Archives for posts with tag: SXSW


Remember the Jetsons? The idea that robots and machines would do all the work for you while you can enjoy your life? Walking around the grounds of SXSW, one begins to think that something went awfully wrong. The machines are not here to serve us anymore, we’re serving and working for the machines. We’ve become slaves to the machines. The obsessive trap of compulsive loop systems like Email and Twitter keeps us busy engaging with the machines while we spend less time engaging with real-life humans.

Noisy technology has made us less human, less focused, less engaged with real people, problems and challenges.

Calm technology will get out of the way, let us live our lives as humans, unobstructed by technology and the need to push buttons all day. With calm technology, actions become buttons; invisible interfaces trigger interactions. Calm technology is just there, it works but it doesn’t require you to be glued to a device.

Just imagine: You geofenced multiple locations that you pass by each and every day. (Geofencing enables your actions to serve as buttons by creating persistent background locations that quietly track your every move.) While you leave the house, all unnecessary electronic items and lights will be switched off immediately. Since your work is only 10 minutes away, the geofence triggers the coffee machine to start up at your office and the computer to be turned on and ready for your arrival. (This example comes from Amber Case’s keynote at SXSW.)

It gets much deeper than that.

Imagine a device that records everything you do. It registers all the music you listen to, tracks each and every moment, knows who you interacted with, records when you work out and how intense, tracks your sleeping patterns, your food consumption, the quality of air you breathe – basically it tracks anything you do and encounter.

You already have that device in the palm of your hand most of the day. All above sounds a bit creepy because you’re afraid to share of the information with a third party. What are they going to do with that data? Increase your health insurance premium because you stopped at a burger joint once a week, didn’t work out enough and lived in smoggy conditions for 60 days a year? The scenario loses its creepiness when third parties don’t have access to it because you own the data. You control who has access to it.

How valuable would it be for your physicians to be able to access all your health data and provide you with better remedies to improve your health?

How fascinating would it be to explore your real-life social graph and encounters, the ones that’s tracked by your smartphone?

What amazing insights could we gather from all of our consumption habits and how to change them over time?

The majority of the data is already being collected. We don’t have access to it, private vertical silos do. Once we take real ownership of this data, we can really put that data to use. Currently, we create all this data to get incrementally more relevant advertising. Nice to have but nothing that changes my life dramatically. What will change lives is gathering this data in the background and putting it to important use: Health, Work, Entertainment, Education – you name it. That’s the revolutionary idea of VRM.

The future is not about being chained to the machines, feeding their insatiable appetite for data. The future is about integrating technology to improve lives, making our world a better place. That was always the idea, wasn’t it?


2012 was supposed to be the year of stalking apps for the hyper-networking types: Glancee, Highlight, Banjo – you name it. Once we arrived at SXSW, we would use these platforms to meet new people, find new connections. A funny thing happened.

Nobody cared.

Besides the usual technology cheerleaders, most SXSW participants just shrugged their shoulders and moved on. It’s pretty apparent, these are total duds. The technology and philosophy behind many of these apps is sound as the concept of implicit social graphs tied to explicit graphs through background location is indeed an interesting idea. Yet, they fail because they don’t solve any problem.

Foursquare and Gowalla (and gazillion other forgotten platforms) were the hot startups a few years ago that dominated the conversation when it came to social location, focused on the check-in model. Foursquare, the winner of the first location-based arms race, with its check-ins plus deals, tips, photos and to-do lists is mildy useful. It’s good for events like SXSW where you want to connect with people in your graph. It’s a reactive app.

The next generation of location apps will be about ambient location: You could be planning on going to one place and see that your friends are at another and go there instead. The app could pull you to a different place than your original destination. Ambient location apps will have amazing data sets: Better location and social models based on location awareness mixed with the data created by such interaction theoretically could have a profound affect on user behavior. In addition, brands and retailers could find this information useful as well.

It’s clear that Glancee, Highlight and Banjo did not crack the code of background location data. (Delete, delete, delete.)

