Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trend two of five technology trends from the SXSW 2011.

This is a continuation of my take on five technology trends that emerged from the 2011 South by Southwest Interactive Conference.  You can view all of the trends here.  

Trend two: It's not enough to be smart.  You have to be delightful.
It used to be that technology could succeed on its technical merits alone.  Solve a real business problem and you were a hit.  Help people find things online and you were a mega hit.  But now, technology consumers want more.  They want to be delighted.  A number of sessions focused on this idea.  And one of the best was Guy Kawasaki's promotion of his latest book, Enchanted.

Kawasaki, who used to be the chief evangelist for Apple (a company that definitely knows how to delight consumers), offered an engaging presentation that provided "10 ways to enchant."  He broke some of his own rules during the presentation.  But he's so enchanting I was willingly to forgive for him it. He offered points on how to be more likable, and who isn't enchanted by someone more likable.  He also talked about the value of trustworthiness and the importance of an authentic story.  Kawasaki made it clear that presentation matters.  I wish more of my clients would worry about presentation and invest in great presentations. Kawasaki convinced me that enchantment matters and I'm currently using his ideas to bring more delight and serendipity to client meetings.  

He wasn't the only one pushing enchantment.  Here are a few other notes of interest:
  • Dennis Crowley (referenced in my previous trend post) titled his presentation, Enabling New Experiences and Creating Serendipity through Check Ins. He believes that serendipity (or enchantment, or delight, or whatever you want to call it) is the new way for companies to differentiate.  And it allows us as users to see things we've never noticed before.
  • A presentation titled, Fun with the Lights Off: Interactivity without Graphics told the story of a mobile game where you travel through a world with your iPhone.  But you can't see anything, you can only hear what's going on around you. The presentation was awful, but the moments when the panel gave us a glimpse of how the game works were intriguing, and made a strong case for ideas that surprise and delight can create emotional interactions. 
  • One of my favorite presentations was Long After the Thrill: Sustaining Passionate Users given by Stephen Anderson.  He focused on ways to keep people coming back to your site or business over and over again. Anderson suggests that satisfying people's needs isn't enough. "We also have to delight."  And he infused his presentations with activities and ideas that encouraged every attendee to discover new ways to inspire delight, from bubble wrap to nostalgic games with a digital twist.
I'm sold on the idea of delight.  As a creative director at a major advertising agency, I've decided it's my job to enchant and surprise my clients and their customers.  I have to make marketing that works.  But I should make marketing that surprises, enchants, and delights. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Five technology trends from SXSW 2011: Trend one.

For the oh-so-few regular readers of Art Lobster, this post will feel a little out of place. Normally I don't write business-focused commentary.  But since I went to the 2011 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference for work, I wanted to take a moment and make the case that there is real business value in attending conferences like this.  I learned a lot about the future of interactive, and more importantly, I came away from the conference wanting to do my job better.

One thing I found interesting at the SXSW Interactive Conference is this: Even though there were hundreds of presentations on hundreds of topics, a few themes emerged from the presentations.  So rather than write about each individual session I attended, over the next several posts, I'll summarize technology trends that I took away from the conference. Here's the first:

Trend one: Some like their interweb personalized. Others like it private.
A lot of the visionaries at SXSW seem intent on delivering the best online experience possible.  They ask questions about how to use the internet and other social mediums to empower the masses.  And many of these online brains fall into one of two camps: Privacy is king (which means you have to give up a more personalized online experience) or personalization is king (which means you've got to give up some of your privacy.)

On the side of privacy was keynote speaker Christopher Poole (who, by the way, looks like he's about 18), founder of www.4chan.com. Poole directly challenged Mark Zuckerberg's suggestion that anonimity is inauthentic, saying that revealing yourself online means you are less willing to explore your truest identity. While anonymity lets people express themselves in "raw, unfiltered ways."  Poole also suggested that anonymous communities can take on challenges from a new perspective.  He used a simple, online refrigerator magnet game as an example.  Even though the community has no knowledge of each other or of each other's goals, it still creates order out of randomness. 

I'll let you be the judge of whether or not raw, unfiltered expression is successful by taking a look at http://www.4chan.org/ (warning, some images are adult-oriented but those are generally clearly marked) and at Poole's upcoming endeavor, http://www.canv.as/ which is currently in closed beta.

