Category Archives: Tech

Yesterday was our first day at SXSW 2014. As Brandon mentioned in his post, we spent a lot of time in sessions geared towards education, as our careers are in talent development. Surprise! It’s not just parties and music. There are actual sessions here on everything from marketing and UX to the future of humanity and AI.

I took a few moments yesterday and explored a little of the branding around town as well. I started in Mashable House, where the primary feature once again this year is Grumpy Cat. I know she’s just an internet meme, but she’s a cute one, and a 5 minute line to have my photo with Grumpy Cat seemed okay. It was a very in-the-moment thing, a very SXSW thing. Why not, right?

@RealGrumpyCat at Mashable House

@RealGrumpyCat at Mashable House

From there, I popped into the 3M tent. I don’t know what I expected – post-it notes perhaps? It was more of a museum that showcased products made by 3M materials. Also, I somehow missed the drink tickets. Free food is a recurring theme at SxSW, so I managed to enjoy cupcakes and a popcorn bar.  I also wandered into the #Mofilm Lounge for my free drink. Last year, this tented lounge was absolutely jam-packed all the time. This year, you could actually move.

Popcorn Bar at the 3M Tent

Popcorn Bar at the 3M Tent

That was a theme throughout, actually. No matter where I went, I rarely had to stand in line. Last year, I think I spent most of my time at SxSW standing in lines, so I appreciate that everything seems slightly more efficient this year. While there are still apparently 30,000+ people here, I’m not feeling as crushed.

This year, the sessions seem to be more track-focused. My preferred design thinking, workplace functions, and UX design tracks are located in the Marriott, Four Seasons and Convention Center. In fact, I went through my schedule this morning and removed sessions that are in the Hilton, Sheraton, Wanderlust and the Omni. SxSW may be more organized around people flow this year, but the sessions are spread out around the town. Sometimes it feels like SxSW has outgrown Austin. I’m not the only one feeling the distance of certain things either.

30,000+ People

30,000+ People

While brands are everywhere, I’m not feeling as overwhelmed by the marketing as I have in the past. It’s an improvement. Last year, so many apps – many tacky or ridiculous – had posters pasted everywhere. A lot of the silliness (although not all), has disappeared. The smaller apps and brands just aren’t as in-your-face this year. However, Oreo is printing 3D edible cookies, GoToMeeting has free Grilled Cheese and Beer, Samsung is handing out batteries for anyone with a Samsung phone, and Deloitte is making 3D action figures. The big brands are here in force with “free” things that rarely have anything to do with the brand.

People are saying SxSWi has jumped the shark. I think it might have jumped last year and this year, it’s starting to find itself again. I don’t think it’s there yet. The organizers seem to be wrestling with what has become the SxSW brand versus the actual educational sessions. So we’ll see – I’m not giving up on the conference yet, and I’ll be back next year too.

sxswWe’re here at SXSW Interactive with a day 1 recap (find more info here). Friday’s weather held for us here in Austin with semi-sunny skies, but we’re expecting rainfall off and on all day Saturday. There are masses of people, but the number seems flat from last year — the surge of the crowds is quite evident when you try to get into a club or a lunch hotspot, or some of the Festival sessions at the smaller venue — however it’s not as packed as 2013.

Thursday was all about the state education for us and the role of technology as its transformational agent. The best session of the day was facilitated by John Hagel from the Center for the Edge. His group conducts research on workplace efficiency. His main thesis was how today’s companies are in a war for talent — acquiring the best people so they can stay ahead of the competition — but Hagel presents a “paradox of talent” explaining that once companies acquire talent they fail to effectively develop talent. He went on to explain that most executives speak about acquiring and retaining the best talent, but they speak little about developing said talent once they’re on board. He goes on to say that companies need to apply the principles of design thinking and design methodologies to the workplace environment to help  employees connect with each other and innovate faster.

