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matthew knell posts

Mar 12th 2012

SXSW 2012: More of the same, just different

The theme at this year's SXSW Interactive conference was the distinct lack of a theme. The challenge of continuing to find ways for users to create, curate and distribute content was still front of mind for many leaders of major social brands. Most of the stories revolved around "business as usual", as big social media brands get bigger, but with undercurrents of change, diversion and expansion. The reality is that social media companies have run into increasingly difficult challenges as they continue to grow to attempt to reach larger and more difficult to acquire audiences. As a result, much of the real news coming out of Austin was about new versions, growing pains, and acquisitions.


In keynote session on the opening day of the conference, Google Senior VP of Engineering, Vic Gundotra was joined by Alltop Co-Founder and long time Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki for a Fireside Chat about Google+ (view my Storify recap). Challenged by a series of tough questions about some of the issues Google+ has faced in terms of mission, adoption, growth and growing pains, Gundotra continued to preach patience (they're only about 6 months in), offered more focused metrics estimates (around 100 million users a month have created a Google+ profile, and used a "Google+ optimized service"), reiterated the strategy (they could have called it Google 2.0 - it's that important to the company), shared reasoning behind the lack of API (Gundotra doesn't want to flood your Google+ stream with spam), and shared what could be perceived as a few potshots at competition (we have higher standards than to put ads on people's photographs). It still seems clear that Google is still betting that their social layer will be a success, but there is still some work to do to continue to win the hearts and minds of marketers and consumers.


Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley took the stage in his keynote on Saturday (view my Storify recap), offering a glimpse at the good, bad and ugly Foursquare's evolution. He revealed that when they we are about to launch Foursquare at SXSW in 2009, both he and co-founder Naveen Selvadurai were worried about the product being successful, and even embarrassed if it became a flop, and traded plane flights so that one could "babysit" the new product. Obviously, Foursquare did not flop (they are nearing 20 million users, according to Crowley), but they too are facing some challenges in the product set.

Crowley thinks the Foursquare Radar product, which when turned on will recommend great things to do just by sensing where you are, will be one of the most valuable solutions, but the decision for people to use it shouldn't be based on retaining battery life.

Foursquare Deals is the heart of the product, Crowley admitted. Combined with deals, Foursquare's playful nature brings ordinary people to Foursquare. Gamification is an excellent onboarding tool, but he cautioned that their intent is not to make Foursquare a game, rather to make a tool that was fun and useful to their users to provide Foursquare more data to make features like Foursquare Explore even more useful. Foursquare has seemingly won the location war, having fought off Gowalla (acquired) and so far largely rebuffing Facebook's challenge in location. It will continue to be interesting to see how newer geofencing apps like Highlight challenge in the hyperlocal application space.


On Sunday morning, Instagram's Kevin Systrom anchored a panel called "Is Our Photo-Madness Creating Mediocrity or Magic?" (view my Storify recap here), which discussed the change in creativity that has resulted due to the easy ability to create and share digital photographs. During the panel, Systrom shared some of the inspiration behind Instagram ("studying abroad in Florence only a Holga to take pictures) and revealed that Instagram users upload 60-90 photos per second to Instagram. When asked about ownership rights concerns, Systrom declared that Instagram users will own their photos, and that one of the biggest advantages of using Instagram is that they store your photos in duplicated servers all around the around so that you never lose them. It's much more likely to lose photos in a house fire than it is for them to get misplaced online.

Forebodingly, when asked about Instagram for Android, Systrom stated something to the effect of "I may or may not have something" to say about that. Sure enough, by the end of the day, Instagram announced a long awaited version for Android, was coming "very soon", and was sure to be "one of the best Android apps you'll ever see." Twitter, continuing to expand their reach to brands, consumers and marketers, and on the heels of news that they will continue to work on new profile features, announced late on Monday that they will acquire Posterous - a service focused on sharing content longer than 140 characters with a limited group of people - similar to Google+ circles.

All in all, it seems clear to me that the real next barriers seem to be a wicked combination of privacy and technology issues. Limitations on the technology of mobile devices (i.e. battery life, platform availability), the privacy and rights concerns of creating and sharing your content and location, and the genuine consumer benefit of these products and services will continue to be the primary challenges faced by major social brands. People are always the focus of any social product, and will need to be the center of practical solutions as well.

Mar 6th 2012

What to Watch at SXSW 2012 Interactive

It's that time of year again when thousands of the world's most creative digital minds descend on Austin, Texas for networking, inspiration, and a little bit of BBQ. I'm talking, of course, about SXSW, the conference that brings like minded people from the worlds of digital, music and film together each March to commiserate over thousands of panels, screenings, and live performances covering a whole wealth of different topics.

