Tag Archives: sxsw

Find Your Way Around the Mall with FastMall

If you’re not a power-shopper, then I’m betting you’ve gotten lost in your local mall a time or twelve. All of those twists, turns, stairways and hallways can be daunting to any of us who don’t make mall-walking a daily habit. The mall is a scary place, but FastMall wants to make life much easier for us all. It is the world’s first TRUE turn-by-turn navigation app – even showing you where to find stairways, elevators and bathrooms!

Samuel Feuer, CEO of Fastmall creator MindSmack, is one of those guys you just want to hang out with. He’s full of jokes and laughter, but he’s also very dedicated to the work he’s doing. His enthusiasm is contagious – the service is beyond awesome. It was easy for my assistant Kat to be convinced to download this app herself during her meeting with Samuel last week in New York. Kat is picky and doesn’t download many apps. However, she assures me that this is one she will be using on a regular basis.

The beautiful thing about FastMall is that it’s not only for malls: the service can be used to create navigational apps for pretty much any place you can think of… hospitals, theme parks and even convention centers. Anyone can request a customized app simply by talking with Samuel and his team. The idea originally came from Sam’s wife, Amie, who was completely fed up with static mall directories and the overall lack of restroom guidance when she was pregnant. Sam and his partner Marcelo took a chance and created a startup that I feel is going to become extremely important in the very near future.

Some of the features of the app include:

  • Shake your iPhone for the nearest restroom.
  • Tell FastMall where you parked and it will remember for you. Feel free to use this voice recorder as a shopping list too!
  • Turn-by-turn guidance inside the mall, from store to store, without using GPS!
  • Sync your status on Facebook as well as Twitter.
  • Add reviews of restrooms, restaurants and stores.
  • Make a wish list of things you must have.
  • Find a deal and save money.
  • Add data to FastMall to make it a better experience for everyone.

Think of what this could mean, folks. Let’s say you’re about to attend SXSW – and you know you’re going to be lost as usual. How great would it be if the powers-that-be behind the conference contacted FastMall to create an app you can use to guide you through the experience? The same could happen with any major hospitals… large corporation complexes… and so much more. The possibilities are literally almost endless here. I’m excited to see what the future brings for Sam and his team.

What is Wolfram Alpha?

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While walking around the conference floor during SXSW recently, I happened across the Wolfram Alpha booth. Their long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. Wolfram Alpha’s goal is to deliver to you answers that are definitive. It has an amazing inventory of numbers and facts known in the world. It has an engine on top of that which allows it to make new calculated facts based on that already-known information.

Wolfram Alpha’s goal is to “build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.” They hope to bring expert-level knowledge to people everywhere, no matter what education level or field of study/work they may be in.

As of right now, Wolfram Alpha contains 10+ trillion pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains. The possibilities for adding more information based upon new calculations of existing data are nearly limitless.

Thanks to AMD for their help in getting me to the SXSW conference.

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Are You on Gowalla?

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During the SXSW conference, I happened to run into Phillip. He is a developer with the Gowalla team. Up until that point, I had only heard about the service. I hadn’t taken the time to sign up or check in anywhere using the service.

Gowalla is a simple way to share your location with your friends, tell them about your favorite places, and figure out where everyone is gathering for the eveing. Location-based services made connecting with others a snap during the conference. With thousands of people milling about, it was nearly impossible to figure out where people wanted to congregate. Using a check-in such as Gowalla made allowed all of us to connect and make plans in a matter of moments.

Location-based services are HOT right now. It seems as though half the tweets floating across my stream are checkins from websites such as Gowalla. Are YOU checking in yet?

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What is Siri?

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A few weeks prior to the SXSW conference, I was told I “needed” to download the Siri app for my iPhone. I did so, but hadn’t really had a chance to use it until I was talking to the people who created the app. If you’re a busy person who has things to do, Siri may well be the answer you’ve been looking for. You ask – and Siri will DO. Forget clicking a hundred links in your browser to accomplish something. Speak or type your request to Siri, and the app acts on your behalf, utilizing the best services on the web.

Siri is being called a “virtual personal assistant”, which is the perfect way to describe it. Let’s say you need dinner reservations for Friday night. Forget calling the restaurant or going to their website. Talk to Siri, tell it where you want to go (and when!), and it will get the reservation for you. Siri will delegate the task to various web services, including sites such as OpenTable. You can even schedule a taxi pickup.

