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SXSW: We’re all different… What personalisation means for content

Believe it or not, almost every talk at SXSW this year has referenced data. Whether that’s privacy, new sources such as wearables, or creative use of it as a medium for content, data has been the buzzword of the festival.

Google Cardboard: one way that data is being used creatively

From filmmakers to developers, many recognise the new opportunities it provides to personalise experiences and content.

Data is essentially a new medium and its vocabulary  transcends different disciplines, according to Cézanne Charles, artist and creator of the Whithervanes project. Her Whithervanes project is a perfect example of this as it tracked perceptions of fear in real-time by monitoring newsfeeds for ‘alarmist’ keywords. The five headless chicken sculptures installed around Folkstone then revolve away from the geographic origin of each story, indicating the intensity of fear by changing coloured lighting and the number of rotations each Whithervane makes.

Whithervanes: a neurotic, early worrying system from John Marshall on Vimeo.

According to Andrew Cochrane, a director at Mirada independent studios, we are underusing the mobile phone as a medium for storytelling with very little content adaptive to key data such as geolocation or activity.  He pinponted the In the Thick of It ‘Malcolm Tucker’s Missing iPhone’ app and Zombies Run as great examples of mobile storytelling. However, the opportunity to personalise such experiences is growing and brands have a huge opportunity to deliver the right content in the perfect context for the first time. However, scale will only be achieved if this is delivered outside an app environment, and dynamic content has to be adaptive by design not an afterthought.

Malcolm Tucker’s Lost His Phone from Faber and Faber on Vimeo.

Cochrane also spoke of the potential to personalise content through interactivity, as this requires the audience to actively experience the story thus making it unique to each individual. New developments in Virtual Reality (VR) make it possible to transport the viewer to immersive worlds but without interactivity these are impersonal. VR is like a reverse round theatre, where the audience is in the centre and the action happens around them. This means creators need to build the world knowing the audience will feel they are ‘in it’.

At SXSW many companies demoed great VR experiences, from hardware manufacturers like Samsung to design firms like Immersive. While consumer penetration of VR headsets is pretty much non-existent at this moment, products like Google cardboard are providing a taste of the VR experience for more consumers.

Furthermore, Augmented Reality (AR) brings the potential to deliver immersive experiences that are also interactive and personalised. While augmented reality apps have struggled to gain mainstream traction, augmented reality in the form of holograms and projections is emerging on the horizon with products like Microsoft’s Hololens, Magic Leap and Atheer Lab’s Air in the pipeline.

When thinking about personalised content, content creators need to keep the idea at the heart of what they do. What is clear is that a good idea transcends platforms, so designing content just to use a particular new piece of technology or data stream isn’t the right place to start.

Chrissy Totty is Head of Innovation for Vizeum
To find out what Chrissy and James from the Innovation Team got up to in Austin search #southbyviz on Twitter