Highlights from the 2013 SXSW Interactive Festival

SXSWAbout our Guest Blogger: Therkel Sand is Co-founder at Splitter, an easy-to-use automated targeting service. He had, for his third time, a spring-break for geeks in this year South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. In his description of SXSW, he quotes Dennis Crowley, Co-founder of Foursquare, “SXSW is were you experience the future for a couple days, then you go home and live in the present.”

For the Interactive part of SXSW, more than 25.000 marketers, entrepreneurs, engineers, and content creators participate. And because startup darlings, such as Twitter and Foursquare, had their first mover traction because of the tech savvy audience, SXSW is for many startups the place of which tech startups push hard to get the attention of the crowd. Within the area of startups, the trend this year has moved away from chasing the next big social media service, to a new breed of companies that strives to combine the digital world with the physical world.

3D printing was this year a hot topic, and this was underlined by this year’s opening keynote by Makerbot Co-founder Bree Petiss: how the future of 3D printing could be the next industrial revolution. At SXSW, they unveiled the Makerbot Digitizer prototype, which scans small three-dimensional objects so they can be replicated with the Makerbot 3D printer. It enables everyone to make a High-quality 3D copy in no time at a low cost.

One of my must-see sessions this year, was the demonstration of the eagerly awaited headset device Google Glass, presented by Googles Sr. Developer Timothy Jordan. The usecases for this ‘cyborg-like-device’, are endless. When wearing your glasses, you will be able to watch breaking news, read and dictate responses to Gmail messages, interact with apps and web services etc. At SXSW Google Glass demo, created for developers, showed how programmers now have the opportunity to build products directly to the glass framework. Google Glass is expected to be released later this year.

 

Googles Sr. Developer Timothy Jordan – Demo Google Glass

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The founder of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, gave a session about the challenges of scaling a truly disruptive business model. Airbnb today has a net value of $ 250 million, but just 5 years ago, the company offered a 10 percent stake in Airbnb for $ 100.000 to 20 top VC’s – where everyone passed the offer. Chesky stated the importance of him as a CEO knew everything about the product – he has himself sold his apartment, and now only lives in Airbnb homes.

The most hyped talk this year was given by Elon Musk who founded and sold Paypal, and who founded both Tesla Motors and Space X – where he is currently CEO in both companies. Interviewed by former Wired editor Chris Anderson, the visionary Elon Musk elaborated on the future of Space travel, and the possible commercial launch facility in Texas. Elon Musk received the big applause when premiered a video from recent Space X test showing take-off a reusable ‘Grasshopper rocket’, designed to send capsules into space, and then successful safely land itself. One quote from his talk became talk of town in Austin: “I would like to die on Mars -, just not of the impact”.

One of the main focuses at the marketing related sessions was the ‘Context war zone’. Many sessions were given by content providers and advertisers, discussing how to navigate and optimize conversion rates and user experiences, in a media landscape that is becoming increasingly fragmented. Everyone agrees that smartphones is revolutionizing how people consume content, shop and pay, and that this is becoming the digital nexus of consumers.

SXSW is a lot about networking and the possibilities to interact with some of the well know tech stars. I had my meet- up moment with Gary Vaynerchuk, Founder of winelibrary.com and Vaynerchuck Media. He offered people to speak with him in 5-minutes sessions, where he for 5 hours straight did one-one Q&A. The topic was how we were entering the contextual era, and with him, I further discussed the perspectives on how our startup Splitter could scale our business.

 

Gary Vaynerchuck and I

 

I’m already now looking forward to another week in Austin, and the seductive inspirational SXSW spirit again next year.

Therkel Sand

 

 

Get Ready for the Bots – on Facebook Messenger

2Facebook Messenger was released 5 years ago and now has over 900 million users. Originally receiving a flood of negativity towards a standalone messaging app, compared to one simple Facebook app, users seem to be warming to it. The decision to make it standalone does make a lot of sense, since messaging is a big part of people’s lives nowadays and Facebook even bought the domain messenger.com to launch a version for web browsers last year. Their 900 million users will more than likely be merged with Whatsapp’s 1 billion users, which means that Facebook will have the personal phone number of every single user – sounds like $19 billion well spent.

 

Open for Business

So that’s humans covered. Where to go next? Facebook is now venturing into their next Messenger-based project: bots. If you haven’t been keeping up, Facebook launched Messenger Platform last month, which holds within it, chatterbots. Luckily, these bots are not machine learning bots, such as the disaster that was Microsoft’s Tay. They do have some humorous replies if provoked but they ultimately steer the conversation back to the subject they’re designed to cater for. Thanks to their highly advanced Send/Receive API, these bots are able to reply with actual structured messages, including links, images, hotel reservations, the weather etc. You may immediately compare this to Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Now and Amazon Echo, but what sets bots on Messenger apart is the fact that businesses can develop them, which in turn gives them another way to develop customer service. Simply put, bots could end up changing the world by replacing humans in such job sectors. Without the bespoke customer service integration that Messenger bots provide, the above voice-activated services will most likely not be able to solve business-related queries themselves. Having said that, the way bots behave is very reminiscent of the way Siri does. Maybe they’ll talk to each other one day and we’ll get the best of both.

 

Customer Service and Added Value

So how can these bots work for brands? Well, eventually, every major company in the world will have an account, which will be a first port of call when contacting their company. The reason this is almost definite is due to Facebook’s already-mammoth-sized network of users. It doesn’t get any bigger than Facebook when advertising to individual people, so connecting Messenger bots (as customer sales reps, for example) is extremely attractive. Messenger codes, one of many things taken from Snapchat, will also make it easier for businesses to connect with their customers. One industry example is how bots will almost certainly change how banking works for the consumer, replacing an app or web-based system with a dialogue with a machine that is able to understand your every need. The option to send money within Messenger itself is highly likely too, like Snapchat allows. This could also eliminate the hassle of speaking to a bank’s voice recognition system when calling by telephone – no more time (and money) wasted by the dreaded “I didn’t catch that. Please try again.” These voice recognition systems are essentially bots done badly, but they’re based on voice, which is a lot more difficult to translate into zeros and ones. Plus, you cannot autocorrect your voice (yet). I can see this whole system being replaced by bots – it could even connect you to a human advisor with ease, as you’re most likely already using your phone. Even if you’re using the desktop version or Facebook Chat, I’m sure they’ll figure something out. Besides banks, what other markets will benefit from this? Restaurants, travel and possibly supermarkets with online shopping services are big industries for it to thrive. The healthcare industry could also be a large portion – Healthtap have already created their bot, which isn’t surprising considering one of the first ever chatterbots was called DOCTOR and simulated a psychotherapist. In fact, the potential amount of markets are endless for this stream of interaction – just like it is with human customer service.

 

At the end of the day, customers are moving towards messaging as their preferred choice of customer service. And as generations progress, it will no doubt become the standard – a phone call will most likely be reserved for long, meaningful conversations with friends and family, which in turn will add even more meaning to them. The phone call will no longer be taken for granted, but talking to robots will be.