In the next two parts, I will be exploring the differences between noisy and calm technologies, followed by a glimpse in the future of ambient location platforms and the emergence of calm technologies.

SXSW is overwhelming madness, as usual. I had 15 meetings already, more than 10 to go. It’s easy to google the person in advance or check their profiles.

The problem is, we tend to pretend to know others based on public information. What we share on social profiles is not really meant to be a real representation of ourselves. When you use the tools to create closeness and familiarity with the other person, you cheat just a little bit and try to trick your way into their emotional self.

It’s a common technique, used by traditional direct marketers. You offer a product/service based on previous purchases. Direct Marketers track the success diligently and optimize based on performance. When digital marketing took off, marketers tried to copy that direct response technique. Unfortunately, they were not as disciplined as their traditional counterparts and made bad assumptions.

You look at outdoor sports sites, let’s send you an email with a background featuring the great outdoors.

You visit a site for car enthusiasts and you’ll be considered one of them until the end of time. (Or until you delete your cookie.)

In real life, it’s often better to start a conversation without assuming anything, just being curious and open. In the digital marketing world, many digital campaigns don’t succeed because they are based on false assumptions.

If you want to be successful, you need to be sure that your assumptions are right. Or you better start out with a blank slate.


It’s my fourth year in a row and I can’t wait to be part of the insanity we call SXSW once again. Here are a few thoughts while I’m prepping for the event.

  1. The conference ticket is quite expensive. The hotel is even more expensive. Add to that the flight and miscellaneous expenses, suddenly you’re talking about a real investment. While the badge allows me to see all the sessions, panels and keynotes, that’s not why I invested money going. For me it’s all about the conversations. The human connections. Moments where I learn from people what drives them, what makes them tick, what they are working on: The coffee with an interesting person that has 12 followers on Twitter. The drink with a woman who is about the change the world. The discussion about marketing at 11pm with five brilliant minds. The friendships that last.
  2. I will try to go to 2 sessions per day and be present. Not just sit there and check my email or update my status. Listen, learn and focus. If possible, I will add my voice to the conversation, not just rehashing sound bites of the speaker.
  3. Location-awareness apps will be the Twitter of 2012. Or the failed group-messaging apps of 2011. Remember Beluga? I’m pretty sure apps like Glancee or Highlight will make a big splash at SXSW but I’m skeptical how that translates into the real world of having a normal life. I use Foursquare extensively during SXSW but tend to return the remaining 51 weeks of year maybe weekly. This might be the destiny of location-awareness apps.
  4. I’m giddy about The Violet Crown, a location-aware app that let’s me explore a musical album while walking around the SXSW grounds. Instead of listening to the record chronologically, you listen to it geographically, stumbling into pockets of sound dotted around the streets which blend between each other smoothly. I can’t wait to explore it.
  5. I’m looking forward to connect at Startup Village. I love to learn about new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways to change the world.

Most importantly, I would love to connect with you. I’m on Twitter @uwehook, text me at 323.304.1661 or just say hi when you see me.


I submitted a speaking proposal entitled:

How creativity will reinvent capitalism

“Stimulating the economy is not about tax cuts or new subsidies. Stimulating the economy is about reinenting the economy and its institutions through creativity. The old “capital” was all about machines and efficiencies, the new “capital” are living networks of many different kinds of capital: natural, human, social and/or creative. The goal has to be to seed those many different forms of capital most productively – nurture, allocate, utilize and renew them. Explore the first signs of this emerging movement to topple the old form of capitalism and build a more sustainable model.”

These are scary times.

Unemployment hovering around 9%. Real unemployment at 20%. A global debt crisis. A global demand crisis. A systemic crisis.

As I discussed before, we are entering the age of strife.

Institutions won’t save us. No President will save us. No party will.

We have to save ourselves.

