Posts Tagged ‘sxswi’
19th March 13
The second of series of reports from Austin, by a few lucky BBH SXSW survivors.
Author: Helen Lawrence, Strategist, BBH Labs & BBH London
The most recurring topic of conversation in Austin during SXSW isn’t the future of technology, it isn’t the principles of responsive design and it certainly isn’t what makes something viral. It’s meat. What meat to have in your breakfast taco, what meat to choose for your lunchtime ribs and what meat should top your dinnertime hot dog (I can’t believe Tim didn’t mention this in his SXSW reflections!). This is a town dominated by BBQ joints and smoking shacks. I fear that after five days there I may have the incredibly sexy combination of scurvy and gout:
However, we have a problem. One hundred thousand years ago humans still needed 2000 calories a day to function. Back then, to produce that 2000 calories we’d get through 1800 to find and produce something to nibble on. Fast forward to today’s brisket loving era and it takes 200,000 calories to produce those same 2000 calories. Our food production habits are screwed up. We waste everything: energy, resources and it even the food itself once we’ve got it to that juicy, edible point. It’s not at all sustainable. We’re messing it up, and we’re doing it quickly.
So – who is the obvious person to turn to in order to solve this problem? An astronaut of course. Nothing beats an astronaut. Ahem.
The 100 Year Starship project is using the question of interstellar space travel to get to an answer:
“We exist to make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years. We unreservedly dedicate ourselves to identifying and pushing the radical leaps in knowledge and technology needed to achieve interstellar flight, while pioneering and transforming breakthrough applications that enhance the quality of life for all on Earth.”
If we’re going to have to consider exploration outside of our solar system we’re going to have think a little beyond a simply bigger rocket. One self sustaining pod hurtling through the sky; it has to keep a bunch of humans alive for a century, stop them killing each other and prevent them from getting hungry.
The space race in the 60s was a tangible one: getting to the moon is a challenge that could be imagined and solved. The 100 Year Starship Project wants to set a challenge that trickles down solutions into our own fuzzy planet in the same way. The space race has given us some of the biggest everyday technologies we use now: scratch resistant lenses, GPS and water filters for example. By posing some of the biggest societal and sustainability questions out there and considering how we’d achieve them to last 100 years in space, we can hope for properly realistic solutions to the things we’re messing up at the moment.
Meat is a big one, clothes are another. It’s a terribly energy intensive hobby. We make too many, we own too many, we wash too many and we don’t recycle nearly enough. 100 years at our current clothing rates would need a lot of wardrobes up on our space ship, not to mention cotton fields, plastics factories and silk worms. We can’t take clothes to space, despite them being such a core part of our creative identity as humans – one solution put forward by the 100 Year Starship project includes reusable sheets that we project clothes onto, allowing us to change them whenever we like.
Back to the bovines. As much as I love the idea of cows in space, wearing little cow shaped astronaut helmets, it just can’t happen. ‘Fake meat’ companies are popping up all over the place, even Twitter co founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams are investing. That’s one possible solution for our 100 Year Spaceship. What else is there?
I like the 100 Year Starship project. It frames a problem into a great story. Mae Jemison, a brilliant astronaut, told the SXSW audience that we should tell better stories, ones that inspire and ones that can bring about social change. The project neatly frames sustainability into something we can picture. There are no cheats when you’re somewhere outside of Alpha Centauri. So many of our so called sustainable solutions aren’t that at all. We feel we’re doing well when actually the problem is just popping up somewhere else. You can’t do that on a spaceship.
This makes me ruminate a bit on brand strategy – we talk a lot here about strategy being the art of sacrifice. What would you sacrifice in your brand armoury if forced to focus on the essentials? And would your brand get a spot on the starship in the first place? Is it ducking and diving, pushing superfluous issues elsewhere? Perhaps not being quite as sustainable or transparent as it could be? Whack it in a bubble and put it in space: it’s a good way to test it.
I’m excited about the 100 Year Spaceship. The hippies and the astronauts are getting it on. And damn, it’s even sexier than gout.
26th March 12
When we started planning for SXSW, we could not have anticipated that our idea for a four-day philanthropic project to update the street newspaper model would spark such a widespread debate. The volume of the response to this program has reinforced our ongoing commitment to this issue, and the feedback has helped us explore the ways in which we can draw attention to it, support it, and effect change.
Homeless Hotspots has connected us with representatives of some of the nation’s leading advocacy groups and street newspaper organizations with whom we are beginning to have conversations about the challenges facing the current street newspaper model and ideas for overcoming these challenges with technology and innovation. In many ways, we owe these connections and the future of this program to those at front lines of this issue, like Mitchell Gibbs at Front Steps in Austin, Mark Horvath of invisiblepeople.tv, and writer Becky Blanton who spoke at TED about her time being homeless.
