“Art is not born in a vacuum. You need external stimuli to change and grow.” – Matthew Inman, 2013 SXSWi keynote speaker.
As the SXSW conference has grown tremendously over the years, and 2013 marked the 20th year of SXSW, this felt like the right mantra for all of us that continue to go to this insanely busy conference that is equal parts inspiration and exhaustion. I went for 6 days this year (maybe a tad long) and those of you that have been to SXSW before know that being in Austin for thus conference is somewhat similar to going to a bachelor party in Las Vegas over a weekend (minus the obligatory strip clubs and body shots. Or not). Regardless, here are some things that I found interesting and noteworthy:
Bre Pettis unveils the new Makerbot digitizer:
Bre gave the 2013 SXSWi opening keynote. It seemed appropriate given the massive wave of popularity 3D printing has had over the last year. What started as excitement over the average consumer being able to “print” (yes, Bryan, it is actually “printing”) their own iPhone case or coffee cup has evolved into clients including Ford, Natural History Museum’s and, even, NASA. The new Replicator 2 looks pretty glorious (even at around $2,200) and now Makerbot is further democratizing the need to create 3D models to feed into your printer with their unveiling at SX of the Digitizer. The Digitizer prototype looked like a lo-fi turntable scanner (it is) featuring a webcam connected to two lasers that scans in objects about the size of a garden gnome. This means you no longer have to rely on Thingiverse or Autodesk’s 123DCreature to find models of things to print. As my buddy Jonathan said, this could have crazy implications on IP. I’m just excited about being able to print the damn earbuds or remote that I keep losing time and again. You can sign up to learn more about the Digitizer here - http://store.makerbot.com/digitizer.html
Art, Copy & Code:
Ben Malbon and Aman Govil gave an inspired presentation around Google’s collaborative project called Art, Copy & Code (http://www.artcopycode.com/#/) . This was a bit of a sequel from last year’s now infamous Project Re-brief where Google revisited iconic advertising from the 1960′s and then re-imagined it in the form of display advertising. Google now has several ongoing projects housed under this inspirational tentpole as a way to demonstrate how code is now as inherent to creative expression as is well-crafted design and a few carefully chosen words. The musician side of me loved the concept around “Jam with Chrome” (http://www.jamwithchrome.com/) where people can play music together (with loops and samples) anywhere they are online.
The biggest wow (and WTF?) moment here was when Google unveiled “The Talking Shoe” (http://www.artcopycode.com/#/project/0).
The shoe connects to your phone via Bluetooth and then uses a gyroscope and other things to translate your movement into commentary via speakers in the shoe. This commentary can be shared online (G+) if the user wants to. So now your shoe can keep you (and those within earshot) company on your commute, run, etc. Is this something you’d want? It was funny to see in person as Aman jogged around stage. Clearly there’s a gimmick factor to this (who would want their shoes to speak to them? OK, maybe if you’re super lonely) but it’s interesting to see where connecting the physical to the digital (or “phygital” as Google likes to call it) can go. I’ll hold out for my talking toothbrush.
One thousand stars (http://workshop.chromeexperiments.com/stars/ ) was another really interesting Chrome experiment that they touched on. It uses data and imagery from NASA to create an interactive map of over 100,000 starts in our galaxy. A richly executed way to use an enormous amount of data for an interesting visual experience. Great sound design in this one too.
Matthew Inman keynote:
Matthew Inman is an artist and best-selling author behind the comedic cartoon website, http://theoatmeal.com/. While he runs a very popular site, he is likely best known for his two now infamous crowd funding efforts. In the first one, a separate website called Funnyjunk.com was mining Matthew’s site and apparently plagiarizing his comics for their own. Matt found out and publicly asked his fan base what to do about it. Word spread and Funnyjunk.com eventually took his work down from their site but not before suing him for $20,000 for defaming the good name of their business. Inman then responded by setting up an indiegogo effort to raise $20,000 not for Funnyjunk.com but for a charity called “Operation BearLove Good. Cancer Bad” in which he all money raised would go to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. Matt added that if enough money was raised, he would take a photo with the cash and then send that photograph along with “a cartoon of Funnyjunk’s mother seducing a Kodiak bear” to FunnyJunk.” The effort raised $220,024.00. Here are the pictures that he sent:
Clearly, Matt quickly realized that there is power in using his notoriety to galvanize people to get behind a good cause. The most recent crowd funding effort he took on was for Wardenclyffe. Wardenclyffe was Nikola Tesla’s final laboratory located in Shoreham, New York. Tesla lost funding for it in 1917 and the tower was demolished. A huge Tesla enthusiast, Matt didn’t want to see this land go to a retail chain so he started another Indiegogo effort to raise enough money to open the United State’s very first (seriously, the first?) Nikola Tesla museum. He needed $850,000 to save the land. He raised 1.4M in just under two weeks. This is enough to purchase the land but look out for another crowdfunded campaign to build the actual museum.
