Friday, March 14, 2014

SXSW 2014 Recap & Notes

After a great 5 days in Austin, I'm back in Houston. I took a bit of time today to type up some of my written notes and expand on different themes I took away from SXSW. At a high level, the trends are pretty clear, and echo much of the premise of Robert Scoble's (pictured above) new book, "Age of Context": we're entering an era where mobile/wearable technologies are combined with big data, social layers, ubiquitous sensors, location-based services, and increasingly automated forms of movement (like drones & driverless cars). And all of this is happening extraordinarily fast to change what our expectations of privacy, leisure and self-actualization should truly be. Sound a little heady? Yes, perhaps, but that's kind of the idea when you're at a conference focused on figuring out the future.

Below I've assembled my disparate notes from each event I attended, broken down by day. There's a lot of content here, and not everything will make 100% sense without the context of what was also spoken during the sessions. However, if there's any bullet you find particularly intriguing but non-obvious, don't hesitate to ask a question in the comments, and I'll try to elaborate in more detail.


"The New Digital Age” with Eric Schmidt
- Securing data & communications is increasingly important in volatile regions of the world
- Activists & Hacktivists are good about using security; ordinary folks are not.
- The limits of our technology increasingly end at the barrel of a gun
- Google has an entrenched interest in making the internet available everywhere…just like Facebook
- Google treats US governments just like foreign governments when it comes to defending against cyber attacks

Pennzoil Presents Mario Karting Reimagined
- Combination of RFID, video capture/streaming, & contextual audio cues
- Interesting use case for first-person POV video streaming & gamification
- Video from Juston’s Google Glass perspective:
- Video from GoPro cameras operated around the track:


A Virtual Conversation with Julian Assange
- Assange likes to pontificate
- No citizen is beyond the reach of surveillance, even the President of the United States or other world leaders
- Assange believes it is increasingly important for individual citizens to hold their governments accountable by leaking
- More journalists & leakers are moving to places like Berlin or Ecuador

So You Want Our Seed Money? Here's How to Get It!
- Warm introductions are by far the best way to get the attention of a VC
- Transitive Property of Hate: if I hate the person making the introduction of you to me, I now hate you
- Only ask your network for one or two solid introductions; quality over quantity
- Getting an introduction from a founder of portfolio is the best introduction of all
- Have a prototype built before you ask for a meeting
- Don’t push for an investor’s time; let the investor ask for your time once they’re interested
- A demo is infinitely better than merely a deck
- Make sure your deck is well designed…especially if you purport your product to incorporate solid design principles
- Be able to truly sell your story; you can back off some claims once the story has people interested
- 5 points of evaluation: Team, Market, Product, Idea, Product/Team Fit
- “Why is THIS team the BEST team in the world to build THIS product?”
- You want to be “socially proven” by virtue of navigating the social landscape to land an introduction; buys significant credibility
- Need a true depth of understanding of consumer behavior in that space if you don’t have the pedigree to back it up
- 1 out of 100 ideas actually get invested in
- Areas where a VC will provide support: Business Development, Customer Intros, Tech press PR, M&As, Raising next round
- It is critical that you have a true connection with your investor on the core vision of your product
- Setup a “Shadow Board” early on to understand the motions once your board is actually needed
- “We don’t fund you for what you’ve done. We fund you for where you going.”
- Be mentally prepared to stick with your idea/company for 8 - 10 years.

A Conversation with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson
- Embrace the process of learning
- Encourage your kids to break eggs; they’ll learn many scientific concepts in the process
- Tooth Fairy example of maintaining childhood innocence while still keeping scientific integrity
- Power of metaphor/analogy and visualizations as concept grasping tools
- The facts aren’t important; it’s how you arrive at those facts. That’s the scientific approach.
- Don’t get attached to the number. The enumerated output is never the most important thing.
- Embrace the communities of entertainment & sports to advance a learning agenda.
- "There's so much amazing in the universe, I don't want you to be distracted by things that are not.”
- "The first trillionaire on earth will be the one who mines an asteroid."

Innovation in Big-Time College Football
- Primary recruiting tool for team is social media; almost exclusively Twitter DMs & Facebook messaging. 24/7 affair
- College football uniforms are increasingly a recruiting differentiator. Arms race between Under Armour/Nike translates into recruiting wins.
- Team communication handled exclusively through mass text messaging.
- Faker Twitter accounts of attractive girls are setup by team coaches to get players to friend them so their activity can then be monitored.
- Using media coverage to your advantage is so important when the university locale isn’t in a major market.
- Must have something to draw young players to smaller towns. The promise of something greater.
- Chip Kelly is heavily leveraging wearable technology to monitor his players in Philadelphia.