Where we go from here is directly tied to how we wrestle with some complicated issues that any street newspaper attempting to deploy change will have to answer for themselves – issues we’ve come to sharply appreciate amidst all the debate. Our aim is to partner closely with these groups to utilize the lessons and best practices learned from this experience. Based on conversations to date, our shared goal is a sustainable model that continues to bring homeless people entrepreneurial opportunities that challenge stereotypes, derive purpose and create meaningful interactions with society.
While street newspapers are facing the same challenges as many other traditional media outlets, there are a number of more complicated issues that need to be addressed. We’ve outlined the salient ones below.
1. Quantifying an acceptable level of provocation in the name of the cause. One of the big discussion points from Homeless Hotspots was the line “I’m a hotspot” on the t-shirts, a line we too debated internally before and during the program. The goal of the t-shirt was to create a marketing material that was provocative enough to get message-bombarded festival attendees to actually stop and speak with a homeless person – to spark a human connection and a conversation with a person who is often treated as invisible. Thus, the humanity of the project lived in the actual conversation between the Hotspot Manager and their customer. But what about the potentially negative reaction to that message by some that didn’t stop (or who simply weighed in from afar via the web)? It was many in this group that created a wave of negative sentiment online. While the participants in the program saw the shirts as an ideal social lubricant on the streets, the message took on new meaning when it spread online.
Any entrepreneurial sales venture for the homeless must be carefully designed. The newspaper organization basically works like a franchisor responsible for distributing materials to franchisees, but it must also work like a social service. This balance varies widely from organization to organization and is a complicated role for social enterprise. You want to help homeless participants (i.e., the franchisees), but you don’t want to do so at the expense of the cause itself.
2. Understanding the potential for partnership with a profit-driven company or brand. Because BBH is in the business of marketing and advertising, it was assumed early on that Homeless Hotspots was endorsed by a marketer. We fully funded the initiative and purchased the pocket-sized MiFi devices from Verizon just as any customer would, yet the reaction to the false reports of brand endorsement is an important one to explore. Many found the idea that a brand would employ homeless individuals to be offensive, while others said they’d support a brand initiative if it provided an employment opportunity. Of course, when people realized the partner was actually a local homeless shelter and that proceeds went directly to the individual Hotspot Manager, the sentiment was widely positive.
Before SXSW, we talked about how the long-term viability of a program like Homeless Hotspots would require bringing on a partner that could help financially support it. The costs of the technology and data usage for a program of this nature are significant, making the model difficult to scale beyond a short festival. A brand partner would have the resources to underwrite the costs of an ongoing effort, incentivized by the promotion of its technology; meanwhile, a social enterprise would have stronger public endorsement, but would be challenged to fund such a venture. The potential problem we saw was that when a social enterprise brings on a corporate partner, perceptions change. Emotionally, the social enterprise simply becomes enterprise for some. For others, the opposite is true. Street newspapers and homeless entrepreneurial efforts looking to share costs will have to decide where they fall on that spectrum and choose any partners wisely.
3. Determining the importance of content creation by participants. Where Homeless Hotspots differed most from an actual street paper is that the participants were not selling content they created (although it’s commonly misunderstood just how few of the homeless individuals that sell the papers actually create the content). Serving original content to a user upon log-in to a MiFi device is surprisingly complicated if you don’t manufacture the device yourself (thus we directed users to homelesshotspots.org for further information upon activating a connection).
There is an opportunity to create a more content-rich model for street newspapers and homeless entrepreneurs moving forward, especially as it relates to drawing attention to the causes of homelessness and prevailing stereotypes. For example, Hotspot Manager Jonathan is a talented musician, and there could be an opportunity to use the personal and web connectivity to draw attention to his talent, such as directing customers to a site promoting his music. The Hotspot Managers were also full of local expertise that could add more value to their conversations and connections (John Bird sees this as the future of street newspapers, which he invented when he founded The Big Issue). The absence of such content leaves a void.
The question remains whether or not consumers of the product value that content though. Looking at our own data (difficult to extrapolate from due to the extraordinarily large number of media impressions Homeless Hotspots received, which led to a disproportionate number of donations from non-users), it’s unclear how much the utility of the service vs. philanthropic impulse drove purchase. This is hard to come to terms with if you are a commercial enterprise. How can a business be a degree removed from its product? That sounds potentially negative, but we’ve left with mixed opinions on the matter. After all, the Hotspot Managers were still able to raise almost $4,000, even though the first 2 days of sales were extremely depressed by rain. If purchases were only about actual connectivity, the rain would have made Homeless Hotspots a financial failure for the participants.
