SXSWi 2012 has just finished, leaving many of us wading through a sea of notes, smartphone video clips, business cards and LinkedIn requests. We are also busy analyzing, curating and categorizing , predicting, and planning for SXSWi 2013. If the collective brainpower of the digerati is moving at the speed of light, digital products and platforms are evolving at the speed of sound.
While it’s possible that a recount of much of SXSWi could be lost in translation – one cannot effectively describe the sheer enormity of 50,000+ people moving through the streets and venues of downtown Austin, or the overwhelm of choosing one of 60+ events happening during any given hour, of any given day, and the anxiety of hoping you’ve chosen wisely. The atmosphere may remain elusive, but the themes running through those 5 days in Austin stand out in clear contrast. For the sake of ease, and brevity, I'm going to talk about those themes in two categories (and posts): Technology and Content.
Technology: Who "Won" SXSWi? Whether or not you've attended SXSWi, you're likely familiar with two things about this festival: it's reputation for being one big party (we'll get to this in the next post) and the lore of apps and platforms launched. After all, this is the event that famously launched Twitter and Foursquare, caused the re-emergence of QR codes, for good or ill you decide, and a the onslaught of location - and now ambient location - smartphone apps. We’ve begun placing our bets each year on the next “breakout” technology.
This year, the Vegas odds were with Highlight, the somewhat creepy ambient location app that pinpoints your location and tells you who’s nearby at any given time. Going a step further, the app pulls from (wait for it) your FB account to serve up layers of social overlay – so you can (ostensibly) see what interests, and friends, you have in common with your next networking meeting, while your more realistically going to find out about that drunk girl named Cara at the bar. In addition to the creepiness factor, you’re opting-in to sharing large chunks of personal data here, the app is continually on a geo-location hunt, draining your precious smartphone battery in record time just when you’re trying to post a Tweet - or grab a photo of Jay-Z in the Four Seasons – curse the luck!
I’m not the only one ambivalent about Highlight, and I can say with confidence it did not emerge the SXSWi victor. Pinterest had a shot, with Tuesday’s well-timed 11:00 AM presentation “Pinterest Explained” – but the talk became the “All about Co-founder Ben Silberman” show and the opportunity was lost (see more in tomorrow's post on content). No, this year the winner of SXSWi was…technology.
Okay, I hear the far off cry of “bullshit,” but you've read this far, so hang on a second while I explain. On the surface it’s obvious to state that a geek-a-thon 50K+ strong would be rich with technology. Hell, last year Apple launched iPad2 in conjunction with the event, and the shiny new tablets eventually outnumbered laptops, smartphones and those clunky old original iPads as beaming users tweeted away and checked-in, ever the early adopter hipsters. I’m telling you, there was no such phenomenon this year.
In 2012 technology stood out as much as wallpaper, or the hideous convention floor carpet – you knew it was there, it pulsed beneath the entire proceeding. But no one thing emerged as a stand out. What we were left with was a SXSWi crowd so in tune with technology that we imbued the event with our handheld devices of choice, marching to the beat of our own techno-drum, effortlessly recharging at any myriad of lounges, stations, and even a man in a human charger suit. The novelty of the suit stood out – for a day.
(photo courtesy Shwen Gwee - @shwen)
In reality, this crowd is one step away from Ray Kurzweil’s vision of computers being seen as human (don’t we already love our iPhones?) – in my opinion, we’re past the technology, the app, platform or device itself, being the story – we need to be looking at networks and community. The next “big thing” isn’t any one app or platform, but the infrastructure beneath it – the actual network that interconnects us and the community created by the social network overlay on which that platform thrives. If we’re to see the future of technology, we need to look at interconnectivity, networking and the community the technology creates, and to how that community is then enabled to change the world. In my opinion, there was not one clear technology, platform or app “winner” of SXSWi – the winner was the (social) network itself.
Apps of note: keep an eye out for some cool apps we saw debut this year including Everything.me (redefining mobile search), Highlight (it's creepy, but everyone will be talking about ambient location, so keep up), Take this Lollipop (even creepier interactive FB app) and hey, Angry Birds launched in space.
Next post: SXSWrapUp - Content