The funny thing about going to SXSW is that you always go expecting to come home with a big take-away; something that you can get everyone excited when you get back home. It might be a new service like Foursquare or Twitter, or a simple insight from one of the big keynotes. After a few years attending I’ve come to realize that the best take-aways usually come from either the experience as a whole, or from a moment that brings clarity to a number of SXSW experiences. I don’t think you can go to any one single session and come away with something as meaningful as you can get by going to many and intersecting the ideas.
As a former DJ I guess the analogy I’d make is SXSWi is like the Miami Winter Music Conference… only without the implants and waxed chests. Before you went to Miami you’d always think you knew what the big tunes were going to be. As a DJ that’s what your skill was right? You were paid to know what would make people throw their hands up in the air. The thing is Miami always threw up surprises. Making those kind of predictions in a cold record shop on a Saturday afternoon was always going to result in a few misplaced bets. Music can sound very different when it played at a poolside party in the afternoon sun when you are surrounded by scantily clad beautiful people. The smell of the suntan oil, the smiles on the faces, the cheers of the crowd all enhance the experience making some tunes sound like it was a gift from the gods rather than something knocked out in a studio in Rotherham. As Clay Shirky says ‘Technology only gets interesting when you add a social layer’. It’s not just the tune itself that makes it so good but they way people respond and more often than not you need to hear a tune in the right place to fully understand why everyone is raving about it.
So, back to Austin. It wasn’t just from Marissa Mayer’s talk about Google Maps or Seth Priebatsch’s brilliant Keynote on the Game Layer that I drew my first conclusion from SXSW 11. It was combination of the sessions, watching people using their phones for 5 days, trying new things with mine, and then seeing this…
At the end of the week the geeks rolled out of town the bands rolled in. Not only was there a notable gear shift in the style stakes on the streets of Austin, but the sidewalk décor also changed with the posters advertising new apps and services being replaced by posters of bands pushing their new download. What’s interesting about this isn’t just the fact that this band, like so many other this year, have used a QR code as a mechanic for pushing their music, it’s that they’ve used the world ‘Smartphone’ as a verb. Remember when 'Google' became a verb? The fact that a band was using it this way suggests a tipping point; non-geeks now get this stuff. I can hear the band saying it now 'Smartphone this shit'. The verb-ification of the word ‘Smartphone’ got me thinking. We've been using the word 'phone' as a verb since the phone was invented; but what it is the smartphone actually 'does' that the verb-ified phone doesn't.
When the telephone first arrived it was a device for communication. It went mobile, then got smart. With a smartphone you could can get content wherever you are, which is great for people like me who deal in ‘content’. What really makes a phone smart is the ability to ‘do things’ with it. So, rather than just consuming content – which you can do on ‘un-smart’ phones – you can use the senses built into the phone to do interesting things. The sense of direction can allow you to ‘check in’ or navigate maps. The phone’s eye can see and translate QR codes or pretty much anything using Google Goggles. The role of haptic design in the device can enhance the user experience in a multitude of brilliant ways making touch a playground of oppotunity. All these senses have helped break down the wall that separates the real world from the digital world with the mobile as the mouse that interfaces them. The smartphone helps you navigate between the two quite seamlessly.
Of course, this isn’t new, we’ve kinda known about this for ages. There was a session last year called ‘What if my phone had 5 senses’. What has changed from last year is the volume of people using services such as Foursquare, Instagram, Facebook Places and QR codes and trying out lots of new ones like Instaprint, PapaSangre, FlyPost all of which have some realworld element and make the most of their senses to create amazing functionality. The way I used my phone changed dramatically this year. If I were to break down my phone usage I would say that it is no longer just a tool to communicate and consume, but it has become an important physical switch that can open up the door between two worlds, wherever I may be. I have checked in, scanned, bumped, navigated and pinged other services using the phones senses, all made possible by physical objects such a piece of paper taped to a lamppost, a satellite in the sky or a nice restaurant. My phone now ‘communicates’, ‘provides’ and ‘does’ in equal measures. That’s my big take-away from SXSWi 2011 which won't change the world but will make me think a little more about how the device and the realworld work together when in the hands of the audience.
If you've been wondering where Google is placing its marker for the future then Google's head of mobile and geolocation Marissa Mayer made it clear that the future is 'here'.
"The mobile phone acts as a cursor to connect the digital and physical,” Mayer said as she ran through some of Google’s location and mobile products and strategies. The new Maps uses vectors to render the map image because it takes up 1/100 of the size of the old tile system. They can be cached and can include 3D representations of buildings.