Capitalism is a good thing. The current expression of capitalism is not. How can we transform capitalism as radically as it happened during Adam Smith’s era? It won’t happen through institutions, it will happen by all of us changing it. While we’re facing the abyss, a few of us have already jumped to the other, transformative side.

The new capitalism has to be about accumulating and saving any productive resource for tomorrow. We have to minimize economic harm and maximize creating real economic value. It’s less about exploitation and more about optimization.

Many people call this the age of constructive capitalism: We’re creatively destroying old institutions, building new institutions, founding on authentic, enduring and meaningful value. Stakeholder value vs. Shareholder value, allowing enterprises to play a more constructive and valuable role in society. It’s as revolutionary as the change from an agricultural society to industrial capitalism. The change from managerial/financial capitalism to a human business design will change the way we work and live. And reclaim our humanity.

It’s much bigger than just building better products and services – it’s about building better institutions first. Hank Paulson and Donald Trump wouldn’t recognize this form of capitalism. It is composed of a disruptive new set of cornerstones, geared for the new economics of interdependence. And it will flush out the dinosaurs of 20th century capitalism.

My goal is to explore this important topic at SXSW 2012. I believe there’s more to talk about than tools or platforms. We need to change the world.

And we need to start now.

Would love to hear your thoughts and any vote for my proposal is welcome.


First there were portals. AOL, Yahoo and all the other sites with names we don’t remember anymore.

Then came Google.

And now there’s Facebook.

History has shown us that early dominance doesn’t translate into long-term leadership. While Google is still a dominant player in search, they are struggling to remain relevant. Their latest move to tie bonuses to social success smells like Microsoft with a hint of Yahoo!

Facebook is as vulnerable as AOL Google.

Facebook is the dominant Social platform. No doubt about it. But just like Google, they own only part of the pie and the majority of the pie is up for grabs or still in development.

Facebook has been successful in aggregating our social graph. For most people, it’s a mess of friends, co-workers, family and weak ties. Our social graph has become a very weak social network: difficult to navigate, even more difficult to control. The truth is: we have hundreds of networks. Our work network, our employer network, our commute network, our hobby network, our family network, our local community network. There are opportunities to develop networks for sporting events, movies, any shared interest.

While I’m writing this, I’m watching the Masters. I would love to tap into a temporary network to share my viewing experience with others. Facebook is not the right platform for it.

I would love to tap into a temporary network of my office building to help with improvements or get to know other tenants better.

I would like to meet somebody within 2 miles to go out for a run. Facebook can’t help me with that.

Disposable and temporary networks

The answer could be to develop thousands of disposable and temporary networks. Many location-based apps feel that way: Foursquare is a great tool when attending massive conferences like SXSW but it’s a daily nuisance to see my friend checking in at the same Starbucks over and over again. Color has gotten a lot of attention (mostly because of its disastrous launch and $41 million investment) but it’s an interesting attempt to tap into network for a moment in time.

However, when I look at all the apps battling for attention on my iPhone, I hope there will be aggregators that can develop disposable/temporary networks based on my interest and location. And integrate new friends into a bigger network. Such a platform would make Facebook feel like Microsoft: too big to be agile.


Try it out: Next time you talk about the future of marketing, add the words “Gamification” and “Game Mechanics.” Suddenly you morph from marketing expert to marketing genius. You might be promoted on the spot. The world will be your oyster.

Even better: Gamification will transform education and finally fix that darn Global Warming thing.

Seriously, wouldn’t you study that much harder if a class valedictorian was called “White Knight Paladin Level 20”? Of course you would. At least that’s what Seth Priebatch, the founder and Chief Ninja (You can’t make that stuff up.) of SCVNGR told the world at his South by Southwest keynote in Austin. He referred to the education system as “one of the most perfect game ecosystems that’s out there, “full of challenges, rewards, rules, allies, enemies, countdowns, and incentives, “all sorts of things that basically make school the best real-world implementation of a game that’s out there. Priebatsch called education “a poorly designed game; it’s kind of broken.”

What is gamification?

