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James Whatley's postcard from SXSW: Meerkatting and moonshotting but no Russell Brand

James Whatley is strategy partner at Digitas UK where he works at the nexus of brand, content, and customer experience. You can find him on Twitter @Whatleydude.

Three things from day five of SXSW Interactive that actually happened.

1. Meerkatting

When I first heard this, I honestly thought it was another name for people peering up and around from their laptops to see what was going on in the world around them (like a Meerkat). But no – live-streaming from your phones direct to Twitter is now a thing. Again.

Rewind five years or so and everyone was broadcasting ‘LIVE!’ from their phones with an app called Qik. Apparently this trend has come full circle but this time it’s Meerkat that’s taken up the live-stream mantle.

Rumours about Twitter choking on Meekat’s use of its social graph, due to an imminent launch of a competing product, are yet to be founded.

And of course, you’re probably asking yourself the question right now: ‘Do I need a ‘live stream’ strategy?’

No. Of course you don’t.

2. Russell Brand cancelled

12:30 in Ballroom D: Russell Brand’s Revolution Will Be Televised – a ‘fire side chat' (I hate these things) with Brian Solis and Russell Brand.

Didn’t happen.

Cancelled at the last minute.

Apparently the comedian/movie star/political revolutionary was flying in for the above talk and the premiere of his new film. The latter is what made him bail.

“You’d think a narcissist would like nothing more than talking about themselves and their “rags to riches”, “hard luck” story but actually, it felt like, to me, my life was hard enough the first time round and going through it again was painful and sad," Brand said in a statement on his website.

That’s fine and fair enough, I guess. But still, I wasn’t here to see his film, I wanted to hear him wax lyrical about ‘soshul meeeedja’. Maybe next year.

3. Everyone got told to fail. And quickly.

In one of the best sessions of SXSW, Dr Astro Teller of Google’s moonshot lab ‘Google X’ gave a talk about ‘Moonshots and reality’ and I had the best seat in the house.

Teller spent a good 40 minutes talking us through everything – from the fluffiness of the engineers' socks in the balloon factory (Project Loon, heard of that?) through to a woman, in a motorised wheelchair, chasing a duck across a road with a broomstick, helping to prove that self-driving cars are nearly ready for production.

My favourite quote from Teller was when he discussed the first time he let some Google employees take the self-driving cars home from work, on the strict proviso that they paid attention to what was going on 100 per cent of the time. Apparently even with cameras trained on them, people were more than happy to rely on the car and just do anything but watch.

"The assumption that humans could be a reliable back up for the system was a fallacy!" – Brilliant.

Teller’s talk was a definite highlight if only for the further reminder that failing fast is not only a really smart way to keep moving but also possibly one of the most important things you can do in business.

James Whatley is digital director of Ogilvy & Mather London. He tweets @Whatleydude

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