe, but the three SXSW Accelerator finalists who gave their final pitches today showed that they were designing for the real world. The stand-out in terms of shattering paradigms was the ultra-chic design of Dutch fashion designer and PhD student Pauline van Dongen, who weaves solar-receptive fibers into her sophisticated designs. When exposed to the sun, the clothing stores energy that can be used to recharge the user’s devices. Imagine high tech capability from the most traditional energy source we have.

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How Journalists Can Make User-Generated Content Work

Associated Press social media editor Eric Carvin and Digital First Media managing editor Mandy Jenkins after their SXSW Interactive session.

Associated Press social media editor Eric Carvin and Digital First Media managing editor Mandy Jenkins after their SXSW Interactive session.

When news breaks, many media organizations turn to social media to find members of the public who become a reporter’s eyes and ears on the ground.

Collecting information in this way has many challenges – for example, verifying that a photo posted on Twitter is real. The key to solving these challenges is holding contributions from citizen journalists to the same ethical standards as work by professional journalists.

That was the main focus of a SXSW Interactive session by Associated Press social media editor Eric Carvin and Digital First Media managing editor Mandy Jenkins.

“If you don’t hold citizen journalists to the same standards, you are disrespecting social media as a tool for journalism,” Carvin said. Figuring out the best way to apply those standards is the hard part. The panelists shared some helpful tips:

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SXSW 2014 Wrap-up: Day 2

Kristina Halvorson in front of SXSW banner

Kristina Halvorson’s session at SXSW was titled “Go Home Marketing, You Are Drunk!” (Photo: Hanns-Peter Nagel

Mind-blowing Thought of the Day:

Remember the “Oreo” moment at last year’s Superbowl? When the lights went out in New Orleans, a team of creatives came up with a starkly lit picture of an Oreo and the tagline “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” It got 15000 retweets, 20000 Facebook likes and the undying adulation of the press and marketing world. The little tweet that could won several prizes and heralded a new age of “real-time advertising”.

According to Kristina Halvorson, CEO of Braintraffic, and one of the most vocal proponents of content strategy, the tweet and especially the reaction to it did not signal a new era of marketing but showed what’s wrong with it. Only 0.008% of Twitter users saw the tweet but suddenly every big brand needed a “reaction team”. Similarly, when Coca-Cola decided to ditch their classic brand website and go with storytelling and content marketing other brands followed and soon it become hard for customers to find simple product information among all the “5 Mixed Drinks You Need to Try” stories.

So here is Halvorson’s message: Don’t listen to other marketers, listen to your customers and give them what they need. Don’t chase the shiny new thing, don’t just create more and more content. Instead, slow  down and fix what’s broken and come up with a strategy you can actually sustain. Seems simple, but so hard to do.

Biggest Disappointment:

The party I Fucking Love Science Channel featuring Bill Nye, Eugene Merman, Kari and Tory from Mythbusters, and host Craig Ferguson might have been fun after all, but Mother Nature did not look kindly on it. Rain had already soaked the non-VIPs who had waited in labyrinthine lines for hours (yours truly right in their midst) when a particularly strong downpour turned the outdoor venue into mud pit teeming with poncho-clad (no umbrellas allowed) techies. Probably not the best party choice.

Quote(s) of the Day

A tie. Number one was a public announcement at the SXSW gaming convention: “We are looking for another lost child. Don’t give him Legos.” Number two comes from the always entertaining Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson): “If I want to check in for a flight at the United airlines website, I want to poke out my eye with a hot fork.”

Pedicab driver in rain

Pedicab in Austin rain. (Photograph: Carolyn Higgins)

Image of the Day

Yes, it was raining in Austin today. And yes, Austin needs it because of the drought, blah, blah, blah. We are from Seattle, we definitely don’t need it.

On a side note: Uber which is currently enlisting all the assembled SXSW techies to lobby the Austin City Council via social media to scrap fare limits actually has a Pedicab service here. So if you want, you can use your Uber app to call somebody to pedal you around.

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They’re All Connected: Journalism, Science, Movies, and Giving. And Family Guy is in There Somewhere.

Kevin Bacon talks with Brian Turtle Photo by Carolyn Higgins

Kevin Bacon talks with Brian Turtle
Photo by Carolyn Higgins

SXSW throws a lot at its inhabitants over the course of a day.

Where else can you go to absorb the buzz about the latest issues in everything from journalism to science to the motion picture industry – from household names that include Julian Assange, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and actor Kevin Bacon, respectively? (And on one day and in one venue, I might add.) Top that heady mix with the raw potential of startup entrepreneurs and the yet-undiscovered, and the quirkiness factor skyrockets. The quirkiness takes on an especially “We aren’t in Kansas anymore” tinge after deGrasse Tyson glowingly describes Fox TV and Seth McFarlane’s roles in bringing his show Cosmos to viewers around the world.

Celebrity fever packed all the above sessions, with Kevin Bacon fans scrambling to snap smartphone pics as he settled down to talk about the phenomenon of the parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, in which players determine the number of connections a given dramatist is from the highly prolific Mr. Bacon. After all, Bacon, has worked with a lot of actors. Bacon has since turned this phenomenon with which he was initially uncomfortable into a charitable organization (Six

Talking with Joshua Jake Vaughan about how he came to found Connect 2 Good seemed at first like an abrupt departure from the big thinkers and celebrities I’d listened to earlier in the day. His global perspective on philanthropy, though, neatly aligns his aspirations with those I’d heard earlier from Assange and deGrasse Tyson, who both emphasized global cooperation in their talks.

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Julian Assange at SXSW: Privacy’s Big Brother

Julian Assange at SXSW

Virtual, floating, presence: Julian Assange skyping in from London. (Photo: Carolyn Higgins

Fifteen feet by 13 feet – that’s allegedly the size of Julian Assange’s room at the Ecuadorean embassy. It has been the physical home of the Australian Wikileaks founder since June 19, 2012 and the British government has so far spent $8 million to keep it that way.

The thing is: for the most part, Julian Assange doesn’t live in the physical world. His appearances, his presence and (probably) most of his life are spent online, speaking to collaborators, and Skyping into large conference auditoriums like he did today at SXSW. In a strange way, the most famous campaigner for freedom from surveillance has become an always televised Big Brother, smiling serenely to large audiences and spreading his message of privacy protection.

Unlike Big Brother, however, he has to deal with more worldly problems. He seemed a little less strident than in his public appearances and his new beard and long hair gives him the air of man of words rather than action. Plus, Skype didn’t work, and when he finally came on to the big screen he couldn’t hear the audience or the moderator. In the end, the moderator, Benjamin Palmer, Co-Founder & Chairman of The Barbarian Group – who was slightly out of his depth – had to resort to texting questions to Assange’s aide in the background.

Thematically, Assange came right to the point. He described the NSA as a rogue agency on course to monitor everybody around the clock. “Their ability of storing information is growing faster than information production, while at the same time world population growth is slowing,” he made his point. “Soon, nobody will be able to exist outside the state,” he added.

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