What’s important is that the model moving forward must balance entrepreneurial opportunity, with supporting meaningful content and fostering personal interactions. Our data implies it was hearing an individual’s story (many times not even first-hand) that led to someone donating. This particular phenomenon in Underheard in NY already got us to rethink non-profits last year, and it’s especially important for social enterprise. Non-profits fighting homelessness don’t just want to help homeless populations, they want to stop homelessness altogether. But in many cases, customers of street newspapers seem solely focused on helping the individual in front of them. In a world where a homeless person sells a product without content, the one-on-one social interactions are their only opportunities for expression. Luckily, those conversations help overcome stereotypes (the 13 Homeless Hotspots participants had hundreds of conversations in just four days), but only if someone is provoked to stop and listen. Which brings us right back to issue #1.
We’ll keep everyone updated once we’ve identified which partner(s) we’ll be working with in future developments. We’re genuinely excited by the amount of interest from street papers around the world to collaborate on addressing the digitization of media. In the meantime, we can only hope the conversation around homelessness doesn’t step back into the darkness as the media circus winds down. You can certainly do your part by supporting organizations like our partner Front Steps. Even small donations can go a long way in helping them overcome their daily challenges long after conference attendees have left.
UPDATE (April 30, 2012): We are working with StreetWise, the largest street paper in the US deal with numerous modernization issues, including many of those outlined above. For more details, you can read the follow-up post.
9th March 12
As our herd of black sheep makes its way to Austin from various BBH offices in anticipation of some great events, it’s the other experiences we’re discovering that are especially interesting. When we heard about a particular transmedia experience that the folks at Hide & Seek created, we asked the founder of the UK games design studio to tell us a bit more about it. As it happens, engaging in the experience and utilizing Homeless Hotspots go hand-in-hand, one of many unexpected uses for our charitable innovation experiment.
This year at SXSW, we launch Would Anyone Miss You, a new live game we’ve developed to ensure that festival goers have conversations they’ve never had before, with people they’ve never met before.
The game begins when a stranger, somewhere in Austin, presses a sheet of stickers into your hand. You’ll be asked to seek out people of special and particular kinds – Your Newest Friend, maybe, or someone Tall Dark and Handsome – and ask them a question. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll interact with the game online and receive a personal reward. For those that play all the way to the end, there’s something a bit special.
We’re doing this to support Carol Morley’s incredible documentary, Dreams Of A Life, which receives its US premiere at SXSW on Saturday 10 March. Nobody noticed when thirty-eight year old Joyce Vincent died in her bedsit above a shopping mall in North London in 2003. When her skeleton was discovered three years later, her heating and her television were still on. Newspaper reports offered few details of Joyce’s life – not even a photograph. Who was Joyce Vincent? And how could this happen to someone in our day and age – the so-called age of communication? Dreams of a Life is Carol Morley’s quest to discover who Joyce was and how she came to be so forgotten.
So what’s the connection between our game and Carol’s film? My hope is that there’s an emotional one. Transmedia projects tend to extend the storyworld of a film – the characters, the history – into new platforms. With our work on this project (we also created a purely digital experience to accompany the UK release) we’ve taken the emotional impact of Joyce’s story as the starting point. Partly this is because Carol’s film is such a coherent, fully formed whole, and partly it’s because we wanted to do something with the feelings that Joyce’s story evokes – to make use of them.
SXSW is a crowded marketplace of ideas, powered by entrepreneurial zeal and hot air. Dreams of A Life is a a film about urban lives, contemporary life, and how, like Joyce, we are all different things to different people. It’s our belief that, for all the buzz, festivals can be pretty lonely places sometimes. We hope that our game will provoke moments of connection and reflection, and that in those moments, you’ll want to seek out the film that inspired them.
6th March 12
UPDATE & CLARIFICATIONS
There has been an enormous amount of coverage of this project, and unfortunately there has been a good deal of inaccuracies around the payment system and objectives of the program in general. Please follow this link that clarifies these points.
UPDATE: Obviously, there’s an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villianizes us, in many ways is very good for the homeless people we’re trying to help: homelessness is actually a subject being discussed at SXSW and these people are no longer invisible. It’s unfortunate how much information being shared is incorrect (an unresearched story by ReadWriteWeb, which has now been updated is the epicenter of that misinformation). So, without being defensive (we welcome the educated critiques), we wanted to share a few key facts:
+ We are not selling anything. There is no brand involved. There is no commercial benefit whatsoever.