Matthew’s main insight as to why these two crowd funding efforts worked so well were that these campaigns weren’t about perks or products, they were about writing a perceived wrong. People are less interested in spending $25 to acquire something than they are to stand behind something. Food for thought.
Matt’s final lessons on crowd funding initiatives:
1) Be wary of perks. No one wants to have to make 500,000 t-shirts.
2) Keep the campaign short and sweet.
3) Don’t feel obligated to make a video.
4) People want to right a wrong or fund a positive initiative more than buy a watch.
My Pete Cashmore moment:
On my flight from JFK to Austin Bergstrom airport, in the middle seat next to me sat a well-dressed, chatty internet-y dude. He was quite amiable and we started chatting about SXSW before the flight took off. Turned out that he worked for Mashable, a well-known and successful advertising/publishing platform we’ve been looking to work our way into for a bit. So we chatted through some partnership ideas with some of our clients and he had me wondering why we hadn’t done this before. After we talked about the role a Head of Production has at an agency, I asked him what he did for Mashable to which he softly muttered, “Oh…founder and CEO.” I stammered something to the effect of, “Oh! Wow! I’m sure that’s a very…important job.” He shrugged and said “I’m sure yours is more fun.” Somehow I doubt that.
Some great bands that I saw:
One part Radiohead, one part The Killers (and a wee bit of Snow Patrol), these guys are from South Africa but currently located in L.A. They make pretty radio friendly rock and put on a great show.
Gift of Gab from Blackilicious
Gift of Gab did a special set at the Sabertooth/Passion Pictures party that made everyone grateful that they trekked across town. Just a dude and his DJ. Felt like there were 3 of him on stage.
Saw these guys open for The Black Angels. Kind of an aggressive white dude hip hop thing. While that feels like it’s been done 100 times before (and badly) this vocalist’s energy and delivery was palpable. Midway through their set the guitarist broke a string which prompted this guy to do a 5 minute completely freestyle rant on SXSW that destroyed everyone. Brilliant stuff.
The Black Angels
I saw TBA open for Queens of the Stone Age a few years back at La Zona Rosa in Austin. This year they played the Elias Arts music showcase. You’re hard pressed to find them playing smallish venues anymore so this was a treat. They did an hour and a half psychedelic, face melting rock show. I stood 3 feet in front of the lead guitarist the whole show. My ears are still ringing.
The Joy Formidable
This Welsh trio played the SXSWi closing music party at Stubb’s BBQ. I knew nothing of them before but I’ve since bought two of their records. They put on a blistering rock set and might be the loudest 3 piece since Nirvana. OK, maybe not but it was an incredible show.
I don’t entirely get why people love this so much but I’ll admit that it was pretty intoxicating. That could also have been the vodka.
Apps that were quite popular during the conference:
Witness the dawn of the 6 second commercial. Even if you don’t use the app at all, follow the auteur genius of Adam Goldberg’s vines.
Just like it sounds, a group texting tool.
I’ve heard this is more teen focused but it’s actually great fun for sending images/videos to friends. Media is seen once and then gone forever.
New product launches:
Debuted to little fanfare but it looks great for a set top box. OK, I already ordered one.
Samsung debuted their new line of Smart cameras that are WiFi connected with touch screens. Users can upload straight to instagram and so on. Seems like they’re trying to cannibalize the best iPhone/Android photo-centric features with smartphones and capitalize on them. Curious if this will have much impact on the market.
While the website leaves a lot to be desired, this steampunk-esque vinyl recorder was quite eye-catching on the trade show floor. The DIY nature of it is pretty great. It just uses your average Technics SL1200 as the base with the recorder machined on top of it. Apparently these Techncics TT’s are preferred due to the direct drive and tank-like construction. Now you can make bad records at home too!
Digital Touch Systems:
These guys make interactive touch screen tables a la Microsoft Surface except that they’re fully customizable, can scale to practically any size and have a much better price point. N
Palm Top Theater:
In the “why do we need this?” category comes the Palm Top Theater. This add on to your iPhone turns your phone into a personal 3D theatre. I’m not entirely sure why or where you would do this but I’ll admit that the effect is a bit like the old hologram effect from Star Wars, which makes it desirable enough. Media must be converted to their proprietary format so unfortunately you can’t just load Star Wars onto your iPhone for the ultimate nerdgasm moment. However, you can use their editing software to convert/create things on your own.
Overall, it didn’t seem that brands were as overtly embedded with everything as they were last year. There was no really big product launch this year, whereas Nike launched Fuel Band last year and prior years saw Apple launching things at the same time. However, Doritos brought back its Jacked stage (a 6 story interactive vending machine) again featuring old school 90′s legends Public Enemy, Ice Cube and LL Cool J. It looked pretty incredible.
To paraphrase Matt Inman again, “Art is not born in a vacuum” and SXSW has enough to inspire and exhaust any patron, no matter what they’re looking for. If you’re already thinking about going next year, don’t think, just do it. And here are some pointers on how to plan for it - http://www.trustcollective.com/2013/02/27/carey-head/