Gamification is the use of game place mechanics in order to encourage people to adopt applications and, ultimately, change behavior. Think about Foursquare: People are encouraged to check-in at physical locations in order to earn badges, mayorships and rewards (coupons, freebies, etc.). Gamification or Game Mechanics work because it makes technology more engaging/entertaining by encouraging desired behavior and taps into the human desire to play a game. It can help to perform tasks that are normally considered boring or arduous.

Gamification will gain in importance

There’s a good case to be made that ‘Pleasure’ should be added to the 5 P’s of marketing. Why shouldn’t pleasure be an extension of a great customer experience? Right now, customer experiences are mostly limited to well-working and easy to use. In the near future, a great customer experience has to add the fun factor. When you’re being rewarded to do your timesheets, you’ll do them more timely. And it might be even a task you’ll be looking forward to. You can create ‘player journeys’ to reward people with status, access and power – you create meaning inside of the mechanics. Loyalty programs can be expanded through leaderboards, each customer interaction can become an enjoyable experience.

But, please, don’t overhype the hype

Gamification is an important tactic to help change human behavior. It can make life more entertaining and more pleasurable. It will make arduous tasks more enjoyable. It can be used to change bad habits and transform into more positive actions. But, let’s stop the hype before it gets really started. Let’s deliver on small promises before we promise the world.


This fabulous illustrations courtesy of Ogilvy (via Brad Hill)

I’m writing this a few hours after my return from Austin. As usual, SXSW was whirlwind of knowledge, brilliant minds, trial of new technologies and a lot of socializing.

It’s getting bigger and bigger

It was merely impossible to see 20% of the panels/keynotes I was interested in. The conference is now so spread out that you really have to limit yourself to 1-2 panels and go with the flow the rest of the day. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better but my experience was much better than last year. Maybe it was my overall attitude, my focus on networking or the conference felt more elevated and improved from last year.

With one exception, the keynotes weren’t good

Blake McCoskie, CEO and Founder of Tom’s Shoes, stole the keynote show by a huge margin. His story was inspiring and conveyed the passion he feels for his brand. I wish all keynotes would have been of that caliber but it gave me more time to network and learn by talking with fellow attendees.

SXSW’s content: It’s what you make it.

SXSW has turned into a huge farmer market. You have to walk down all the stands, try out some fruit, bite into a few sour apples until you discover something sweet. It’s up to you to do all the legwork in advance, have Plan B and C for each session in place and leave as soon as you feel the session doesn’t meet your expectations. I went to 10 or so sessions and 5 of them were fabulous.

It’s about the people

In a cab, in line, at the Allhat party, at the DraftFCB event, at a local restaurant, on the street: SXSW is about connecting with people. Replacing the Twitter avatar with a real person. Meeting strangers and parting as friends. Connecting friends with other friends. That’s the real story of SXSW.

Big brands are moving in

Samsung hosted the blogger lounge (Ironically more Apple than Samsung products inside the lounge) with interviews, book signings and a lot of Pepsi. Chevy really made an impact with their car service for attendees, test drives, charging stations, the Volt lounge and party sponsorship. Pepsi was basically everywhere, sometimes the only drink you could get was a Pepsi Max. They sponsored a lounge and a stage, sometimes manned by my friend @schneidermike. (He should just legally change his name already.) American Express partnered with Foursquare to launch a form of a loyalty program. Should be interesting to see the results. And, once again, Apple was the marketing king without spending any money on sponsorships: They opened a “pop up” store and geeks lined up for hours to get their hands on the new iPad2. Just to show them off in the next day and do the marketing work for Apple.

More importantly, more executives of large brands and enterprises were present, trying to figure out how to transform their business. I had more discussions about social business and less chat about bright, shiny tools.