I'll be joining a small team of AOLers who will be in Austin for the Interactive portion of the conference, and we'll be posting dispatches from the event here and on our Advertising blog as well. (We'll also be hosting an Artist Showcase for AOL Music on March 15th, but we will share news around that event soon!)

Before we get started, if you're lucky enough to attend, I'd recommend that you utilize a scheduling tool like Sched's Unofficial SXSW Guide, presented by our friends at MapQuest Vibe, the native SXSW Go App, available for iPad, iPhone and Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile 7 or Lanyrd, which helps you figure out which panels your friends are attending. All of these apps will help keep track of where you need to be, and when, as you bounce around all 15 different SXSW campuses spread throughout the city of Austin. If you're attending for the first time, check out SXSW's First-Timer's Guide to SXSW, and buddy up with someone who has gone before. It is extremely helpful!

Without further adieu, here are my suggestions for panels to check out to get you started (all require a SXSW Interactive badge unless otherwise noted)!

March 8th | March 9th | March 10th | March 11th | March 12th | March 13th


March 8th:

March 9th:

March 10th:

March 11th:

March 12th:

March 13th:
  • 11:00am at Sheraton Austin: Media professionals from The Week, New York Observer, Ad Age, and Slate discuss a key question of our time: Is Aggregation Theft?

There are tons of other events that are worth attending (I am still filling up my calendar), so I encourage you to view the full SXSW schedule by clicking here and adding your favorites!

Stay tuned to updates from SXSW Interactive 2012 by following me on Twitter, following #aolsxsw, @AOLAdvertising and @AOLPR on Twitter for the latest content updates from panels, and daily updates during SXSW Interactive on this section of the blog. Hope to see you there!

Feb 13th 2012

Social Fresh East: A look back



Last week I had the pleasure of joining some of the smartest minds in social media at Social Fresh East, a gathering of social media marketers and communication managers in Tampa, Florida. The third edition of the conference marked my first trip, and it was well worth the travel!



I had the opportunity to wrap up the conference with a look into the future of social media by talking about the slow ripples of fragmentation that have started to develop within social networks and the meteoric rise of interest based networks like Tumblr, Foursquare, Instagram, and the newest media darling, Pinterest, which recently became the fastest site ever to reach 10 million uniques.

I believe there is a growing shift in the nature of social media interactions. When Facebook first started to grow, the focus was very much on making connections to people you had relationships with "your friends" (your social graph). The truth is, we're not always going to be interested in everything your friends share, think or create, especially when the definition of a Facebook "friend" is becoming blurry. As a result of this, Facebook has become a bit of a social shopping mall - something for everyone, but not everything someone may want.

It's hard to quantify in numbers, other than showing the growth of new interest based social networks in members and uniques, and the slowing of unique visitor growth of Facebook in relative terms, but regardless the cause, users are starting to augment and even replace their Facebook content consumption with interest based social networks that are delivering content more targeted to their interests (the interest graph). As a result, brands are now starting to include them more often in their social marketing plans.

People seem to be more willing to trade the familiarity of people they know, for the serendipity of discovering content about things they are interested in. Indeed, if you take the collective of Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest and Instagram, each one is well designed for these moves in user behaviors.

A biproduct of this interest graph movement is the need to involve someone in their social strategy who can understand the value of content and the relationship with the platform they will be placed on. The need for content strategy that's "interesting" (I.e. Akin to user interests) is higher than ever before, and how doing a content audit to see exactly what you have to work with is critical. I coined the term "content museums" to encourage marketers to consider each piece of content for it's individual merit, and considering the social networks as the museum that they will post to.

I wrapped my presentation by offering up some tips for how to adapt to these new networks, and what content to use where to take advantage of the communities already built.

Other speakers from a wide range of industry presented tips, trends and best practices for social media:


You can view all of the presentations from Social Fresh East 2012, and all prior Social Fresh conference events on their Slideshare page, and visit Socialfresh.com or follow @socialfresh on Twitter to learn more about future events.

Nov 15th 2011

Welcome To The AOL Blog

Hello there! It's my sincere honor to introduce you to a project that's been a long time coming, the official AOL Blog. We know that we're a bit late to the corporate blog game (I mean, as a company, we are more than 25 years old now and we definitely have a lot of stories to tell), so we especially appreciate you coming by to see us.

We've been live for about a month now, and we hope you have enjoyed our posts so far.

Here, we hope to share important news about AOL, stories about new products and services, give you a small taste of what's happening in our offices, take you behind the scenes of AOL events around the world, and introduce you to some of the employees that help make AOL the company that it is today.

We invite you to get to know us better by checking in with this blog often, subscribing to our RSS feed, or following us on Twitter at @AOLPR, where we will be sharing stories from this blog, along with curating news about AOL from around the web.

Hope you enjoy the blog! Tweet at us with any questions.

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