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SXSW: Day Four

We're calling it – day 4 was our most interesting so far at SXSW. The sessions we attended today were really challenging and got us thinking way outside of our comfort zone. From virtual reality to epidemiology, it had a little of everything.

Here's what we got up to.

The State of a Media and Tech

Speakers

  • Pete Cashmore – CEO and Founder, Mashable
  • Joanna Franco – Founder, Dare to Travel
  • Billy Parks – Senior VP, Fullscreen Strategic Content
  • Lucas Shaw (moderator) – Entertainment and Media Reporter, Bloomberg News

This panel really should have been called 'The State of Social Media and Entertainment'. This was a session that give us an interesting perspective on the role that 'new broadcast formats' like Mashable, BuzzFeed or even Snapchat play in the way 'Millennials' consume media - particularly video.

It was really interesting to hear each of their perspectives on what role video had to play in these new consumption patterns. Obviously Franco (as an influencer/content creator) and Parks (as a producer) said it was all-important, that it was engaging and easy to consume.

Cashmore also gave some interesting insight into the role that video plays for Mashable. He said they were constantly testing and that serialized video was their premium format. Mashable always starts exploring a topic via a text post, then if popular a pilot video and then finally, a series of videos. He said that this process helped to 'de-risk' what could be an expensive and hit-or-miss process.

Franco also brought up that why she found these formats so effective, was that 'new broadcast' felt more like a one-to-one 'friendship'. In fact she called it friendertainment.

And what role did broadcast media companies play in a world where the consumer can get their content, add-free, direct from the producer? All panelists agreed that it was to become the curator and guide in a space that has already started to become too crowded and overwhelming.

Beyond the Listicle: The Science of Virality

Speakers

  • Abigail Posner – Head of Strategic Planning, Google
  • Devin Gaffney – PHD Student, Northeastern University
  • Sean Wojcik – Research Scientist, Upworthy
  • Jessica Novak (moderator) – Content Strategy Director, Zoe Media Group

A panel made up of a phsychologist, an epidemiologist and Google's Strategic Director for the Zoo, moderated by Rachel Zoe's Director of Content? It was amazing as it sounds. In fact it was probably the standout lecture for us so far at SXSW.

These panelists discussed the 'anatomy' of viral content from each of their specialised perspectives:

Gaffney explained that by nature viral content needed to be not only shareable, but that it needed to have a viral coefficient of greater than one, in order to spread like a virus, rather than just peter out. That the 'infection' could spread through tight-knit online communities in the same way as a virus would through a geographical community and that among other things, this would help to spread the viral content the fastest (check out his website for more info).

Posner agreed with this, calling it 'social media cosmopolitanism', that these online communities have their own code of ethics, their own language and their own sense of humor. She also added that brands who could act natively within those communities would do well.

She further explained that from a marketing perspective, that viral content was simply content that addressed some of our fundamental needs and instincts in a way that made us feel like we had no choice but to act.This was achieved through:

  1. Synaptic Play - basically combining random or unexpected elements in a way that gets our synapses (the creative centres of our brains) firing
  2. Energy Exchange - Abigail explained that these were 'gifts of hapiness' that we were hardwired to know would get a positive response (right back to learning smiles = positive as a baby), something which we all desire
  3. Fascination with the Familiar - which can be summed up with one example

Note that further information on all 3 of these is available at the Google Engagement Project website.

Finally, Wojcik explained why viral content appealed to us from a phsycological perspective. He said that emotions (regardless of whether they were considered discrete or dimensional) were always activating or decactivating, plus positive or negative. He said that viral content was most often activating and positive in nature, that this made us feel the best about sharing but that also addressed our self-enhancement motives (the desire to improve the positivity of one's public image).

Inevitable Tech Forces That Will Shape Our Future

Speaker: Kevin Kelly - Author, Wired.com

At a conference that so frequently focuses on what the big leap for tech will be, it was fascinating to hear an expert speak on how these leaps will affect our communities. This was the premise of Kelly's talk today - he examined 3 major forces that would, in his opinion, continue to bend our culture in the next 30 years. There were:

Artificial Intelligence
Kelly explained that due to a number of recent scientific advances AI was moving forward a lot faster than previously anticipated, in fact the Google AlphaGo AI beat the human 'go' world champion this week - something which was widely considered as being at least a decade away.

But he asserted that this wasn't something to be afraid of - that these intelligence were quite 'one-dimensional'. He asserts that that it is really 'artificial smartness' in a very specific area. Kelly also predicted that the industry would continue in this direction and that our fascination with creating humanoid intelligences would drop off as the tech became more commonplace.

Kelly said that AI would, however, replace all jobs based on efficiency and that over the coming decades all human jobs would be based on creativity, experience and so on.

Finally he predicted that AI would become a commodity over the coming decade and that like electricity it would be generated and 'served up' on demand. Kelly predicted that this would fuel the next wave of startups, who would 'take AI and add X'.

Virtual Reality
Kelly explained that while tech hadn't improved as quickly in this area, that it had got a lot cheaper as high-quality screens, gyrometres and powerful processors had all been commoditised. He said we would soon see these tools become our best sellers and that once the marketplace had accepted it, they wouldn't be going anywhere.

He explained that it wasn't just gamers that would use them either. It has potential to become a completely mobile office through a mix of immersive virtual reality and presence-based mixed or augmented reality.

In fact Kelly predicted that these VR and MR technologies would become the next smartphone and that it would truly shift us into an internet of experiences, as opposed to the current internet of information.

Tracking
The final technology that Kelly examined has well and truly begun - tracking. He asserted that the depth of information we shared would become far greater as we let more and more of this tech into our lives. And furthermore that it would happen even faster - reactions to and outcomes of this information would happen in real time.

While this all sounds a little 'Minority Report' he assured us that there would be helpful we couldn't imagine, like personalised medicine that was tailored not only to you, but to what your body needs that day.

In closing, Kelly told us that all of this change was due to collaboration which was now happening at a speed that was never before possible and this collaboration would only get better in future.


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