Top Themes at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016

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Written by AJ Ratani, President of RV Tech.

A few weeks ago, from May 9-11th, I had the opportunity to attend TechCrunch Disrupt in Brooklyn, New York, with members of the Red Ventures team.  The three-day conference featured a variety of experts from the digital world alongside some of the hottest tech start-ups in the industry and allowed attendees to take a unique glimpse at new inventions, products, and ideas.

While there were many great discussions and exhibits, four themes stood out most to me.  I personally believe these items not only affect digital marketing and customer interactions, but also the work we do at Red Ventures. Here are my takeaways from the TechCrunch Disrupt conference:

1. Bots, weak AI, and the use of voice for customer engagement. Showcasing a new way to get things done, companies like Kik and Facebook (via their Messenger platform) really focused on using bots to redefine interactions with their users and the movement towards conversational commerce. There was also a lot of talk on Artificial Intelligence (AI) being a major component in these customer interactions. However, I thought this component wasn’t as impressive and it has a long way to go — the bots on Kik and Messenger didn’t feel like any more than a bunch of if-this-then-that statements.

There were also several examples of tech innovators using voice and natural conversations in driving ecommerce and engagement. One example of this trend was the Disrupt Hackathon where several teams were picked to build their platform on the Alexa Voice Service.

The most impressive application that combined these trends to create a great user interface for commerce was shown by the team – their demo was incredible and the best I saw at Disrupt.

2. VR and AR are becoming very big. Of course, I’m speaking of virtual reality and augmented reality.  So what’s the difference? Both types of technology got a lot of attention at TechCrunch Disrupt—and for sure, both carry the promise of incredible growth. Many are already familiar with the concept of VR in that it is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a scenario present in real-life that makes a user feel like they are experiencing something first hand.  AR, on the other hand, is a form of technology that presents layers of computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality.  This is done in an effort to make an experience more meaningful and poses the opportunity for interaction.

Ultimately, digital components are integrated into real world situations in AR—and this type of technology is currently racing toward the mainstream.  While VR is something that has been around for a while now, I was particularly impressed by some of the applications associated with AR.  For instance, is an interesting platform that allows a user to input a picture of themselves and then try different hairstyles, cosmetics, change facial features and the like out on their image—allowing a type of “virtual testing” to take place.  I see this especially powerful when driving ecommerce.

On the VR side, I was also impressed with a platform called TimeLooper, which allowed me to use an application and place myself in a virtual environment based in different geographic locations at varied times in history.  For instance, I had the opportunity to place myself at the top of the Empire State Building 100 years ago via this iPhone app.  It was incredibly realistic, truth be told. I had a 360-degree viewpoint and my surroundings felt accurate to that particular time in history.  Now, while this will be an incredible tool for use in academic and retail settings, amongst others, the big drawback I see here is related to the amount of content that is available for use. Right now, there is a lack of development on this front—there is plenty of hardware, but more content is needed.

3. Digital Hyper-Targeting is going to be the new norm. Companies are targeting consumers in a way that has never been done before—and as life continues to become more and more digitized, we are all going to be willingly giving up our locations. Our desire to stay connected dictates the explosion of this platform, and it’s going to impact business in a big way. The CEO of FourSquare, Jeff Glueck, was at TechCrunch Disrupt, and while most of us think of this platform as a social network, the company has developed a technology called Pilgrim which runs in the background of their apps in an effort to track where people are going, even if they’re not manually checking in at these places.

This level of location data presents a huge opportunity for marketers to suggest their products, services, and offers to a consumer whose “mobile beacon” of sorts is sending a signal from one geographic area.  One interesting application of this technology is to predict earnings reports and financial forecasts for companies.   By simply analyzing data of where individual mobile identities go, even if they don’t check in at a store or business, it is possible to begin to predict store traffic.  This was recently proven in a real-time capacity when Foursquare predicted Chipotle’s store traffic to a tee and predicted Apple iPhone sales.

4. Using data to propel activity. Big Data has become a buzzword and lots of companies are talking about data mining as a strategy to reveal insights. However, what I find interesting is that there were several companies at Startup Alley that actually used the data to create true, actionable insights.

There were two companies that struck my interest at the conference because they were creating interesting actions from data. The first company, Bark, is an online safety service used for monitoring a child’s online social profiles.  It helps detect messages containing cyberbullying, sexting, and signs of depression or suicidal thoughts expressed over a child’s online assets.  All of this is done without requiring a parents to spend hours of personal time reading their kid’s activity or scrolling through their phone.  Ultimately, Bark uses actionable data to notify parents when there is a potential issue—and the system learns from whether the parents confirm it was an actual issue or not.

The second company is Upscored, a career discovery platform focused on pairing job seekers to employers where data determines there may be a fit. These curated results are personalized because the algorithm actually learns the career interests, personal characteristics, and professional desires of an individual.  It has the potential to reduce the amount of time spent on a job search, while also improving the chances that there will be stronger cultural fits in paired candidates for the employers who have an open position.  Used as a whole on other platforms, I believe this practice is going to improve business processes—and it will benefit organizations and consumers simultaneously.

Entire industries are being disrupted because of these new technologies.  Which emerging tech apps or platforms impress you the most?

Want more from AJ? Check out his predictions about the top tech trends of the future.

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