Oh boy, so many apps and not enough screen real estate

Situationist, Hurricane Party, Beluga, Ditto, Yobongo, LiquidSpace. And I’m barely scratching the surface. It was fun to try them out and evaluate their worthiness to remain on my iPhone. Unlike other SXSW’s, this year there was no break-out technology. No Foursquare or Twitter. A lot of hype surrounding SMS group chat tools like Beluga and GroupMe but I didn’t experience a high adoption rate in my graph. It felt more like a new feature than an innovative  tool. The LocalMind Q&A tool looked interesting and could become quite helpful over time.

Would love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m busy deleting some of the apps I downloaded a few days ago.


Josh Williams, founder and CEO of Gowalla, surprised the audience during his keynote with quotes like “Badges are bullshit.” and “Gamification isn’t cool.”


For three days we heard that gamification will solve every problem known to mankind: Education, Global Climate Change, ingrown toenails. And, suddenly gamification isn’t cool? Maybe it’s just not cool because Gowalla is losing the battle of location-based services to Foursquare and Facebook Places? Why was it cool when Gowalla signed a deal with Chipotle? And maybe badges are bullshit because Foursquare continues to bank highly on them and thrive?

We could ask these questions but there’s more behind the repositioning

When you’re losing to your competitor, you re-evaluate your mission and your vision. You have done everything in your power to beat them but, for some reason, they are leading in each and every category. And you start to realize that the initial reason for starting your company might have been forgotten while trying to catch-up with your competitors. You never meant to be like Foursquare (just like Yahoo never wanted to be like Google and the comparisons were always weak and meaningless) and you always tried to differentiate yourself by offering passports, connecting people with experiential places. But the public didn’t see this subtleties, they saw you as the LBS loser.

You have two options: Either dig in and continue the war until the bitter end. Or change the game.

Gowalla decided to change the game, transforming the service into a storytelling platform where people can document their memories by associating them with the places where they happened. No specific plans were revealed but it’s likely that Gowalla will add tools that will help people to add more content around specific places. The gamification part of the platform seems to be destined for the pile of buzzwords. And the pro-active part of check-in might change to a more passive activity.

A good move by Gowalla. The execution of their revised vision will determine if user will follow them on their new path.


Hurricane Party, Liquid Space, View, Localmind, Situationist – just some of the apps I’ve downloaded in the last few days at South by Southwest. I’m sure I missed out on tons more. And I’m glad I did. The appsphere has become unmanageable. I have around 100 on my iPhone, use maybe 5 of them regularly, 5 more on a weekly basis and a handful during special events. Foursquare is an interesting tool during events like SXSW, it helps me track people I want to connect with. Personally, I have no use for this tool when I’m back home. (I see benefits for the youth market but doubt we’ll ever see adoption throughout all segments.) The ‘dealification’ of location-based services as David Berkowitz calls it, might prove to be successful for Foursquare and Facebook Places (all others seem to fade rather quickly). But it will also transform its value from social to pure commercial. Hey, Valpak is still around and making money.

It makes sense for companies like Foursquare to cash-in as quickly as possible. When Mubarak’s regime an be swept away in 17 days, Foursquare can be forgotten with one tap of a new app. There a new apps that move location-based services into a more semantic and intention-based space. And there are apps that are more focused and useful when you’re in a certain mindset. The cold hard truth is: We have way too many apps. And it’s getting harder and harder to break through the clutter.

We need to aggregate functionalities

QR Code? I need an app. Picture sharing? App. Location? App. Intention? App. Conversation? App. Information Sharing? App.

Why? I want an app that integrates all these functionalities. How many photo sharing apps do I need? I want one app where there’s one camera button and I can choose between QR Reader, Photo (include Instagram while you’re at it), Video and, if possible, Google Goggles. Suck in my complete Social Graph and allow me to engage with them on my terms. Integrate readers (RSS/Instagram). And let me customize it. In short: help to delete 20 apps by aggregating all their functionalities. Cleaning the apps wasteland will help me clean my screen, clear my mind and give me back some time to look for real innovation.

The time of incremental innovation is over. You either aggregate or innovate. Or I delete.