A few clouds and a breezy day can't keep the masses in Austin, TX away. It was another full day of festivals, sessions, and interactive exhibits here at SXSW 2019: a multi-day series of conferences and festivals around interactive, film, and music industries.
We're back with our day four recap of the lessons learned and most interesting things we saw at SXSW today. We'll be here through this week to bring you these highlights each day -- and to see all of our event coverage, check out our SXSW 2019 hub here.
Instagram's Founders Make Their First Public Appearance Since Leaving Facebook
When Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced in September that they would be leaving Facebook -- the company that acquired theirs for $1 billion in 2012 -- people had questions.
Why did they leave? Was it due to fallout from last spring's Cambridge Analytica scandal? Had they lost a sense of autonomy? Were they unhappy with the number of ads that were appearing on Instagram?
Today -- at what was perhaps one of the more highly-anticipated SXSW sessions -- Systrom and Krieger didn't exactly answer those questions in their hour-long conversation with Josh Constine of TechCrunch.
What they did discuss, however, was a bit about how Instagram originally came to be -- and how they view what it's become.
Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger at SXSW 2019 | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot
As for Instagram's roots, said Krieger, the idea stemmed from the popularity around the mid-2000s of check-in apps, such as the social app Foursquare, where users could "check in" to a location and let their friends know where they were, and what they were doing there.
But Krieger and Systrom believed that a user's desire to share information about their locations -- and what brought them there -- went beyond a simple, comment-less check-in. Instead, said Krieger, "We thought the way people would do this is not through text, but with a photo."
Fast forward to September 2018, when Instagram had been a portfolio company of Facebook ("If you're going to sell your company, the idea is to sell it to one that's going to be a rocket ship," said Systrom), and the app had become monetized -- largely by way of ads.
Loosely addressing rumors that the heavy presence of ads was part of the catalyst behind the founders' departure from Facebook, Systrom also noted that he and Krieger "were the ones pushing monetization -- not the other way around."
You can regulate it. On the other hand, you let it go unregulated and let it flourish. What's going to happen? My biggest fear is that Instagram has become less authentic because of it.
- Instagram Co-Founder Kevin Systrom on the role and impact of influencers
"Instagram has to make money to run," he added. "Whether you like ads or not, you have to make money somehow."
What, then, asked Constine, do Systrom and Krieger think of influencers -- the Instagram-famous personalities who are paid to promote products and services through the content they share on the app?
On one hand, explained Systrom, "You can regulate it. On the other hand, you let it go unregulated and let it flourish. What's going to happen? My biggest fear is that Instagram has become less authentic because of it."
So what's next for the co-founders? Nothing that they would publicly confirm, it seems, beyond comments on meetings with entrepreneurs and others within the industry.
"We’re giving ourselves time to figure out what makes us curious again,” noted Krieger. “I feel very fortunate in that regard."
Snapchat Weighs in on the Value of the Camera (And the Content People Share With It)
2019 marks the first year that Snapchat has a significant presence at SXSW, where the company has sponsored the Snap House by overtaking Austin bar Parlor Room -- and converting it into a fully-branded fun house of Lens filters (the app's augmented reality [AR] effects), a giant yellow gum ball machine, and a ghost-shaped porch swing.
But much like the Instagram co-founders spoke to the perceived consumer preference to share moments and information about their whereabouts and activities by way of visual content -- so did Snap Inc.'s Matt Cano discuss the role of pictures and videos in "viral growth."
"At the core of viral growth," Cano explained, is the idea of "users driving your own growth" for you -- such as telling their friends about a piece of content or a product that they found particularly delightful.
The Snap House at SXSW 2019 | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot
That, according to today's talk, is where the camera comes in.
"People are using the camera to communicate and express themselves, and that’s because it’s faster," Cano said. "It’s faster to take a 10-second video," as opposed to sending someone a paragraphs-long text to describe one's surroundings.
How does Snapchat, for its part, enhance that phenomenon? A big part of it is personalization -- like the ability to use the aforementioned Lenses to add AR visual effects to pictures of people, or to add what Cano called "contextual relevance."
A local staple served up at the SXSW 2019 Snap House | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot
Thanks to a number of "live data feeds" about a user's location, for example, Snapchat is able to add an element of "contextual relevance" to what someone shares on the app by using that data to understand "what the user is doing, and we surface appropriate tools accordingly,” Cano said.
For example, if a user is at a basketball game, Snapchat's geofilters allow that user to add a number of different data-driven elements to content that she shares on the app -- things like the current temperature, or the game's score.
It's worth noting that many of these Snapchat features have been emulated by Instagram, the latter of which has arguably seen more success in their implementation and use.
This is how best friends want to communicate. They want to use the camera.
- Matt Cano, Snap Inc. Product and Platform Partnerships
But there's one key difference, implied Cano, and that's ads.
Rather than disrupting the Snapchat user experience with standalone ads, Cano explained, companies can create branded geofilters and Lenses that users can add to their content -- allowing the brands to "participate in the conversation" without being particularly intrusive.
"This is how best friends want to communicate," Cano asserted. "They want to use the camera.”
Bose's Big Plans for AR and Audio
Before we departed for SXSW 2019, one of the things we were most excited to see was the Bose AR and Frames Popup.
Bose, which is known for its legacy of making premium audio hardware, overtook Austin establishment Half Step, where its new Frames -- the company's first-of-its-kind pair of audio AR glasses -- were on display.
Bose Frames, which officially launched in January, could be described as a hybrid of AR glasses and headphones, which don't superimpose visuals onto the user's physical surroundings -- but rather, emit high-quality sound through the Frames, which are also equipped for voice commands (via such assistants as Siri and Google Assistant) like making calls and skipping songs.
Bose Frames on display at the brand's SXSW 2019 popup | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot
But the interactive exhibit went far beyond taking the Frames for a spin. We had a chance to speak with Bose's Head of Frames Mehul Trivedi, and where the company sees the role of these AR glasses in the future of how we interact with our real-world surroundings -- and how marketers can use them as a platform, as well.
On the consumer side, Trivedi said, wearables like Frames truly do augment one's real-life surroundings, in that they allow users to fully take in their environment while also enjoying the audio they prefer to hear -- rather than having a visual element superimposed on those surroundings via a screen.
"If you leave the house to get away from the large screen, and all you do is look at the small screen," Trivedi said, "you haven't really accomplished anything."
The Bose Frames Popup at SXSW 2019 | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot
But there's something in it for growing brands, as well. Just as hardware like smart speakers -- such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home -- have become platforms for brands to create new skills and experiences, so will AR glasses like the Frames.
That's why Bose has unveiled new creator tools at SXSW 2019, which these brands can use to build such experiences that can be distributed and consumed through the Frames -- for instance, something like a guided walking tour that a user can listen to while exploring a new city.
So, are audio wearables the smart devices of the future? Well, with the rise of major moves by companies like Spotify to grow their capabilities and offerings -- like acquisitions of podcast platforms -- they could represent the next generation of content distribution.
The Bose Frames Popup at SXSW 2019 | Amanda Zantal-Wiener for News & Trends by HubSpot
That's a wrap on day four. Check back tomorrow for our recap of day five's events, sights, and sounds.