Next she showed the new Google Maps Navigation for Android which looks for routes around traffic jams. The idea being that the new update will lay the groundwork for predictive navigation apps in the future
She also shared data on a few of Google’s applications:
40% of all Google Maps usage is on mobile, and Google Maps for Mobile has 150 million users. The app’s turn-by-turn navigation feature processes 35 million miles per day. Also, the newly added route around traffic feature is saving users two years of time every day, which equates to a potential $250,000 in fuel savings per year.
Mayer looked ot the future mentioning augmented reality such as Layar "a digital layer on top of reality". But she says we can go further than that. "Contextual discovery is taking your location and a little context"
If you had a photo of a bird, how would you convey that bird to a search engine, other than typing something like "bird with a white head and black body"? In the future, you'll be able to use something like Google Goggles to just upload that snapshot as your query.
I pulled together some of the references and conversation from Twitter using Storify.
Last night I talked at a great event in Manchester called There Will Be Blood, run by the Cahoonah's @jonthebeef and @RebeccaWho. Manchester based Late Rooms' community manager, Kate, talked about the value of communities in the hotel industry (70% 18-24 year olds will now look at reviews before booking a room) whilst I talked nonsense about user generated content.
The excellent John Robb hosted the event which was a strictly no powerpoint affair. I love it that way, a load of people in a pub connecting around common interests. No fuss, just good banter. I'm much happier prattling on freely than I am speaking around slides. I do often go off road though, but that's no bad thing - at least I don't think it is. John was a brilliant host, typically challenging on the current situation at the BBC and the place UGC has in it's future. The audience gave me a bit of a kicking too, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
The only downside to not presenting on screen is that in some cases people do want to 'see' your examples rather than just 'hear about' them. So, for anyone who was there last night, here are some of the things I was talking about.
The latest Internet Trends Report from Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker is finally available following her talk at the CM Summit yesterday, and hot off the heels of the iPhone release, it's no surprise that it's all about mobile. Her reports often make interesting reading, and this year's is no exception.
She predicts that smartphone's will outsell 'feature' phones by 2011 and laptops and desktops by 2012. She also points to a recent rise of innovation thanks to Apple and Facebook. It's an interesting read especially the slide showing the speed of the rise in the mobile internet via the iPhone and iPod touch compared to that of the desktop Internet via Netscape and AOL. All interesting stuff.
Here's my TEDx North talk from last year. I'm rattling on about why old media should look at how young people are using mobile devices to capture their lives and learn a thing or two. My colleagues are bored of me going on about it, but I thought you my find it interesting.
It became obvious whilst making Shoot The Summer that certain old assumptions about 'perceived' quality no longer hold and that there was lots to learn from the new masses of mobile film makers. I used the example of how the arrival of the Box Brownie at the start of the last century made us a republic of photographers giving insights to the fine art photographers of the day.
As one of the BBC's core values is 'Audiences are at the heart of everything we do' I strongly believe we should continue to encourage and learn from our audience. More importantly, as a public funded media organisation, we should play a bigger role as an enabler. My former boss Dan Heaf has been delivering amazing public service over at 4iP enabling unpolished digital ideas from it's audience to become real, profitable businesses.
Charles Leadbeater described the current media landscape as being like a group of pebbles on a beach at the Picnic conference in 2008. He said the beach is made up of big boulders and tiny pebbles. His point being that the big boulders are established media organisations (BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4) and the pebbles are the millions of user generated clips on Youtube, and soon the pebbles would rise and eventually cover the big boulders.
Somewhere in my idealistic mind I like to tell myself that the BBC would not let that happen because we would enable those pebbles to become medium sized stones by encouraging and enabling. We would turn the kid making films with his mobile into a small media company through a combination of projects like Shoot the Summer and 4iP, leaving the landscape a perfect balance of every shape and size of pebble. I made that argument in October 2008, but sadly, as we all know, the BBC is rapidly becoming a different place than it was then and the likelyhood of my vision becoming a reality sinking quicker than a badly skimmed fat stone.
The phone in your pocket has the sense of sight (camera), sound
(microphone), touch and location (still working on taste and smell).
Through live demos we'll show off some new mobile hardware (could your
phone really be replaced by AR glasses?) and what developers and
marketers will be able to create with these new tools (speech
recognition, computer vision, etc.)