Connected Home Developers Garage Happy Hour at Silicon Laboratories
- User Experience of most smart home devices is still dreadful
- No agreed upon protocol yet for next generation smart home devices. Still a mishmash of Zigbee, Z-Wave, X10, etc.
- Increasing interest in Pebble as a controller
- Life360 partnership with BMW for iDrive system, attempting to make that service the platform
- Interesting advancements in low-powered devices, like thermostats, smoke detectors, doorbells


Sunday Brunch with Robert Scoble & Expedia at Gypsy Lounge
- Recap of guiding theories from “Age of Context” book
- Twitter’s “Fail Whale” designer was also on stage
- Power of If This Then That for creating these new contextual experiences

Equipping & Inspiring the Next Generation with Dean Kamen
- High-tech Coke machines at restaurants are commercial by-product of a water filtration system
- FIRST program embraces celebrities like to champion the coolness of science & technology
- Creating a maker culture in your home is so important, especially for women/minorities to make it part of the lifestyle
- NRG has an engine to create electricity from compost & other trash to power water filtration; interesting possible applications
- Teach your children how to learn, not how to memorize. The learning part is the absolute key.

Sundar Pichai Conversation with John Battelle
- Google is launching an official SDK in 2 weeks: Android for Wearables.
- Q: "Why do we need Chrome AND Android?" A: "Chrome is best for web, Android best for mobile. Having both lets us keep each simple.”
- Asked audience who owned Chromecasts. Probably half the attendees raised hands. Not bad for a product less than a year old.
- "Does Google have a master plan? I mean, is there an architecture to all this shit you're doing?" Hilarity. A: Not a plan but maybe a thesis.
- Discussion around evolution of the master identifier away from mobile #’s to something else
- Cross-platform messaging characterized as “very difficult” as they’ve learned from Hangouts/Google Chat/Google Voice

The Future of Genetics in Our Everyday Lives with Anne Wojcicki
- Use data to change long-held opinions
- The more statistical insight you have about yourself, the more you can make healthier decisions
- Take an active role in your own healthcare conversations with physicians by providing supporting documentation
- To make systemic changes, there has to be an economic incentive to PREVENT vs TREAT; sick people are profitable

Glassholes: The Cultural Dissonance of Technology
- People are afraid because currently an online persona is self-curated; Glass has potential to take that away
- Society struggling with whose rights are more important: the right to not be recorded vs the right to don Glass
- Transparency & “being a good human” are key for something like this to work
- Parallels to existing body of law around public photography
- Businesses/Brands are eager to incorporate Glass into their offerings
- What is the impact on children? Relationship to 13+ Terms of Service vs actual psychological impacts
- Is Glass just a result of engineers wanting to create cool technology for themselves?
- Does technology always need a reason to exist? Can it be created “just because” & then let society identify applications?
- Glass is designed with the user/wearer in mind, to keep them in context & undistracted
- Audience very split on whether Glass is a force for good or a risk for society; impassioned opinions during Q&A session

Context is King: iBeacons & the Internet of Places
- Notifications should be different based on location, but also temporally relevant (dinner ad vs breakfast ad)
- Art Museum is a natural place for iBeacon deployments
- Personalization is critical.
- Make sure your alerts are highly valuable to the recipient
- Leverage the passive nature of these sensor/app combos
- Example of disarming the home alarm based upon entrance to driveway
- Don’t abuse the technology’s functionality so users aren’t bombarded. Mall example.
- Quality of Content vs Frequency of Content
- Utility must be clear
- Tickler effect: reminder to use the right app on your device at the right time.


Snowden 2.0: A Field Report from the NSA Archives
- Snowden characterized as immensely intelligent by Washington Post journalist
- Snowden has refused to disclose portions of the documents that would endanger government personnel
- The security/encryption technology community is “pissed off” and working to see this never happens again
- Discussion around whether RSA was complicit & gave backdoor access to key generation algorithm

A Virtual Conversation with Edward Snowden
- Snowden appearing through 7 proxies from Russia, so significant video latency, although audio clear
- Glenn Greenwald Test is failed with most tech: it’s too hard for the average user to figure out
- Using technology like TOR or PGP creates too high a barrier of entry for even people semi-tech literate
- Making the communication secured by default is the only way there will be mass adoption
- Encryption works. Much more likely to use social engineering to get the key than to break the encryption via brute force
- Effect of PRISM leaks led to significant changes at Google and Yahoo around secured email options
- Machiavellian perspective, but positive, public-benefitting changes have occurred since the leaks
- “I took an oath to support & defend the Constitution of the United States. That’s what I’m doing."

