Today we launched our first online destination for men, Mandatory.com, in partnership with BermanBraun.
We've taken a bit of a different approach to the men's site, bringing a unique combination of focused user experience together with real facts and knowledge from celebrities and voices that that every man can relate to.
Sponsored by our friends at Gillette for launch, Mandatory is overseen by Lead Editor, Cory Jones, the founding Editor of Break Media's HolyTaco.com and former Editorial Director of Maxim.com.
Some of the topics we'll be taking on: tracking down the closest macro brewery, evolving into a Renaissance Man in 60 seconds, and a regular review of Mancessities, items that all men should own. Mandatory will provide answers to some of the questions you didn't know you'd need to ask.
Learn more about the launch by reading the press release here and visiting Mandatory.com.
Earlier today, in celebration of reaching 300,000 likes, AOL rolled out its new Facebook Timeline page, adding a little bit of color to our story - both literally and figuratively.
The most striking visual element on the page is our new cover photo, featuring the Color World canvas as designed by AOL Artist Mike Perry. The canvases, as created by our AOL Artists, are a great way to use the visual space that Facebook Timeline provides. We will be changing them to feature our artists with each new release starting later this month, so stay tuned for more! For now, learn more about our AOL Artists by visiting http://www.aolartists.com and stay tuned to this blog for more canvas updates.
If you look back through our Timeline, you'll see selected nuggets from AOL's 27 years in business, including our birthday (May 24, 1985), the day "You've Got Mail" was released (December 18, 1998), and, my personal favorite, the first post on our page after I joined AOL (you'll just have to click to find out what that was). We will continue to add highlights to our history as they happen, so be sure to take a look back through our history each time you visit the page.
In addition, we're excited to partner with Twitter and be a part of their Enhanced Profile program which offers us an opportunity to showcase our Color World canvas again and offer a "sticky" tweet of content at the top of the page of highlighting things we think you should keep tabs on.
We are excited to continue to bring stories and news from the AOL and Huffington Post each day, so if you haven't joined us yet, why not give us a follow on Twitter, or Like our page on Facebook!
Along with hosting a wide array of content, SXSW Interactive has become a showplace for companies trying to bring their brands to life for the thousands of people who attend the conference. As the price of a SXSW badge continues to rise, and the conference continues to spread its wings through larger parts of Austin with more than 15 sites spread out the city, larger brand activations have also grown from swag giveaways to include content and programming featuring experts on par with those speaking at panels.
After a few days of unexpected Austin rain, I joined Kristin Ciccone and Grace Meiners of the AOL Advertising team for a walk around Austin to see how marketers brought brands to life. Here were some of our favorites:
American Express Sync with Jay-Z Show
It's hard to discount the amazing job American Express did at SXSW. By launching their new Twitter sync product which allows you to tweet with hashtags to "load" discounts to your American Express card for major partners including Whole Foods, Zappos, McDonald's, Virgin America and more, they were able to redefine social commerce.
But on top of that, they offered up an amazing launch incentive for people to sync - a live performance featuring none other than Jay-Z, in as small of a venue as he has played in years - which required people to sync their cards, and present them early in the morning to receive tickets. I was lucky enough to qualify for tickets, and the show was amazing. The post show tweets on #JayZSyncShow were full of thanks to American Express for making things possible. Nothing better for brand sentiment than that.
Pepsi brought back their Zeitgeist screen for another year, featuring social content contributed by conference attendees, on a giant screen designed to have the feel of a train station. The space also featured a series of product demos and nutritional facts, a social vending machine, and an interactive phone booth that words can't even describe. Pepsi also hosted a schedule of brainstorming sessions featuring Gary Vaynerchuk, Toby Daniels of CrowdCentric, and Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit amongst others. But my pick for the coolest swag of the conference, and the best interactive experience was the "What If" program, where they gave 200 conference attendees specially designed LiveScribe pens (pens with a little camera inside to record drawings and gestures) and notebooks to share their SXSW experience. Read Kristin's interview with the folks who designed the program and learn more about the inspiration behind it.
Featuring a "social" refrigerator that opened only after 10 people checked in on Foursquare, a MakerBot Replicator 3D printer, a precision laser cutter, some folks welding (!) things, sample of products by Quirky (a brand that makes products submitted and voted on by users) and regularly scheduled demonstrations with people who, well, make stuff, the GE Garage was a genius way to bring GE's component business to life for consumers. Take a deeper look at GE Garage on our Advertising Blog.
Spotify's home away from home, east of the Convention Center, featured a home-y experience, live musical acts, and a respite from the craziness going on downtown. It opened its doors right in the gap between SXSW Interactive and SXSW Music, as the company sees itself as innovating in both worlds. We caught up with their crew and enjoyed a little chillout time.
Friskies' You vs Cat
After my last post previewing some of the must see panels at SXSW Interactive, one of the best e-mails I got was a request to come play Buddy the cat in a new iPad game called You vs Cat. I was more than happy to oblige, after all - cats and tech are pretty much the center of the Internet universe. Kristin and Grace and I dropped by to meet Buddy, play the game (we lost) and learned a little more about the inspiration for the product.
Spotsi Knife Throwing Spotsi, a Portland based startup that builds an app that facilitates user generated tours, took a very low tech and local approach to their activation - knife throwing! It was one of the more Texas things that we did and we talked with their CEO about the unexpected connection between their app and knife throwing.
All in all, the marketers were out in force again this year, competing in a noisier than ever atmosphere. But for me, the brands who "won" SXSW were the ones who cut through the noise by telling their brand stories in the most actionable way possible.
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.
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)!
2pm at the Radisson Town Lake: About.me Co-Founder Ryan Freitas, will join design professionals from GE, Method, Intuit and Bolt|Peters for a workshop called Designing for Context, at 2p at the Radisson Town Lake.
3:30pm at the Sheraton Austin at the Capitol: David Carr of the NY Times is part of an all-star panel discussion on the future of content curation in digital publishing called the The Curators and the Curated.
5:00pm at the Austin Convention Center: Experts from The Digital Beyond, Library of Congress, Mashable, and Edelman Digital will be discussing what our digital legacy in a discussion called Digital Immortals: Preserving Life Beyond Death.
11am at the Austin Courtyard by Marriott: AOL VP of Consumer Insights, Carla Borsoi joins other research professionals for Online Personality Disorder: Resumes & Profiles, a panel discussing how best to use web services to present yourself online.
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!