SXSW Interactive 2012: As Crowd Swells, New Technologies Emerge for Intimate Relationships

Left: Austin on Sunday, after rain dispersed.

If you didn’t attend SXSW and want a first hand perspective (or maybe you did go and partied too hard) then this post is for you.

There’s a lot to learn from SXSW: A Petri dish of social and interactive behaviors, a bellwether of what could be a trend for the year. It also has a downside from overhype, fanboyism, and an over inflated view of behaviors that may not persist as people return to work.

This year the conference was bigger than ever, word on the street is the entire 2012 festival has grown to include 50k (Tuesday evening, the festival said its official paid attendance count for 2012 was 24,569, up from 19,364 in 2011, a change of about 27 percent —via Omar of Austin 360, hat tip to Bryan Person) Secondly, interactive is getting larger each year, including dozens of sessions not in the convention center. After visiting SXSW five years consecutively, there’s a few observations (not strong enough to be called trends) I wanted to point out from my perspective:

Observation Set 1: In a sea of noise, new technologies emerged to foster intimacy

  • With this many people this year, the need for smaller more intimate social networks to find ones friends was more important. Tools like Groupme (a darling last year) become very important among the SF tech contingent stemming around Chris Saad.
  • Interestingly the rain caused some interesting changes to the social dynamics resulting in people staying longer at events for longer periods of time, and less venturing about the city and allowing for happenstance meetups in the street.
  • Heavy usage of proximity based social networks like Highlight, Glance, EchoEcho, Banjo and Sonar resulted in rapid battery drain forcing social circles around those who had power and those who did not. Although these tools were hyped to be the darlings of this event, a clearly winner didn’t emerge as the dominant player.
  • Surprisingly, the conference really struggled with processing the registration line, some folks were in line for over an hour trying to get their printed badge. It’s surprised that low fi technology of sending a pre-printed badge wasn’t done, or a new form of registration using mobile applications, or some type of bio scanning hasn’t been experimented with.
  • The panel I was on “How social media comes of age –beyond porn” discussed how social technologies are mainstream and the opportunities for yielded data are at hand. Adrants was there covering our session.

Observation Set 2: The Sentient World continues to emerge as appliances, cars, and body data emerge to glean intelligence

  • I experimented with a number of interactive digital displays including Pepsi’s booth which had a interesting phone booth that allows for interaction with LED screens that will soon be integrated with vending machines.
  • Nike launched the fuel band, a device that captures movement of the human body and scores it with points (not an entirely scientific method, for example it doesn’t capture heart rate, sweat, GPS )
  • Chevy, a heavy sponsor at SXSW had a strong presence at a number of key events including lounges and the famed All Hat event (by Binhammer, Armano, and Livingston), as well as featured their volts with first generation network screen technology for drivers to have independent TV and games for passengers including skype integration on a 4G network.
  • Samsung sponsored the Blogger Lounge featuring their latest TV technology that will offer facial recognition, gesture recognition, and has voice command capability from the TV and an onboard mic on the remote.

Observation Set 3: Corporate Business continues to adopt interactive technologies and their presence was felt

Observation Set 4: Hollywood appearances increased in frequency, crossing interactive and L.A.

  • In prior years, the perceived celebrities were entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, Biz Stone, Diggnation founders, yet this year, the real stars at select parties were Hollywood celebrities turned technology investors including Leo Dicpario, Toby Maguire and wife spotted Jimmy Fallon at the W during, among performances by George Clinton and JayZ.
  • This will create a unique interaction over the coming periods as Hollywood (pro-digital rights) battles with technology companies who challenger their very business model for open data.

From an Altimeter perspective, we had five analysts on the ground covering keynotes, book signings, panels and more, and we announced our Three Disruptive Research Themes at our cocktail event Friday evening (and how we want to work with the market to align around these) and we’re pleased our last-minute -created branded umbrellas (thanks Shannon Geise) found to be a useful piece of swag during the conference. (pics here, here, here, and here)

Update: See comments about the growing “badgeless” movement below, and also my colleague Chris Silva (Mobile Analyst) shares his thoughts.