News & Views

SXSW 2017 or How We Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love Breakfast Tacos

by Contagious Team


FBI Director James Comey, Vice President Joe Biden, and four Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents set to deport a psy-noise group from Stuttgart walk into a bar with a mechanical bull on Austin’s Sixth Street. That’s right, SXSW is almost here.

You can read a million guides and go to a hundred celeb-anchored panels, but to paraphrase innovator Mike Tyson (SXSW 2011), everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth by SXSW. So it’s important to know your jab, hook and basic convention presentation survival skills: There will be talk of drones and VR and chatbots and other topics du jour, but be sure to sprinkle in some weird stuff to keep things interesting. Divide and conquer among your team. If something sucks, get out and try to get into something else. Go to as many keynotes as you can. Ask everyone you meet, ‘What was the best thing you saw today?’ Stay hydrated. Always be charging.

Contagious will be ambling around Austin, surveying scenes, taste-testing tacos, and partaking in countless other alliterative activities. Our own Nick Parish is speaking on insights from an accelerator program in Havana on Friday in 'Innovation in Cuba: The Rise of Azúcar Valley' and offering up his services as a mentor on Saturday. And a few more of us will be in town to keep him company. Get in touch if you’re SXSWing and want to meet up for a chat. We may even have a few fun tricks up our sleeves again this year. Drop us a line.

If you’d rather avoid human contact and just want to squeeze some sweet recommendations juice out of our collective braingrapes to enable your own panel-crushing, below are some of the official talks that have caught our eye. Maybe we’ll see you in the crowd – and let us know if we’re missing any surefire brilliance going down in the hot Texas sun next weekend.

Friday, March 10th
Imgur's Fight to Keep the Social Internet Authentic: What’ll the social web look like outside of the walled gardens of big advertising networks? That’s a question Imgur seems to be in a unique place to answer, with an ersatz social component around great image content.

Humans, Machines & the Future of Industrial Design: Translating the specificity of aesthetic language into something software can understand is a major quest in the automation of creative work.

Augmented Reality and Urban Revitalization: When Pokemon Go took over the world last year, it gave augmented reality a new lease on life, after years of false starts. Here, Niantic and the Knight Foundation will talk about their respective learnings on what happens on the reality side of AR – and how it could be used to transform communities.

When Your Internet Things Know How You Feel: Sure, your IoT device might be spying on your every move. But it could also be understanding your every move. What happens when these increasingly ubiquitous devices start to sense emotion and respond to it? And how can designers create objects and services that add value through that understanding?

Designing Emotionally Intelligent Machines: Most humans struggle to be emotionally intelligent. Is this yet another area where computers will soon surpass humans? Huge Inc’s executive director of product and innovation takes a look at affective technology, and the role empathy can play in algorithms.

Saturday, March 11th
Talk to the Brand: Bots & the Chatty Marketer: You won’t be able to toss a crumpled Lone Star tall boy can in Austin this year without hitting a chat bot waiting to engage you. Here, Capital One,, and GE talk about their positions on putting their best customer experience foot forward with automation.

Using AI & Machine Learning to Extend the Disney Magic: Disney’s Imagineers have long packed their parks with cleverly-disguised technology to amplify the guest experience. We’re interested in how ML is becoming the new pixie dust around town.

Is Authenticity In Advertising Possible? Authenticity is a hot-button concept among consumers and brands alike these days. Who better to learn from than Ja Rule, who once reached the top of the charts with his J.Lo duet, “I’m Real”. The best way to refine the way you walk, the way you move, the way you talk…

Ditch the Screens: the Ubiquity of Connectivity: We’re all about getting our heads out of our screens. And we’ve long been a fan of Google’s mad scientist Ivan Poupyrev, who has spoken at a few Contagious events dating all the way back to 2013. Always mind-bending to see what he has up his (connected) sleeve.

iMessage: The Next Marketing Gold Mine: iMessage may already be the most-used app on the iPhone, but these fine folks think it is only starting to tap into its potential. If stickers and messaging apps are your jam and you’re the kind of person who sends every text with a screen full of balloons, this is the panel for you.

When the Sharing Economy Is Taken Away: If you want to play a fun game of SXSW Bingo, might we suggest using carping about the lack of Uber or Lyft as the trigger phrase? After Austin voters agreed the ride-sharing services need to fingerprint their drivers, the services ceased operation. But then what?

Conversational Chatbots: Your Brand's Duty! As General Douglas MacArthur once told an assembly of West Point cadets: ‘Duty, Honor, Chatbots.’ At least, we think that was the quote. Either way, this panel unpacks a branded chatbot that amassed six million messages in a single day. That’s like, a lot of messages.

The Return of Psychedelic Research in America: DRUGS DRUGS DRUGS DRUGS DRUGS. Ahem. Drugs.

You know, for science.

Sunday, March 12th
Covering POTUS: A Conversation with the Failing NYT: Despite the ironic title to its own panel, The New York Times isn’t failing, it’s doing quite well. Hear how it has risen to the challenge of “alternative facts,” “fake news” and being labelled “enemies of the people.”

From Mobile First to Offline First: We’ve spent enough hours of our life waiting for Twitter and Instagram media to load. There has to be a better way. With any luck, this panel will reveal that better way.

Uncharted Waters: The Looming Water Crisis: Population growth, climate change, and the subsequent strain on natural resources are some of the greatest challenges technology could help solve. Absent a one-way trip to Mars, or a convenient second Earth, technologists and agricultural companies are looking for solutions.

Mark Cuban & Tech Execs: Is Govt Disrupting Disruption?: Cubes is the preeminent SXSW entertainer: combative and clever. In this case, he’s billed to be talking about government regulation, but he’ll likely talk about whatever he damn well pleases.

Elephant on Madison Avenue: Building on the 2016 look at Silicon Valley, this panel unpacks research by the 3% Movement into sexism in the advertising industry. Attend if you’re not afraid of a little sunlight disinfectant.

Drone Racing: Beating The Hype To Build The Sport Of The Future: Drone racing. Do we really need to say anything else? Grab your Dippin’ Dots and enjoy.



Later In The Week

March 13
Connect: Dissidents Fighting Back with Information: Pretty much the opposite of James Comey on this panel.

March 14
Can a Film Made by a Machine Move You?: The ultimate test of any kind of ML-enhanced cultural object: can it actually create an emotional reaction in a human?

This is Not a Game...or a Movie: Chris Milk on VR: What is it?

The Evolution of Podcast Advertising: Podcasts, so hot right now. How are brands adapting to the rebirth of radio?

March 15
Let’s Watch A Grown Man Eat Chicken For An Hour
: We may all be in an ASMR k-hole by Wednesday, who knows?