Ted Power (Google)
Nicolas Jitkoff (Google)
Matt Biddulph (Formerly of Dopplr)
Ben Averech (Microvision)
"Recording all day for a year on a flip would require 35TB. Moore's law dictates that in ten years that amount of storage would cost less than $3." (Power)
"Star Trek has taught us that we can ask for "Cheesecake" and get it whenever we need it" (Jitkoff on phones learning to understand voice recognition)
"All these great apps only use longitude and latitude, and thats it, but there there is so much more it can draw on." (Biddulph on the untapped potential of data)
"Multisensory integration should be stressed when designing haptic interaction." (Biddulph)
"The first Augmented Reality tool was the Sony Walkman" (Power understanding the full potential of AR beyond marketing gimmicks)
My thinking behind this year's mobile offering for Radio 1's Big Weekend was 'How do we make it spreadable?'. Of course we'd deliver a wap site as usual. This year we also offered some nice and shiny mobile sites for the N95 and iPhone. These are both examples of listeners coming to the BBC to access our content. But what I really wanted was to deliver the content to audiences. I wanted our mobile offering to 'explode' with content sprayed everywhere for people to collect and share.
In doing this, I had to consider the technologies we'd used in the past, the type of phones that Radio 1 audiences use, and what new technologies were available to us. So we devised a three-pronged plan to dissipate content in an interesting and effective way.
I recently gave a talk at the Audio & Music Interactive and Mobile departmental in which I talked about 'rethinking deadness'. Inspired by a great talk from the programmer and game developer Kathy Sierra, the idea of rethinking deadness asks us to look at ideas that we may think have had their time and think about ways of breathing life back into them.
The last time I ran an SMS club for Radio 1 was way back in 2001 and as someone with a forward-thinking role, SMS clubs were way behind me, dead and buried. Could or should they be brought back to life for a Radio 1 audience? Of course! Okay, so it doesn't have the sexiness of an iPhone app, but SMS is still a brilliant and simple way of getting content onto the phones of our audiences. SMS is pretty much the only mobile technology that every one understands - we shouldn't dismiss it - it's powerful! It's a way of easing people into mobile stuff; deadness awaiting a rethink.
So an SMS club was set up to deliver video, wallpapers and audio downloads, not forgetting show reminders pushing people to BBC Radio, Red Button and BBC Three coverage. The challenge was to make SMS clubs a bit more sexy for our audiences. I had an idea for a secret dress code. We spread the word that there would be a secret dress code for the weekend that would be announced via the SMS club on the Friday night. It was a way of tapping into the excitement of flashmobs without actually creating a flashmob.
I've been doing Bluetooth at events for four years and it's one of the most frustrating technologies out there. Bluetooth is free, relatively easy to distribute, our audience use it regularly and it's on almost every handset. So if we have 40,000 people gathered in one place waiting to receive Bluetooth, then it has to be a winner right? Wrong. Here are the problems I've faced year after years of trying:
• the music is too loud to hear the Bluetooth arrive
• when you are watching your favourite band you won't be checking your phone
• audience are wary of what is being sent
• Bluetooth doesn't really like huge crowds. Small groups, yes. But big crowds, no
So, late last year I put a nail in the coffin of Bluetooth at Radio 1 events consigning it to the bin of things I would never waste my time on again... forever. Then in March I had a Eureka moment, quite literally whilst jumping into a hot bath. If we could provide a place that audiences would hear Bluetooth arrive, where we could prepare them to engage with their phone, let them know what they were about to receive and do this in a place that the transmitters could handle, then perhaps Bluetooth might be worth another try.
The Bluetooth Loo was the answer to all these problems. Everyone knows toilets are a low point at festival, so the idea was to offer a nice clean toilet for festival-goers to use on the condition that you switched on your Bluetooth. It was a really silly idea... but great. It was branded really well and being blue stood out from all the green toilets. It really caught people's attention and the huge queues allowed us the time to engage with the audience about our mobile offering.
Designer QR Codes
An important part of what I do is introducing new technologies to our audiences. So in 2008, I added QR codes to the Big Weekend mobile offering. QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that can take you directly to a website - the barcode is decoded by taking a photo with specific software on your mobile .
This year, we added a design element to the QR codes. There is a small percentage for error permitted within each code, this allows us to add a design element without interfering with the coded message. The idea was to produce individual codes incorporating images of headliners such as Lily Allen and Dizzee Rascal. 'Get Lily on your mobile' posters were spread around the site with instructions on how to use the technology. I'm not sure if it's the true geek inside of me, but I find them fascinating and adding the design element opened them up to non-geeks who wanted to find out more.
A key target for the 2009 Big Weekend was to make Radio 1 content shareable. Our three-pronged mobile strategy not only served this purpose but added an extra fun element to the weekend. It also gave us a mobile package well worth marketing via radio and TV trails.
The mobile site benefited hugely from this strategy. We saw a 361% increase in UK page impressions to the mobile site on the previous year's festival. More videos were watched on mobile than at any previous music event. The SMS Club had nearly 4000 members helping to push audiences to content across all platforms - that's the most of any SMS Club we've ever run. Over 800 videos, audio clips and wallpapers were distributed via the Bluetooth Loo that we hope will have been passed on by the user again and again and again.