On the opposite end of the spectrum and fighting for a "personalized" web experience is one of the founders of Foursquare, Dennis Crowley.  (By the way, the quality of some sessions was suspect; but this session was one of the more entertaining and informative.  Crowley was brilliantly interviewed by Mashable.com founder and CEO, Pete Cashmore.) Crowley believes the web is more fun and more useful when companies use what they know about their customers to create highly-customized experiences.  He was immediately questioned about the "creepy" factor of letting people know exactly where you're at and that you're not at home.  Crowley's response: People who make such comments have never used Foursquare.  He was right.  I used to say things like that, but I tried to embrace social technology in a more meaningful way at SXSW so I set about figuring out what Foursquare is really all about.  The application put me in control of what I post and how I use it. Foursquare is fun and useful and I found it surprisingly un-creepy. And Crowley has big ideas for how the data Foursquare collects can be used to surprise his customers, not to just push ads.  For example, if you're in a new neighborhood, you might be notified about a local coffee shop that your friends have been raving about.  Crowley also has a business plan which focuses on helping small, local businesses create more meaningful relationships with customers.  I like that idea.

A number of other sessions dealt with the "personal vs. private" question including a panel titled, "How to Personalize without Being Creepy."  This session offered plenty of smart advice for balancing anonymity, privacy, and personalized web experiences.  Here are a few key ideas:
  • If you can't explain, or wouldn't want to explain what you're doing with customer data, you're probably in the creepy camp.
  • Don't assume you know what the data means.  One panelist used this example: Just because he visited vacation cruise sites doesn't mean he would ever take a cruise. In fact, he hates cruises. And yet, after he visited a couple of sites, he was served cruise ads everywhere he went on the web. 
  • Let consumers help guide data systems.  Show customers what you think you know about them and let them make changes and corrections. You can even give them the opportunity to tell you what really matters to them.
  • Tell people in simple, easy-to-understand terms, exactly how you collect data and how you use it.  Consumers are more comfortable when companies are transparent.
My take on all this discussion?  I think personalization will deliver a more rewarding online world.  Sure it comes with risks and challenges to our rights to privacy.  But with some care to ensure that abuses are quickly identified and punished, the web will be a more delightful place to visit.  Which is the perfect segue to the second SXSW trend which I'll post soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Life under glass.

My latest creative project has me returning to an acitivity I last dabbled in sometime in the 1970s.  Yes, even as a teen I expressed my fondness for all things tree-hugging with the creation of a terraium.  That plant-filled glass jar was a large, cork-stoppered blob that leaned decidedly toward "hippy."  It's a fond memory.

There's also a current art-world fascination with terrariums, the most high-profile of which are the recent alien-like terrariums created by artist Paula Hayes which were commissioned by MoMA for temporary placement in the lobby of the museum.  The installation, titled Nocturne of the Limax Maximus, featured two works: Slug and Egg. Here's an installation view:

Here's a detail of Slug:

And Here's a detail of Egg:

Hayes' terrariums with their hand-blown containers are spectacular.  You can see more at her Web site.

I don't have access to the amazing hand-blown containers found in Hayes' work.  But between her MoMA installation, my teenage nostalgia, and a few other terrarium trends I've seen here and there, I decided to try my hand at creating miniature worlds trapped in glass.  To add to the fun, I'm giving all my terrariums titles designed to compete for weirdness with the titles of Damien Hirst's works.   Here then, are a few of my first attempts at terrariums as art.

I call this Life in the Mind of Death:

This terrerium is titled The Nature of Infidelity:

Here is Exisiting in a Non-Existent Place:

Although Felix has named this plant "Chompers," the actual title of the work is Stealing Life from Loss and Sadness:

And here is The Universe as Seen from Heaven:

Finally, I'll leave you with an installation view from my dining room:

These first few worlds have been so much fun to make that I'm just getting starting.  So expect to see more terrariums in future posts.

Book seven: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higoshino.

Recently for book club, we read a book I described as 17th Century Bavarian Sherlock Holmes.  Our most recent book-club endeavor, The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higoshino, was described by my friend Kara as 21st Century Japanese Sherlock Holmes.  We're both wondering if maybe we should read the real Sherlock Holmes. 

This is a first rate modern crime mystery that starts with a twist and ends with a bigger twist.  The book starts in a way that seems fatally flawed.  Why? Because the author describes the central murder in the storyline complete with all the details about who did it and who helped cover it up.  Yasuko, a single mother desperate to get away from an abusive ex-husband, does the dirty deed.  She's mercifully helped by her next door neighbor, a painfully shy math teacher who works to brilliantly cover up the crime. Knowing this part of the story means that we the reader have a whole lot more information than one gets in most mysteries.

And yet, somehow Higoshino takes the fact that his readers are in on the crime and plays that to his advantage, fooling us into making assumptions that may or may not be true.  It also means that the antics of the official investigators take on a new level of amusement as we witness them make assumptions we know are off the mark.

