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Gamification, Ghostbusters and LOL-puters: notes from SXSW

Chris Quigley, co-founder of the Viral Ad Network and owner of Team Rubber, reports back from this year's South by South West festival in Austin, Texas.

SXSW is full of seriously clever and inspiring people. That's why I spend 15 hours flying cattle-class to Texas every year to sit in a massive warehouse of a convention centre with overly zealous air-conditioning. Here's a quick round-up of 3 things that made me a touch more clever today:

Turn your business into a game
When a guy starts his talk by reading a poem he's just written, and he also happens to sit on Zynga and Amazon's board, you know you're going to learn a lot. Video game executive Bing Gordon talked a lot about games from a whole load of different angles, however the most interesting aspect I learnt was his insight into how businesses could work better if they were turned into one giant game. Breaking this down, his core points were to ensure in your business you:

- Have a clear vision and narrative as to where the company is going, creating a platform of confidence
- Provide team feedback
- Constantly improve
- Provide rewards (virtual rewards can increase performance by up to 20% apparently)

Bing also pointed out that like good entrepreneurs, all gamers know how to lose fast to find the edges. Obviously losing a life in a virtual game is different to losing a life (or a shed load of cash in a business), but it's a valid point.

People are funnier than computers
The holy grail for all creatives in advertising is predicting virality. If there was some kind of formula that could help creatives predict the virility / how funny a video is going to be, then the whole world (and especially YouTube) would be a funnier and happier place.

So it was great to hear two veterans of the viral world discuss whether it's possible to predict virality - discussing the battle between man vs machine in predicting viral hits. Marc Hustvedt argued for the machine's corner, talking about YouTube's recommendation algorithm Al and their Comedy Slam project in which people are asked to compare videos and say which is funnier, producing over 1 million votes across 943 video pairs.

Representing *man* was Neetzan Zimmerman - founder of the DailyWh.at and an uber-filter for emerging viral content. Neetzan's job is to watch YouTube videos, and post the best on his blog. He says he posts about 10 a day, and has a hit rate of about 1 big viral hit a month and breaks a couple of *massive hits* a couple of times a year. So, for example, Neetzan broke last year's Rebecca Black Friday phenomenon - which is the quickest YouTube video of all time to hit 100 million views (which it did in about a month).

Anyway, because of Neetzan's daily indulgence he's got pretty good at judging / predicting viral hits, and his main argument that man will always be better than computers is that computers aren't mean.

Overall the debate pretty much ended with a compromise with general agreement that the undoubtedly the future of predicting viral hits will be down to a mix of man and machine . . .

Ghostbusters is the ultimate entrepreneur story
I'm a big fan of Eric Ries' Lean Start-up book, as he speaks a lot of sense about how to build and grow companies efficiently - something that we've been doing with the Viral Ad Network.

So, getting to hear him speak was fun. He mostly talked through the key points of his book (which you can find here), but perhaps the most fun (and insightful) part of his talk was his reference to Ghostbusters as the ultimate entrepreneur story, which takes Ghostbusters to a whole new level.

So there you go. Three awesome insights without the need to buy a stetson ;-)

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