SxSW2015 day 1; high-tech and high-touch

This year I am again in Austin for SxSW (South by South West, or South by as locals say), I’m visiting the interactive conference, just like I did in 2011 and 2013. The conference is one of the biggest in the world (probable the biggest) with about 32.798 attendees. There are over a 1000 sessions in 5 days. The topics are very divers, but still you are certain that you will miss more that you can see. The experience and atmosphere is however unique, you feel that the whole world of internet is gathering in this little town in Texas.

The Friday used to be a quite start with just a couple of sessions in the afternoon. This year however it is almost a full day of sessions, starting at 11 in the morning.

For the first time I rented a bike (in advance, that is the only way) which is very convenient. The Uber driver that took me to the rental shop got me direct in the right mode telling how he drove 15 hours from Tennessee just to be an Uber driver for the week.

The first session I attended can be linked to that. Design for trust was the topic and this is even more important with all the services like Uber and Airbnb. The presenter Michael Boeke from a new company Synap mentioned Uber as a bad example and a good one. Good for the rating system of drivers and creating transparency. And bad for the fact that they are inconsistent in the storytelling and acting by the management. This consistency is one of the main drivers of trust he said, contributing to the factor of integrity. Control and transparency are the others.
The talk was nice but did not surprise. He lacked to go a step deeper in the factor of ‘trust elasticity’ as I like to call it. The threshold of our accepting of distrust when we have enough incentives.

On SxSW I like to find the more obscure talks too. This can be surprising, or it can be disappointing. The talk of Alex Wright did not live up to the expectations of sketching out a different thinking model for our connected world looking to the forgotten history of a Belgian skolar. He did the history part well with lot of nice looking old images of early systems, but did not translate to a view on the now. Maybe something for later.

After the lunch break at the official food court I did see two talks that were more related than expected at forehand. I try not to go to the big keynotes as a rule because those are covered extensively by others and also recorded for later viewing. I did end up by Daniel Pink however in the big room. I never saw him presenting before and the field of his work is highly related  to our initiatives around behavioral design. He did a bunch of well known research (for me) and packed in 7 big ideas. Watch his Crowd Control series on National Geographic.

  1. use fear the right way: to focus attention
  2. questions work a bit more engaging than statements
  3. make them rhyme
  4. social proof
  5. give people an off-ramp
  6. put a face on it
  7. try stuff, don’t take these rules for granted

The best part of his talk is the power he presented with. It was a great show.

More interesting though was the way it connected to the last speaker of the day; Cynthia Breazeal of MIT and startup Jibo. She researches the personal robot and did so by studying what makes a robot personal. So a lot of the behavioral things she experiments are linked to the one of pink.
She used packed slides with data and great movies of experiments with robots and children. I put some pictures here later, you can check the Storify. The main insight is that the personality of a robot is not a human personality, but has it’s own characteristics in an in between space between relations between human to humans and human to pets. The startup Jibo is definitely something to track, see if here research will lead to a practical to use personal assistent.

That wrapped up day 1, with the last talk the most insightful. Will go for more research driven talks the rest of the conference I hope.

This is the first of my daily wrap-ups of 2015 SxSW conference in Austin. Follow the tag sxsw2015 to find them all. 

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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