Like most good crime mysteries, The Devotion of Suspect X reads fast with a brisk story and engaging characters.  It also offers an ending that I didn't see coming but makes a whole lot of sense once it unfolds.  Moments of the reveal are heavy-handed and the constant rehashing of crime scene details gets old.  But if you're looking for a fun, easy read with an engaging dose of Japanese culture, this book is a great choice.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The astronomical alignment of the pop-music firmament.

Last summer I traveled to Vegas to see Lady Gaga perform.  I bought those tickets just weeks before Gaga announced she was coming to Salt Lake City.  Last fall, I traveled to Denver to see the Scissor Sisters.  That was just months before they announced they would be opening for Lady Gaga.  Last weekend, the pop-music stars aligned as Lady Gaga and Scissor Sisters performed right here in Salt Lake City.

I'll start with the Scissor Sisters.  As always, they brought more energy to a performance stage than just about any band I've seen.  Jake Shears looked amazing and a little trashy while Ana Matronic classed-up the joint with her big vocals and even bigger persona.

I will say that the Denver show was better for two reasons: 1) The group played a much longer set.  Here they played about five songs.  And with Gaga taking an hour break between the bands, it would have been nice to hear a few other of the Sisters' big dance-y gems.  And 2) The Scissor Sisters are for me, a classic bar band.  Which means they're best is smaller, divier venues, like the Odgen Theatre in Denver.

Lady Gaga's show is pure spectacle.  Seeing it twice may minimize some of the magic as you begin to realize how precise the show works.  But Gaga's performance was still exceptional thanks to her honesty both from a vocal standpoint and from her message of inclusion.

There were some big differences in this show, most notable the ending.  In Vegas, the ending involved massive sets with set pieces falling from the sky and Gaga rising dramatically on a giant riser.  Even her costume seemed to come alive.  In SLC, that entire scene was eliminated, I assume to allow for the final song, Born This Way (a song which hadn't yet been released at the time of the Vegas show.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Epic nightlife.

If there’s one thing Austin has by the truckloads, it’s nightlife.  And it’s easy to get sucked into a walkable whirlpool of bars and bands and all-night diners.  Here’s a quick review of a night on the town in Austin.

In what used to be an old, run-down Austin neighborhood a new group of cool bars has sprouted.  We started at Bar 96 where a great band called Crooks was playing.  I rapidly learned to love the live music of Austin. And I was surprised how much I liked the indie/country/bluegrass attitude that much of the music has.  Crooks was a great band.

But I immediately fell under the charm of Crooks' sexy banjo/mandolin/glitter guitar/trumpet player, Sam Alberts.

After Bar 96 we headed to Lustre Pearl, a dilapidated building that's been updated without losing the original character of the building.  I loved the neon above the living room fireplace.  It felt like a Glenn Ligon sculpture that somehow got lost in Austin by way of paris.  There was also a SXSW Interactive party going on so there were plenty of free tchotchkes from blinking glasses to glowing ice cubes.

Nearby is the Clive Bar which was the most boring of the three.  But it's still a beautiful place to hang out with friends and waste an hour or two.

Of course, you can't just bar hop.  There comes a time when you need nourishment.  Fortunately, Austin offers a variety of all-night diners like Magnolia.  The food was standard diner fare, but the funky vibe was fantastic with it's neon, it's apology for being always open, and the intriguing collages on the walls.

We ended the night at The Ginger Man, a bar with 81 beers on tap.  That's enough to make me wish I liked beer.  But even if beer isn't your thing, this is one cool, beautiful place. And really, who doesn't like a ginger man?

I just barely scratched the surface of Austin nightlife.  So I guess I'll have to plan a return trip for another night on the town.

Food truck: Austin Edition.

Sure, Vancouver has the Japadog. And we have the Chow Truck right here in Salt Lake City.  But I’ve never been to place with so many food trucks and trailers.  Maybe it’s the nice weather.  Maybe it’s the love of tacos. Or maybe it’s the penchant for all things funky.  Whatever it is, Austin loves it's food trucks. I only had time to visit two: the first and favorite was Torchy’s Tacos.  It was a bit of a jaunt to get to this trailer park turned outdoor food court.  But it was worth the trip. 

I had a fried avocado taco and something called the Trailer Park.

And how can you not love a place that sells t-shirts that read, “Show me your taco.”

We also went to a place called Turf n’ Surf Poboy where I was so hungry, I forgot to take pictures of my food. But here’s a photo of the truck.