It was pretty cool to see Siri recognize the question that was asked by voice, and translate that into text. One button tap confirmed that Siri had gotten it correct, and then the app went to work. Within mere seconds, Siri returned results. One more tap confirmed a dinner reservation. That’s faster AND easier than looking up a phone number, being put on hold, and attempting to get a reservation at my favorite place to dine.

With regular use, Siri could turn into a huge asset to many of us, helping to manage tasks and get things done. Have you downloaded the app yet? What are your thoughts?

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Who is Violet Blue?

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I happened to run into Violet Blue while I was attending the SXSW conference recently, and she agreed to sit and talk with me. Violet is an awarded author, a frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, a magazine columnist, an all-around web celeb, and damn sexy. You might have seen her in Macheads (and if you haven’t, there’s no time like the present to watch the movie).

She tells it like it is, holding nothing back. She does so in a way that will make you stop and think about things – making you laugh all the way.

Given the subject material at hand (sex!), you’d think that a person would be uncomfortable talking to Violet about it. However, that isn’t the case at all. She may be open and direct, but it is also obvious that she is an amazing communicator – even if I happened to stumble here and there. Okay, so this is something I’m not used to talking about (certainly not on video).

Violet has written several books on the subject of sex. Many of them are non-fiction works, discussing different aspects of human sexuality. Others are collaborative efforts with several other writers (including a book full of short erotic stories).

Violet’s career is something she never planned on, though. She carved her path for herself purely by accident. In 1998, she was hired as a copywriter for a women-owned sex store, reviewing all of their books and movies. There, she wrote a lot for the website and magazine (helping them launch their online presence altogether). She started being approached by editors wanting to publish what she was up to, then subsequently launched her own site.

Violet recently had a run-in with Steve Jobs (!) while attending Macworld. Violet took a chance, walked up to him, and asked to take his picture. She admits that took a lot of guts, but figured it was worth a shot. When she asked him if he would take a photo with her, Steve turned to her and suggested that she was rude. Violet was shocked; she figured if he didn’t want to be around people or be bothered by them… why be on the floor at all? Steve’s entourage started to giggle, which only fueled the fire in Violet. She turned around and ended up taking a picture of Steve’s back (as well as his hyenas). She then just happened to run in to Robert Scoble, who was live streaming. Robert picked up the story and ran with it on his stream. The rest is history.

If you had just one question to ask Violet, what would it be?

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AMD's Vision

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During my trip to SXSW last week, I spent some time at the AMD campus. I was able to talk briefly with Raymond from the AMD Product Marketing Group. I had heard that AMD has a vision for Vision, and wanted to get more information for all of you. It’s a difficult process to buy a new computer these days, with all of the choices there are. AMD Vision was created to simplify that process for you.

When a consumer walks into a store, they typically have ideas as to what they want to buy. Vision, Vision Premium and Vision Ultimate designations are similar to “good”, “better” and “best” hardware configurations. What this will do is give the purchaser a much better idea of what they will get with any particular model, to help them decide if it is the right one for them.

Even without knowing a model number, people can compare models against each other by using the Vision designation. People don’t necessarily care about the tech terms, such as “gigabyte”. They want to be able to look at something, and just know it will work for them. With this program, it’s simple for an average computer user to figure out what is what, and what will do the job.

For instance, let’s say a woman walks into the store and needs to buy a notebook that will allow her to surf the web and watch movies. The Vision line would be perfect for that. However, if she also needed to do some light video processing, she would be better off choosing the Vision Premium model. If she’s a power user who does a lot of processor-intensive work (or even a gamer), she’ll need to go with a machine designated with the Vision Ultimate tag.

This is the vision of Vision – to simplify the buying process, and make it more intuitive. AMD has been seeing very positive results with this program. People understand what they are trying to convey, and are using it to their advantage.

From what I’ve seen, I have to agree. Vision is fantastic, and I highly recommend using this system when you are looking to buy your next computer.

I appreciate the folks at AMD sponsoring my trip to SXSW, and giving me the opportunity to get important product information to our community.

