Idea overload via SxSWi

Clockwise from top left: digital code for music; NY Times Editor Jennifer Preston; with the exceptional Cindy Gallop; Austin at night

I’m back today from five days at SxSWi. Unlike the crowd that hangs in the blogger lounge, anxious to peck out a news story about whatever new product or feature or booked gets launched in Austin, I’m usually way to busy to do much more than check-in, post a few updates or share some Instagrams. Hence the hiatus here. So over the next week I’ll try to share some thoughts and reactions from a week of information overload.

SxSW continues to amaze. This year there were 20,000 people, nearly 2000 presenters and hundreds of sessions to consider. Obviously it’s impossible to get through more than a fraction of them.  (Would love to see the data visualization on beers consumed versus sessions attended by each attendee. I’m willing to bet that the higher the former the lower the latter.)

I have a number of things I want to share and write about, but for starters, here are some random thoughts and sound bites.

Journalism’s newest source is Twitter

Reporters for many of the major news outlets, from the New York Times to NPR now rely on Twitter, as much as they do on their own correspondents and traditional sources, for news, especially from the danger zones where on-the-ground reports from citizens can be more timely (if not always reliable.) While it creates all kinds of challenges — verifying reports, protecting the identity of sources — it also shows the incredible power of social media, from text messages and Twitter to camera phones and YouTube. Without it, given all the bureaus that have shut down in recent years, we’d have much less timely information.

In fact, during a session with Jennifer Preston of the New York Times and Andy Carvin of NPR, reports started to circulate via Twitter that Al Jazeera camera man Ali Hassan Al-Jaber had been killed.  In real time, while the conversation went on, Carvin verified sources and informed that room that the reports were, in fact, true.

Scale is not the most important objective

If you’re in the marketing, advertising or social media business, you confront this all the time. Brands want more followers. More likes. More views.  All of which is good but may have far less long term value than building a community via true engagement.  For evidence look no further than Christopher Poole. Moot shared a story of 4Chan’s growth and how it was the community of users whose content and interaction built the web’s largest English image-board. You may have no interest in replicating either the content or the user community, but the idea of fostering and enabling a community that connects people to each other around shared interests should be your real focus. Focus on that and the scale will come.  Game the numbers with a gimmick or quick campaign and you may achieve them, but long-term they might offer less of a return.

Influence is getting more dispersed

I saw one slide at a session on social media data visualization (honest, it’s the only session I went to with SoMe in the title) that was quite telling.  The image compared sources of content (influence) from the Iran green movement in 2009 with the recent uprising in Eqypt.

In Iran there were four or five central nodes of influence: key people whose content was read, re-tweeted and then spread.  But a look at the same chart regarding Eqypt shows a proliferation in nodes of influence, suggesting that today, there are many more individuals whose content is followed and that large communities are comprised not just of individuals but of sub-communities.  No doubt the same effect can be seen across the entire social web.

The lines are blurring faster than ever

We have a tendency to compartmentalize. Retail stores are physical. Websites are where we shop on line. Mobile is that phone in our pocket. But really they are all blurring together. Soon we’ll shop simply by grabbing an image of a garment we see someone wearing. We’ll find it on our smartphone and make a purchase. Or we’ll save it, assemble a digital wardrobe, then send it off to a third site that might shop for us, securing the best deals the web has to offer while we sit back and play some new game.

The gap between technology and user adoption widens

We invent new technologies faster than we embrace them. No real surprise, but as the pace of change accelerates even further, we’ll see the gap widen. Mice will give way to touch; touch to gesture; gesture to bio-signals.  But we won’t embrace any of these with the same speed at which they become available.  Consider your own habits. Even if you’re an early adopter of all things digital, you’re probably finding it harder and harder to keep up.  And I bet you’re not one of the 80,000 people who has a chip implanted in your head, helping you think, get around, or simply remember stuff.

We can all learn from start-ups

Admittedly I didn’t get to the lean-start up sessions, a full day program that took place on Saturday.  But everyone I talked to who did attend raved about it and took away valuable lessons about agile, iterating and learning to pivot at lightning speed.

I full expect that the idea of MVP (minimum viable product) will work its way into everything from ad campaigns and digital platforms, to the launching of new divisions or skunk works.

On a related note, Pepsi shared its commitment to try virtually every new social platform that comes along, experimenting with how they work and exploring their potential value. More importantly the marketing giant wants to work with and learn from every one of the startups that launches a new platform or app in hopes of importing the techniques and processes that enable young start-ups to iterate so quickly.  Who says you can’ teach an old dog (slow) to learn new tricks (how to be fast.)

More to come in a day or two.  Hope this gives you something to think about.


Thanks Edward - I frequently share your posts with my agency in the hope of some kind of inspiration osmosis. On a related note, your Pepsi comments are inspiring. Been trying to move my agency forward - more agile, more experimental, more digital etc - but it's been feeling more and more like I'm shouting into a vacuum. Any fast tips on embedding a culture like Pepsi's would be very welcome!


(Applauding the m00t point while reading).

Great recap Edward. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

SXSW sounds like quite a lot to handle Edward. I don't know if the speaker sessions offer much more than I find online every day, but I do see the value in meeting with the people in our industry I have grown to respect, like, and engage with in person in one place. And it seems like if there was once play to network and bond it has become the place to go vs Ad Week or Cannes.

Thanks for the great wrap up. Lots of thoughtful things here to ponder. I really respect Pepsi a lot. They have a lot of sharp employees. Hope you had a good time!


As usual Edward, your insight is both inspiring and thought-provoking. While I don't agree 100% on scalability, I do believe that the premise is appropriate ... we need scale with an impact, but it really will depend on the issue or objective at hand. As with anything, focus - value - objectives - and results will vary. Regarding all of the rest, you've got my vote, respect and admiration.