Later in the day, we attended an informative session about MOOCs (massive open online courses) led by Dave Hinger and Jeff Meadows from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. They focused on what the key challenges of MOOCs are and what are some potential solutions. They relied on audience participation to get the conversation going. Most of the room were from Higher Education and there were almost as many opinions as participants. Some consensus included:

— MOOCs are plagues by low completion rates

— How do you effectively assess MOOC students?

— Most MOOCs are boring and have low production value

— MOOCs are not financially viable for institutions

Some in the audience discussed how Georgia Tech is offering a MOOC-based degree in Computer Science for only $6000, which they found to be very disruptive to the traditional university model.

Day 1 ended with us relaxing in the PayPal lounge where there are endless outlets for device charging and free schwag. Today, we’re gonna hit the Oreo Cookies 3D printer where… yes, you can print and EAT your own Oreo cookie!

We are up at the crack of dawn today, heading to SXSWi in Austin. Although we’re only going to report on SXSW Interactive this year, you can still get ready for all the SXSW festivities by listening to NPR’s SXSW Music playlist. Also check out the Austin Chronicle’s coverage of everything going on, including a live videoconference with Edward Snowden.

We’re about to board our crazy-early flight to Austin from SFO, where it’s already swarming with a ton of Valley Hipsters loaded up on caffeine with their Timbuk2 messenger bags in tow… Look for more reporting right here from SXSW in Austin through Monday!

netneutistockfeature1-e1293050143472While trying to feverishly watch season 2 of House of Cards, I’ve noticed a few spinning rainbows via my AppleTV. What’s up? I tend to blame my Internet connection, but in reality it seems like there’s some nefarious “auto slowdown” occurring. It seems like Netflix is having a conflict with Verizon and other broadband providers over how much content should be carried without additional fees. Netflix complains that they’ve encountered a 14% slowdown in average speeds. The Wall Street Journal is reporting on the conflict between the two titans, but they’re telling us that Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, have already begun paying broadband providers for smoother access to their networks, which leaves Netflix kind of flapping in the wind complaining about tiered access.

The war around the idea of “net neutrality” is heating up as consumers move away from traditional TV and focus more on “binge watching” and a la carte watching via Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, iTunes and other streaming and/or subscription services. Just last month, a court ruled in favor of Verizon’s suit to block the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules, which has spurred chaos among the providers and content creators as more people consume more high-definition video. To add fire to the furnace, Netflix is more than likely very interested in the upcoming federal review of Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and may push for new requirements on traffic-swapping deals. As we move forward into the unknown waters of “tiered Internet access” it’s going to be more and more about who pays what: the content creators and/or their customers.

cashIt seems like streaming services are all the rage lately. Beats just released their app (known mostly for headphones, the company bought MOG, and re-branded it) which gives you unlimited downloads and access across 10 devices for $14.99 a month. Spotify has now removed the limit to the number of songs subscribers on the free plan can access each month, as well. So the services are upping the ante by trying feverishly to differentiate themselves. Beats is adding a human element by bringing curators to the service instead of a computer algorithm to help you discover songs/artists you like. Spotify is stressing its social utilities and focusing on playlists based on your mood.

To carve out market share, the streaming services have offered subscriptions at a ridiculously low price: $9.99 a month on average, or even better discounts if you buy a year’s worth in advance. The paradigm shift for the general public has been moving from “owning” songs to “renting” them. While the streaming services seem to be taking hold, there’s new research that shows they can never be profitable. According to the report, the number of streaming users will balloon to 1.7 billion by 2017, up from 767 million in 2013.  Paid subscribers will leap to 125 million, up from 36 million currently. It seems like the labels are the culprits: taking 70% of the profits for themselves in royalties. On top of that, the freemium model that Spotify has adopted is convincing consumers that music is a commodity, and not really worth paying for. And, of course, there’s the controversy with what the artists are actually being paid.

As the services evolve, they’re going to have to figure out a revenue model that allows for scalability. And consumers, at some point, are going to have to pay up.

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