SXSWi 4 Years On…
Four years ago I attended my first SXSWi conference with the Walmart Elevenmoms bloggers. I was amazed by the burgeoning industry I saw unfolding and the changes it would have on the media and retail categories in particular. Foursquare’s launch that year spawned several new upstarts including Whrrl and Gowalla. Facebook and Twitter were just emerging and there was a general sense of excitement and anticipation about what was next.
Wow, have times changed. SXSWi has become to the social media industry what CES was to the computer world back in the 1990′s (when people still used computers…). Attendance has skyrocketed and where a scant collection of fortune 500 companies had nascent presence in 2009, leading brands are here in full force today. Whrrl and Gowalla are no more and Foursquare is revamping its strategy to focus on recommendations. A bevy of new start-ups are taking their shots at SXSWi catapults including a rash of proximity services and social content management systems.
Collective Bias CSMO, Ted Rubin, was my co-attendee and roommate (got to be frugal in a small, growing company and rooms are like a gazillion dollars.) We spent much of our time discussing what we saw and where the industry might be headed. Below are 11 takeaways we discussed during our time at SXSWi 2012.
1. Location is supposedly dead – people were tripping over themselves pronouncing the death of Location Based Services (LBS) even while most apps and mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook have integrated and are using location. I guess Path should shut down…(please don’t I love Path).
2. Crowdsourcing is alive and well and being used in some very interesting ways. Ted and I attended the MoFilm party and saw an amazing short film (read commercial) content created through MoFilm’s platform. The winner, a spot for Fidelity was simply amazing.
3. Proximity services were all the rage. Ban.jo and Highlight, for example, let you know which of your social connections are around you. Interesting, but I typically already know who is around, because I’m paying attention to their content streams. The user interfaces on many of these apps are amazing. Not sure how these aren’t LBS, because they sure look like them to me and any hope of monetization would be some sort of LBS dependent advertising I’d imagine.
I’m trying Ban.jo for 30 days, it will be interesting to see how knowing who is around me changes how I interact with place. (Test update, I like Ban.jo but it’s a little stalker-riffic but I’ve actually made some connections using the app). Seems like more of a feature than a full-fledged platform.
4. Piranha Killer Sushi has some mighty fine sushi and service, that is all.
5. “Not much is new” is a constant theme I heard from attendees. The unwritten graffiti is that the space is developing and changing very quickly. It was all the rage to talk about how “over” Foursquare is, um what? I’ll bet Foursquare will be just fine and develop some nice monetization streams judging from the brand and retail social leaders I’ve talked to recently that are actively rolling up their sleeves and testing what consumers will actually use (weird I know, but it works).
6. Any sticker-able surface was covered in plastic wrap as social folks will coat any flat surface with industry logos. At Collective Bias, we’ve come up with a more environmentally friendly (and less hated by restaurant manager’s) tschotske, a logo’ed plug cover. Just trying to keep our innovation skills sharp.
7. The hands down coolest promo I saw was the FedEx USB coats. People could plug their devices into ports in the coats and the FedEx rep would walk along with you to your destination. Super-cool idea if not a bit weird to see a bunch of folks walking along plugged into a single human battery. There was also a use of homeless folks for human wifi which sparked some controversy. In several conversations I had about the topic the final result ended in a general discussion about the problem of homelessness in general and how there are no easy and simple answers.
9. The lake trail in Austin is awesome. I managed to get in a daily run and a nice long walk with @TedRubin. Started using the Nike+ app since it syncs with Path and has some great gamification that is actually encouraging me to run more often (too bad location is dead). Running was helpful since I was unable to resist my urge to partake in as much great food as possible from Stubbs, Salt Lick and the occasional street vendor.
10. Hardware and Accessories – Very cool to see key device manufacturers participating in the trade show. I bought a very cool Mophie key chain back-up battery that will charge an iPhone to 40% power. Also caught up with my friend Brian Ewing, from Otterbox, and had a great discussion about naked phones. I assured Brian that all of my other family members devices are suitably armored with Otterbox protection, I just have the front pocket barrier to use!
11. The most talked about marketing placement according to my highly unscientific memory pool was Catch a Chevy. Lots of great wrapped Chevy products running around that you could flag down and hope a ride somewhere.
That’s it. I like watching the space grow, I’m sure next year will be even larger and more out of control, get this airline fix and rooms booked now.