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Listen to Facebook and Twitter With Aha Radio

Aha Mobile was a finalist in the 2010 Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator at the SXSW conference last week. With so many new social media services cropping up left and right, we tend to look past many of them in frustration. Aha Radio, however, is one I can definitely get excited about.

Aha Radio will easily turn all of your favorite websites into on-demand radio stations, right on your iPhone. You can grab the App for free and set it up in minutes. Listen to all of your podcasts while driving, or catch up on your friends’ Facebook statuses. Keep your eyes on the road while driving, and let the App keep you in touch. Switch to the Nearby Traffic station to check traffic conditions, or even find out what restaurants may be nearby.

Check out some of the things you can do with Aha Radio on your iPhone:

  • Check the Traffic Conditions – Get instant updates on traffic conditions ahead of you, based on your current location. The App pulls information from Inrix and Clear Channel. In addition, it gives you instant information about accidents and events that other drivers using the App have reported. See something you need to alert drivers behind you to? No problem. Just tap the screen and leave a voice shout to let them know.
  • Facebook Check-in – Trying to read status updates on Facebook while driving is a stupid idea. Listening to them, however, is no more dangerous than listening to the radio or a CD. Aha Radio filters out social game updates, and will only read actual status updates to you.
  • Community Interaction – Hate driving alone? You can tune in to either the Jokes or Rants stations, and have a few laughs. There’s also a Karaoke area, where you can die laughing while listening to other drivers sing along to their favorite tunes. If you’re brave, you can even record your own voice to share.
  • Hungry – Ah, food. I don’t know about you, but I always want to know what munchables might be along the route I’m driving. Using this feature would let me know what restaurants may be up ahead, and even prioritize them according to my preferences.

Enhances your driving experience in a way that neon lights and spoilers never could. I downloaded it while still listening to the presentation during SXSW, and I’m thinking you’re crazy if you don’t get it for yourself.

Thanks go out to AMD for helping me to attend SXSW this year!

Did SXSW Interactive Panels Fail to Entertain?

This article was written by a guest blogger. B. Imei Hsu is a nurse / psychotherapist, dance artist, and Yoga instructor. When she’s not in session in her private practice, she’s wondering whether her cat needs his own QR code. For more info, contact her at [email protected]. Both Imei and her cat live in Seattle, WA.

[Editor’s Note: I happen to agree with what Imei is about to lay down. That, and I’m very grateful for AMD’s sponsorship to help me get to SXSW last week.]

Are panels, workshops, presentations, and keynote addresses at one of America’s biggest web development, film, and music festivals supposed to entertain the masses? Is a part of the dollar value of our interactive passes mapped to an expectation that the audience – that I, as a n00b and newcomer to Social Media – would be engaged, encouraged to laugh, and occasionally led to the edge of tears?

With the amount of alcohol, food, and over–the-top parties, maybe I’m off on this one. Maybe we were only self-medicating with food and drink to better tolerate the bored masses of speakers, interviewers, and trade show representatives. Maybe the elaborate dinners were only there to distract us from the festival itself.

It’s been said that SXSW Interactive Is Dead – and reasons have been given Why SXSW Sucks.

I had heard rumors of outside SXSW pass groups: groups that had formed to take advantage of the convention without laying down the high price of a full pass to any formal aspect of the event. And indeed, I ran into a man who said he had formed a highly-popular fringe group for Facebook, only to have it shut down because of infringement rights. The organizer claimed that there were plenty of other more interesting aspects to attend at SXSW than the official meetings, trade show, and parties opened to pass-holders only.

But wait. I cracked open my swag bag on Day 2 and almost sliced open my bare foot with the corner of the SXSW Interactive program. Heavier than a phone book, the program guide was clothed in Bing-like orange regalia, its insides accessorized with slick ads for every tech company’s biggest parties for the week, and a listing of each registrant, volunteer, and presentation description. The “mini me” program cheat sheet was equally organized, replete with a centerfold convention map. Nothing says sexy like knowing where you’re going. Or where the blogger lounge is so you can get some bleu cheese and a plastic cup o’ wine with that last post you’re flying through.