+ This is a test program that was always scheduled to end today (there’s no 2-week payment cycle)
+ Each of the Hotspot Managers keeps all of the money they earn. The more they sell their own access, the more they as individuals make (it’s not a collected pot to be shared unless people choose to donate generally).
+ Underheard in NY is NOT becoming a reality TV show. The confidential plans are much more akin to an interactive documentary. Regardless of what happens, it will stay true to the original idea: to give homeless people an unedited voice so people can understand their lives.
+ The biggest criticism (which we agree with actually) is that Street Newspapers allow for content creation by the homeless (we encourage those to research this a bit more as it certainly does not work exactly as you would assume). This is definitely a part of the vision of the program but alas we could not afford to create a custom log-in page because it’s through a device we didn’t make. However, we’d really like to see iterations of the program in which this media channel of hotspots is owned by the homeless organizations and used as a platform for them to create content. We are doing this because we believe in the model of street newspapers.
UPDATE 2: Thank you to everyone here for your comments, criticism, feedback and support. We can’t respond to every comment here, but we will be responding in the coming days.
Update 3: Another bit of information being reported inaccurately relates to the finances of the homeless individuals participating. To clarify: These volunteers were guaranteed make at least $50/day, for a maximum of 6 hours work. This amount equates to more than the Texas state minimum wage of $7.25/hr for the same number hours. Based on donations already received, we know their earnings will be higher than $50 for each of them – as was our intention. What’s been misunderstood is the break-out of money in cash per day vs. what’s received after the program ends. BBH provides a $20 cash ”stipend” to the volunteers each day regardless of their own sales. This is the cash amount that was handed to them each day while the program was live (it ended yesterday) and was advised specifically by our friends at Front Steps shelter, who are conscious of the responsibility that comes with handing cash to someone facing financial challenges daily, but who still needs to work toward a long-term solution for housing and employment. The additional money raised by each Hotspot Manager will be delivered via money order from the shelter where they have a program in place that helps the participants save about 2/3′s toward their employment and housing goals. Again, this has all been built based on input from the shelter and the participants’ case managers in a way that’s best for the participants.
UPDATE 4: This isn’t quite an update as it’s reflected in the post below, but we wanted to clarify the latest bit of misinformation. The program was not “canceled;” it was always intended as a 4 day program. In fact, as the debate heated, it was the homeless volunteers themselves who insisted on seeing through the last day as an opportunity to share their side of the story. Thus we saw the program through as planned. We’ll be reporting on success metrics shortly but can confirm our friends at Front Steps Shelter in Austin consider it a great success for themselves. Read their reactions at facebook.com/frontsteps (or any of the media coverage they’ve received globally), and please consider a donation to one of the Hotspot Managers as we wrap things up via homelesshotspots.org.
UPDATE 5 (April 30, 2012): We are working with StreetWise, the largest street paper in the US deal with numerous modernization issues, including many of those outlined in our post of learning points from this program. For more details, you can read the follow-up post.
****Original Pre-SXSW Post Below****
As always this time of year, we’re abuzz in anticipation of SXSW Interactive. Whether it’s talks we’re attending, or the talks we’re giving, SXSW is a consistent growth opportunity for the team. This year though, we’re also trying a bit of charitable innovation.
As you may know, we created Underheard in NY last year via our Barn intern program. The premise was simple: give homeless individuals a voice via Twitter. The program was so successful that you’ll be seeing an update on its unexpected future at some point soon.
Since then, we’ve stayed interested in the homeless issue. One particular aspect we find intriguing is Street Newspapers, which are print publications created and sold by homeless populations as a form of entrepreneurial employment. The model has proven successful enough to be adopted in cities spanning 30 countries. The issue however, is that like any print publication, these newspapers are under duress from the proliferation of digital media. How often do you see someone “buy” a paper, only to let the homeless individual keep it? This not only prevents the paper from serving as a tool for the individual to avoid begging, but it proves how little value people actually place on the publication itself. Yet the model isn’t inherently broken. It’s simply the output that’s archaic in the smartphone age.
So we decided to modernize it.
This year in Austin, as you wonder between locations murmuring to your coworker about how your connection sucks and you can’t download/stream/tweet/instagram/check-in, you’ll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing “Homeless Hotspot” t-shirts. These are homeless individuals in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter. They’re carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access. We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity.
We’re using SXSW as our beta test. Hopefully you can help us optimize and validate this platform, which we hope to see adopted on a broader scale. Any and all support is appreciated (including donations from afar).
