Notes from SXSW: What's next for the metaverse, Web3 and climate tech
Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images for The Sandbox

Notes from SXSW: What's next for the metaverse, Web3 and climate tech

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Good morning! South by Southwest returned to in-person programming this year after two years away, and a few Protocollers were on the ground to assess the vibe (and the tacos). As expected, the metaverse, crypto and climate change dominated conversations throughout the week.

The scene at SXSW

The metaverse doesn't exist yet, but you wouldn’t know that from attending SXSW. Technologists and creators alike descended upon Austin to hype up — and criticize — the possibilities and promises of it anyway. From fashion to film to sustainability, people wanted to talk about how everything and anything would work in a virtual world.

  • Mark Zuckerberg was there to hype Meta’s vision for the metaverse and tease NFTs coming to Instagram soon. If you’re skeptical of Meta’s role in building out the next big computing platform, well, Zuckerberg’s talk didn’t really assuage those fears: "I think on some level, the future sort of belongs to the people who believe in it more than others … I just think we care more, you know, I think we're the company that cares about helping people connect."
  • Reggie Fils-Aimé said that he’s “not a buyer” of Meta’s vision for the metaverse. Though he agrees that it has merits in social and gaming contexts, people aren’t going to spend most of their day in a VR headset. “I don't believe that it's going to be an experience that you are doing 100% of your time, or even 100% of your entertainment time,” he said.
  • Fils-Aimé did say, though, that he thought AR glasses would be more useful for daily use.

SXSW was awash in crypto. It wasn’t just panels and talks, though seemingly every panel had some crypto or Web3 angle: Sponsors, events, parties and more leaned into the crypto hype.

  • SXSW 2022 wasn’t as much of a broader corporate brand event as in past years, but crypto was the topic on everyone’s mind. Solana offered a Hacker House for entrepreneurs to connect. Filecoin Foundation’s “Decentralized Web Gateway” set up panels on crypto and policy. NFT-based fantasy sports startup Sorare sponsored a sports summit of speakers on tech and sports. There was a contingent of crypto natives but also just many people trying to figure out what the buzz was about. “Trying to figure out this NFT thing,” one person said.
  • This year’s Twitter? The biggest splash seemed to be from Doodles, an NFT project that was already popular pre-SXSW — it has elements of Pixar, one investor told me — but it seemed to benefit from the SXSW buzz in Austin. Doodles rented out a warehouse to feature everything Doodles and had special perks for Doodles NFT holders. It’s an example of how NFTs may increasingly be used for consumer loyalty and to build communities. There was even a Doodles’ Diplo concert, because it was SXSW after all.

Everyone at SXSW wanted to talk about climate change. (Everyone’s favorite new climate newsletter even launched there.) But your trusty Protocol Climate editor was particularly fascinated by who showed up from Big Oil. The Lone Star State is ground zero for the oil and gas industry in the U.S., but it’s rare to see folks from the industry at big, splashy climate events given fossil fuels are the main driver of the crisis itself.

  • One event, Dream Team: Corporates & Startups in ClimateTech, featured a panel of folks working at oil companies’ venture capital arms as well as Microsoft. A record amount of corporate venture capital poured into the climate tech space last year, which means VCs need to make a good pitch. For the venture arms of Shell, Halliburton and Equinor — the three companies on the panel — the pitch is pretty simple: We’re indispensable.
  • The speakers repeatedly pointed out they have access to markets, policymakers and other industries that most VCs could only dream of. Left unsaid: Those companies built those connections while war profiteering, committing alleged human rights violations and greenwashing. Despite those connections, it’s also clear the firms have still dealt with some reputational drag from the aforementioned issues and continued role in damaging the climate.
  • “It’s hard to not realize how we have quickly become the ugly girl at the party, where people invite us but they don’t want to dance with us. So we can’t be picky, either,” Andrea Course, a principal at Shell Ventures, said on the panel, before asking her fellow panelists what their companies could do to “reimagine their corporate brands to attract more people into the future of climate tech.” A good place to start might be to stop spending so much on oil and gas exploration and extraction.

— Nat Rubio-Licht, Tomio Geron and Brian Kahn

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People are talking

Qualcomm’s Cristiano Amon said we’re closer to the metaverse than people think:

  • “The number of devices that are being built for virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality is not a small number by any metric.”

Alex Rodriguez thinks blockchain tech could help sports fans invest in big teams:

  • “With blockchain, I think millions of people around the world will have an opportunity to own a sports team, if not a small stake in one.”

Ukrainian crypto leader Michael Chobanian thinks crypto will “change the world”:

  • “[Blockchain] will be the technology that we’re going to use to rebuild my country.”

Making moves

Rinki Sethi joined Bill.com as VP and CISO. Sethi previously worked in security roles at various companies, including Twitter and Rubrik.

Zipporah Allen is the new CMO of Strava. She was most recently the chief digital officer of Taco Bell.

Jonathan Farnell is Eqonex’s new CEO. Farnell previously led Binance’s U.K. operations.

Scott Dresser is Ericsson’s new legal and compliance chief. He’s taking over for Xavier Dedullen, who’s been the company’s top lawyer for a few years.

Spotify is hiring two Web3-focused roles: A senior back-end engineer and a senior manager of Innovation and Market Intelligence.

Amazon’s MGM deal isn’t just about the content. Sure Amazon is getting thousands upon thousands of movies and TV show episodes. But it’s also almost certain that a lot of this content will eventually show up on IMDb TV, Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service.

In other news

The EU is trying to take down Apple’s walled garden with a new anticompetition law that would force Apple to let users sideload apps.

WeCrashed is out on Apple TV+. The reviews aren't great, but the WeWork tale is still another entrant in the tech-chaos TV canon.

Matter won’t arrive until at least the fall. The new connectivity standard’s launch was delayed again because more companies wanted in on it.

Lucid may raise prices for future cars. Prices for existing reservation holders wouldn’t be affected.

Meta subpoenaed tech companies to prove it has competitors. But those companies, including LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest, don’t want to hand over documents.

Amazon Flex drivers want the company to help offset soaring gas prices. The drivers protested in Los Angeles yesterday to urge Amazon to offer some sort of relief for gas costs.

Alibaba and Tencent might lay off tens of thousands of workers this year as China continues to crack down on tech giants.

Russians are turning to Clubhouse for information about the war. It’s become a place for civilians to discuss and debate the conflict and understand what’s happening in Ukraine.

Spring clean your work habits

We’re only a couple of days away from the first day of spring, which means it’s time to swap out your winter clothes and declutter your home. But your work schedule could probably use some TLC, too, and Atlassian work futurist Dominic Price spelled out a few ways you can do it:

  • Let something go. You may not need to do a 1:1 with your staff as often as you think.
  • Focus on team health. Change team schedules, like banning Friday meetings, before you implement a new productivity tool.
  • Prioritize outcomes. Home in on achieving a certain goal rather than meeting a certain quota of work.

A MESSAGE FROM AURA

From fraudsters to hackers, the web has its share of bad actors. Aura’s all-in-one digital protection keeps them at bay, so you can do what you love to do online—safely. Sign up for your free trial to experience how our powerful security fits seamlessly into your life.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you Sunday.

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