More impressive, the QR code on the pass allowed participants to check into various locations and be easily followed by others, making communication and tracking a snap. With an iPhone, My.SXSW, Twitter, and Foursquare, it was a stalker’s paradise. On the streets at night, I kept thinking that my first iPhone app needs to be a proximity detector to prevent users from falling off a sidewalk or bumping into other pedestrians as their faces were glued to their screens, making sure they (and a few hundred others) would wind up in the same crowded bar, shouting at each other and complaining about the lack of chill places to hang out.

Here’s my problem: why go through all that administrative trouble, design, and organization, only to overlook one of the more disappointing experiences of the entire conference: boring presenters and/or interviewers?

This is by far not an official survey, but I executed my own casual query about the lack of quality presentations to nearly every person I encountered. Here were the top five answers in no particular order:

  1. The presenters were poorly prepared, or did not appear to have prepared (i.e. no microphones, no questions for the audience, quiet voices, too much personal banter off-topic).
  2. The presenters did not stick to the topic of the presentation.
  3. The presentation failed to entertain.
  4. The presenter or interviewer did not engage his/her audience.
  5. The presenter allowed the outspoken audience members to dominate and take control of the presentations, veering the topic off course to crash and burn.

Again, maybe because I’m a n00b, I am expecting too much. I wanted every panel to be as unpretentious and transparent as, “How Not To Be A Douchebag at SXSW,” and every keynote to be as engaging as Danah Boyd’s. I wished for every tech-oriented presentation to use the tools like “Wow, That’s Cool… Fun with HTML5 Video,” and every panelist to be as humorous, compassionate, and on-target as the two women at “Be Your Own Boss: Create a Life You Love.” I was not expecting myself to wonder if I wouldn’t have better luck sipping a Macallan 12 year-old Scotch as I sat through a number of surprisingly uninteresting presentations.

Conferences in the health care world are equally problematic for me.

Every two years, I must complete 36 hours of continuing education units (CEUs) to renew my license as a mental health counselor. Six of these units must cover the topic of legal and ethical issues – and let me tell you, they are usually some of the most boring ones out there. Most of us buy a CEU courses to meet those six CEU requirements; we simply crank out the answers, collect our CEUs, and look for the nearest painkiller.

If you attend a live conference, you could be purchasing six hours of torture on the level of emergency dentistry without anesthesia.

I’ve always wondered what would happen if we brought a highly-trained attorney together with a comedian and taught the same subject. I can only imagine my fellow colleagues laughing so hard, they wouldn’t be worrying about what scares them the most about caring for mentally ill clients in an age of litigation.

What’s the solution? I can no longer honor people for simply showing up the way I used to. I’m only going to honor those who show up with their full presence AND some training on how to engage and entertain the audience that really has come to learn.

Here are a few tips that would have made the difference for this n00b:

  1. Use the technology. If you have a microphone, practice using it. If you have a PowerPoint presentation (PPP), make it relevant, photo-rich, and free of excessive words and endless bulletpoints.
  2. Define terms. It’s easy to be immersed in your culture and language whilst estranging the very people you are there to educate: new users, late adopters, and the not-already convinced.
  3. Take a speech or voice class. Better yet, brush up on your acting. Acting is a craft that teaches you how to engage an audience, whether live or remote.
  4. Do a run-through at a smaller venue. Get feedback. Record yourself. Look for POI’s (points of improvement). Noodle with it.
  5. If you don’t think a solo has enough weight to it, see if you can’t combine with someone else who the brings the best out of you. Tandem might be better than solo. See #4. Test it.
  6. Share a telling example of your work, product, or service. Use the tools: film clips, audio, screencasts, digital reproduction, music, etc. These help your audience emotionally connect with you and your passion. But make sure it is VISIBLE and AUDIBLE in the room you’re using. Please.
  7. Don’t be afraid to entertain. The beauty of Schoolhouse Rock! was the simple idea that grammar could be fun. Find your angle. Let us laugh with you.

Getting behind the microphone and in front of the camera should be seen as a privilege, even though most of us own digital cameras and sound equipment. Maybe if we saw our roles as entertainers and educators – and not just media “rawk stars” – we’d attract the right kinds of engaging presenters and interviewers to present at SXSW 2011.

And I’d be happy to beat a path to the front of that line.

I'm a Douchebag?

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I’m a douchebag, this I know. For the button tells me so.

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