Visit homelesshotspots.org for more details.
17th August 11
Although it seems insanely early every year, it’s time to start voting for panels at SxSW. Instead of spamming our professional and personal feeds with requests for support, we’re continuing a tradition we began last year of consolidating all of our potential panels into a single post.
So, if any of the below seems mildly interesting, we’d greatly appreciate a vote. All of the summaries below click-thru to the appropriate panel picker page at sxsw.com. Regardless, we’re quite excited to attend to hear what others have to say. We value the experience every year, and as always we digest everything with the benefit of context you all as the loyal Labs community provide us.
- A highly controlled algorithm-driven web where people and brands are matched perfectly via formula and AI, in a spam-free nirvana.
- An ongoing battle of people and brands seeking to be discovered, creating an open web with neutral techn partners and real-world spaces where tech doesn’t penetrate.
Find out more, vote and add your support here.
The topic of this panel was born of conversation frequently discussed on our blog in 2011: do agencies really need someone to run innovation? In this session four innovation leaders, including our Saneel Radia (@saneel) and Labs founder (now client at Google Creative Lab) Ben Malbon (@malbonnington), will answer hard questions about the value of such a role, what it actually entails, and what makes a good candidate to play the part. The panel also includes Edward Boches of Mullen (@edwardboches), Dave Armano of Edelman (@armano) and David Erixon (@dexodexo), founder of Hyper Island.
Find out more, vote and add your support here.
This panel features Neil Munn, Global Head of BBH Zag, along with other ad industry investment professionals. In this session, the audience is invited to present their elevator pitches and receive high-level advice on how to prime the proposals for investment. Press coverage for the most attractive investments is built in via our friends at PSFK (@psfk).
Find out more, vote and add your support here.
BBH planner Tim Jones (@timjonestweet) will outline “gaming brands,” an approach to brand strategy built on gaming principles. This approach represents a fundamental shift from building brands as message transmission devices, to building brands as behaviour change systems. This talk will feature new material built on content Tim previously covered in his TEDx talk of the same name.
Find out more, vote and add your support here.
In this session, three BBH storytellers (including @jamescmitchell, @writingstudio, and @depechetoad) from different backgrounds share the results of in-field storywriting experiments from standup to novel-writing to radio plays to alternate reality games. They’ve tried it all, and are going to try and explain what works. This is not a panel – think of it as a three-man show. This is a theoretical session, with practical homework.
Find out more, vote and add your support here.
As women play casual games in ever-increasing numbers, this session will examine what this means for the development of casual and traditional games. It will specifically look at how the psychology of women influences the psychology of game developers. The purpose of this presentation by BBH social media manager Claire Coady (@claire_coady) is to examine how women are influencing the seismic shifts underway across the gaming landscape.
Find out more, vote and add your support here.
18th March 11
I’ll admit to being a little bit cynical (or ungracious, depending on how you want to look at it) at the prospect of SXSWi 2011. I’d been a couple of times before and, at my age, things are never as good as they used to be. But despite the poor quality of many of the panel sessions (too much reading, not enough arguing!), the corporate branding of most of downtown Austin and the overcrowding (attendance up 36% since last year) I came back from Texas feeling refreshed, inspired and engaged, for one simple reason;
SXSW reminded me how much I enjoy the company of geeks. Simply, for five days in spring Austin is the gathering point for geeks of all kind – app geeks, marketing geeks, book geeks, geolocation geeks, social media geeks – they’re all there, all involved and all itching to share their latest project, idea or thinking. Because, while there might be four group messaging apps and another four check-in services competing for attention everyone goes to ‘SouthBy’ because they are enthusiastic and because they want to participate in the new. SXSW is a live, real-time collaboration and all the better for it.
Personal highlights of five days in Austin include; plenty of instagram action; meeting ‘Cyborg Anthropologist’ Amber Case and learning about geoloqi; Bruce Sterling‘s angry State of the Union address, discovering some interfaces for geotemporal visualization and meeting my neighbour from Second Life in ‘meatspace’ for the first time since we met ‘inworld’ in 2007.
Plenty of other fine people have written up their own SXSW experiences; for a planning perspective @patsmc‘s take is here while @malbonster is on typically enthusiastic form here. Ogilvy generously sponsored the creation of visual notes of many of the sessions which can be downloaded from here and for a more flavourful impression of the SXSWi scene there is the obligatory Overheard at SXSWi tumblr.
So, if you like hanging out with geeks, Austin in March is the place to be (and it was great to meet so many good folk there). See you there in 2012.