Top Tech Innovation Trends for 2014 with Robert Scoble & Gary Shapiro
- $4,000 waterproof LED t-shirt with programmable display via smartphone app; &
- Wearables for kids are gaining significant traction
- MEMS (Microelectromechanical systems) are driving most of the innovation
- Sensors placed upon football players to beam real-time data on heat, perspiration & intensity of hits to TV broadcasts
- Google Glass probably 3 - 5 years away as a truly mass scale product
- Glass characterized as the “most controversial product in my lifetime” by Robert Scoble
- Muse biofeedback brainwave headband:
- Movement towards shorter, clearer, most standardized disclaimers on software agreements, following trend in credit card industry
- Debate of Privacy vs Value for much of the wearable tech
- BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) & iBeacons seeing much attention from tech community
- Pairing the sensors with a social layer creates compelling new applications
- 3-D printing really starting to take off because the initial patents have now expired
- Very quickly moving to printing meals and household items
- Fulfillment of online purchases will increasingly come from printing at home, drone delivery, or automated delivery trucks
- Cube sensors for monitoring your indoor environment:
- Ninja Innovation Book:
- Wall-sized TVs for truly immersive rooms
- The most prized rooms in offices in the near future won’t be the corner suite, but the one completely covered in displays from floor to ceiling, all touch-enabled
- The 5 Sense experience (like getting together in person at SXSW) still very relevant to augment our daily, primarily virtual experiences
- Licensed vs unlicensed spectrum; investigating taking some spectrum back from local broadcasters
- Huge win for small companies with passage of JOBS Act that officially backed crowd funding
- Eureka Park at CES enables smaller companies to get mass exposure
- Google Glass technology was acquired by Google via an acquisition of a startup
- JBL headphone speaker designs are leveraging novel new shapes prototyped via 3-D printers
- What are the far reaching impacts of driverless cars on society? Huge impact on reduced insurance claims, truck drivers, billboards
- Notion of Car as API
- Car companies are being reshaped as technology companies

A Global Economy Driven by Platforms & APIs with Werner Vogels
- “Everybody loves to sell. Everybody hates to ship.”
- Cloud resources must be instant on, remote access guaranteed
- Sharing your core competencies with your competitors can actually become your competitive advantage.
- Embrace the notion of “not invented here”.
- You can get more out of your own platform by scaling it with your competitor’s data & usage
- Not doing it alone allows you be more successful
- Let others benefit from your scale
- The platform must be a level playing field
- Reward your sales people for how much money they save your customer
- Only 10 - 15% of IT infrastructure is typically utilized within companies. Amazon targets 100%.
- Lingering concerns about a winner take all / single point of failure when one company controls so much infrastructure

Relieving Frustration: Porn & User Experience
- Richness of content directly proportional to the number of engaged senses
- Realism is greatly determined the sensor fidelity
- How is participation defined? Self or Shared.
- Use Content AS the navigation
- Categorize content by making it highly tagged & crowd-sourced
- The more interconnected the content, the more organic the discovery
- Multi-site, predictive search allows discovery across properties
- Allow for minimal inputs to produce results
- Create multiple paths to content discovery, while limiting required input
- The closer you get to a first-person POV, the more immersive…a situational illusion
- Embrace greater fidelity and unique POVs
- Condense functionality across devices: computer, mobile, wearable
- Real-time language translation in chat to facilitate global content creators in non-native tongues
- Adding a new layer of sensory data to previously created content changes the experience of it
- Expand the Experience & cause “change at a distance"


Biz Stone in Conversation with Steven Johnson
- "If you want to succeed spectacularly, you must be willing to fail spectacularly. That's how you build a business of enduring value."
- "The promise of a highly-connected society is helping others.”
- Society will use technology in ways that you previously did not conceive
- Example of the proliferation of railroads exposing the shortcoming of no centralized time-keeping
- Example of flash photography in Germany leading to improvements in slum living conditions in NYC
- At Twitter, Ev was the business guy with money, Biz was the designer with product experience, & Jack was the technical mind
- Upcoming show from Steven: How We Got To Now -
- Upcoming book from Ev: Things A Little Bird Told Me -

Walked the SXSW Trade Show Exhibition Floor
- Bitcoin is becoming more mainstream
- 3-D Printing technology is evolving very quickly
- Ring founder on site with prototype of motion-control ring -
- Interesting table/wall displays from Digital Touch:
- Well-designed MacBook/iPhone docks from
- Remarkable human exoskeletons from Skeletonics:

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