By 2019, South by Southwest (SXSW) had emerged as a modern-day world’s fair — complete with global attendees, activations, and tracks that serve as “pavilions” dedicated to countries and emerging technologies, and a community of people who are excited to see and share what’s next. I had attended every year since 2007, served on the SXSW Advisory Board since 2015, and was devastated when it was canceled in 2020. But after the letdown of virtual 2021 CES panel sessions this January, even I was trepidatious about how virtual SXSW 2021 was going to go.
But luckily SXSW conference organizers learned a ton from virtual events and our always-Zoom lifestyle of the last 12 months. In reviewing programming submissions this year, one of the judging criteria our SXSW Advisory Board was asked to consider was “How well will this panel be received solely online?” and that direction paid off.
The best sessions were designed for Zoom, with many offering supplemental content and picture-in-picture views. On-demand, encores, and asynchronous programming and films meant attendees could time-shift sessions for when it was convenient streaming at home. In fact, it was previously inconceivable to attend more than 4-5 quality panels in-person, and now an attendee could hit twice that, if a session isn’t doing it for you it’s super easy to bounce, and you can even fast forward through the boring parts!
The SXSW app also featured Channels where attendees could “browse” content, versus needing to plan ahead which session to attend. And yes, there was a kludgy VR experience through VR Chat, which allowed you to interact with other attendees, stream panels from a theater, and even drive a gokart down virtual Congress Avenue.
A favorite for SXSW 2021 was TikTok’s panel featuring Arby’s (client), Ocean Spray and NFL talking about “Driving Culture Through Content.” Ad Age wrote an article about the panel saying, “This is exactly the kind of story TikTok is hoping brands find on the app.” YES!!
The Future Today Institute’s annual Emerging Tech Trend Report is always a must-attend, with brilliant futurist Amy Webb giving away all of insights open-source-style. The 2021 report was another home-run, and features 500 trends worth tracking. You can download the full report here. It’s mandatory reading every year, but give yourself a couple windows to get through it.
And I watched the new Kevin Smith documentary premiere, Clerk, from my couch.
Overall, SXSW 2021 was nothing like being in Austin in-person. But a tip of the cowboy hat to the conference organizers for keeping this community together through tough times and putting together a mind-blowing amount of content and smarts. And I can’t wait to drink a Shiner at The Driskill with y’all again next year.
The Best Puzzle Brand Social Media Job in the World is Open
I’ve been working with premium jigsaw puzzle brand Blue Kazoo for more than a year now. Founders Josh and Abraham are longtime friends and collaborators, and their company is BLOWING UP (600% growth Q/Q!!!). The puzzles are an insane quality and the company is built on social media…
- From Communications Arts this week on the Across the Continent puzzle series: “There’s no other puzzle series like this out there. From the packaging to the final puzzle piece, every aspect of these [Blue Kazoo] puzzles has been crafted to give puzzlers the feel of doing a vintage jigsaw.”
- From Digiday this week on how brands are using TikTok as a channel for customer service and product feedback: “Blue Kazoo and other brands have taken notes from the unsolicited feedback in their video comments, allowing them to answer customer questions, see trends, and make product changes.”
So we have some big news — we’re hiring a Social Media Manager. This is a massive role at a social-first company that is exploding. The job has a highly creative, but also super challenging mandate. So bring your A-Game. It’s full-time, remote, and you get to work with me sometimes (up to you if that’s a pro or con). Apply here.
Here’s what else I’m tracking this week…
#StopAsianHate: Since Covid-19, there has been an uptick in racism and discrimination on the Asian community. The recent violence in Atlanta has #StopAsianHate trending, including sub-trends including “stop Asian hate art,” “Asian mental health collective,” “How to support Asian Americans” (which spiked 600%), and “The making of Asian American (which spiked 5000%). See the full breakdown of Google Trends here.
600 New Words Added to Dictionary.com: Including Doomscrolling, BIPOC, Hybrid Learning, Embiggen, Golden Doodle, Puggle, Sponcon, Reification, and…. Supposably? Supposably? Read more here.
Facebook is NOT Going to Read Your Brain (Sort Of): This week Facebook announced it’s working on a new neural wristband that can read the electrical signals sent to your hands let you “type” without a keyboard (potentially without even moving your fingers) or control something on soon-to-be-released AR glasses. But it’s not as creepy as it sounds, apparently. Key quote from Andrew Bosworth, VP of Facebook Reality Labs: “I cannot emphasize this enough: This cannot read your brain.”
Podcast of the Week: In a world where many of us are struggling to sleep, Sleep With Me is a story time podcast for adults featuring California podcaster Drew Ackerman telling long, rambling, long-form stories in a singsong tone that just kind of never end (and have 3 million downloads a month!!). Key quote: “There are stories that have a middle, beginning, and an end. But the middle part is so tangential that most listeners never get to the end!” Listen here.
Patents of the Week: Although patent filings aren’t a guarantee that new technology will come to fruition, they give us a hint of where we may be headed next. This week: Alphabet’s Verily wants to build a smartwatch that can inject you with drugs, Amazon wants to protect you from phishing, Facebook is automating finding the best parts of your videos, and Apple is thinking about how to add cellular radios to headphones. Read more here.
- Facebook Audio Rooms are getting users excited about what they could look like in-app.
- Clubhouse nears 13 million downloads on its one year birthday.
- TikTok now has an iMessage App to easily send TikToks from your saved folder, as well as recently Liked posts.
- Almost a fifth of Facebook employees are now working on VR and AR.
- Twitter is working on a dedicated page/tab for @TwitterSpaces.
- Facebook will court independent writers to its Substack newsletter competitor with paid deals.
- Twitter Account of the Week: If you follow and tag @distortbot on an image tweet in your feed, it will distort the photo and tweet it back for you.
- TikTok may be adding group chats this year.
- Coca-Cola is launching vending machine subscriptions in Japan.
- TikTok added a new Auto-Reply Message for business accounts.
- Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a fitting technology startup, to double down on fashion and e-commerce.
- OpenSea raised $23M to scale the largest marketplace for NFTs.
- Instagram for Kids is in the works, taking cues from Facebook Messenger Kids.
- TikTokker of the Week: @tool_tips is a UK-based, first-person view account featuring tool hacks.
- Tweet Thread of the Week: A pandemic memoir in comic form.
- Viral Video of the Week: what if a Banana was the same distance as the ISS.
See you on the internet!