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.

53 Replies to “SXSW Interactive 2012: As Crowd Swells, New Technologies Emerge for Intimate Relationships”

  1. Terrific stuff, Jeremiah. Couldn’t make it this year (and glad I didn’t
    since I’ve been knocked out by a bad cold). But can still absorb some of
    the wisdom from the comfort of my couch. Enjoy the rest of it!

  2. I am referring to old school texting via Google Voice. Nothing fancy, but I relied on it for one on one conversations. GroupMe groups were amazing for making plans and finding friends in a crowd. I also used Foursquare a bit, but it gets noisy with too many connections.

  3. Terrific post, Jeremiah.   

    It’s interesting to see the scant number of Foursquare mentions from SXSW other than (well-deserved) congratulations on their third anniversary. As smart and as ubiquitous as Foursquare has become, it seems they’ve become less of an innovator as most of their new announcements seem cosmetic. The features of v3.0, from Explore to featuring hours of operation, seem like expected iterations of their basic platform. Perhaps its unfair to expect Foursquare to break truly new ground, such as the approaches from Highlight, Glancee, etc.  But it’s surprising how little Foursquare’s developments resonate with your three 2012 research themes. 

    With Gowalla’s demise and the ascension of Hollywood, I can’t help but think a door is open for a brand new transmedia company to make a splash at a future SXSW…probably not next year, but surely by the year after that.

  4. Foursquare appeared to be alive and well, but checkin is just a feature.  There were many tweets claiming badges and swarm badges so I think it will still persist through the gaming aspect.

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  6. Another interesting phenomenon is that one doesn’t need a badge anymore to enjoy SXSW.  I noticed several folks who did not buy a badge and were able to attend many off campus events, panels, during the day. At night, they were able to attend events, parties, during the evening, or just milled about the conference main floor or street to interact.

    In fact, Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells helped to promote a new movement called Badgeless

    https://twitter.com/#!/sxswbadgeless

    Ken Yeung did a post on this
    http://bub.blicio.us/badgeless-at-sxsw-2012/

    Heck there’s a whole website and CAL discussing events that can be attended without a badge.
    http://badgeless2012.com/about-badgeless-2012/

    As a result, I also learned that the SXSW organizers sent staff to ‘officially’ promoted parties to check badges off the main campus.  

    This creates an interesting dynamic as an event becomes so successful, one doesn’t need to  purchase a badge to be involved, offering an interesting new business opportunity for conferences.  

  7. Another interesting phenomenon is that one doesn’t need a badge anymore to enjoy SXSW.  I noticed several folks who did not buy a badge and were able to attend many off campus events, panels, during the day. At night, they were able to attend events, parties, during the evening, or just milled about the conference main floor or street to interact.

    In fact, Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells helped to promote a new movement called Badgeless

    https://twitter.com/#!/sxswbadgeless

    Ken Yeung did a post on this
    http://bub.blicio.us/badgeless-at-sxsw-2012/

    Heck there’s a whole website and CAL discussing events that can be attended without a badge.
    http://badgeless2012.com/about-badgeless-2012/

    As a result, I also learned that the SXSW organizers sent staff to ‘officially’ promoted parties to check badges off the main campus.  

    This creates an interesting dynamic as an event becomes so successful, one doesn’t need to  purchase a badge to be involved, offering an interesting new business opportunity for conferences.  

  8. The legacy of technologies issues had something to do with the bonding relationships. marketers knew the existence sense of lost greatness might have inspired them. More concretely, revival of specific achievements like reputated firms helped stabilize and modern trends.

  9. Great post Jeremiah. As a Marketing Technologist, I was excited for the crop of proximity-based apps to take off. I had a bunch of them loaded and I tried them out from time to time. But they never provided any benefit to me. I never had any trouble finding my Boston crew using other apps like GroupMe, twitter DMs or texting.

    My other thought is that the old apps continue to improve and solve for real needs. My most used apps, in addition to those above were: Evernote and Foursquare. It makes me wonder if we’ve reached a lull in what we can do with the available mobile hardware and network speeds.

  10. I was #badgeless2012 and still had a great time (despite not running into you – ha).  I didn’t realize I was part of the “cool kids” club in making this choice.

  11. I was #badgeless2012 and still had a great time (despite not running into you – ha).  I didn’t realize I was part of the “cool kids” club in making this choice.

  12. I heard many complaints about too much noise and chatter with GroupMe and the group texting services. I think they will be outdone by social planning apps like Wendr and @GonnaBeApp:twitter  in the coming year. I’m surprised there was no mention here of their presence and usage @SXSW:twitter  (along with UberLife, Glomper, etc.)

  13. I heard many complaints about too much noise and chatter with GroupMe and the group texting services. I think they will be outdone by social planning apps like Wendr and @GonnaBeApp:twitter  in the coming year. I’m surprised there was no mention here of their presence and usage @SXSW:twitter  (along with UberLife, Glomper, etc.)

  14. John, I agree there wasn’t a clear breakout winner out of the pack of proximity social networks.  Maybe the data set was too dense at SXSW, you already see those you know. 

  15. Thanks David.  Content sources (celebs, consumers, brands) are now mixing in multiple media sources (Mainstream media, social) at mixed venues (Sharing stage at SXSW) to create a new form of media.  Hopefully we can just drop the descriptors and call it ‘media’.

  16. Thanks David.  Content sources (celebs, consumers, brands) are now mixing in multiple media sources (Mainstream media, social) at mixed venues (Sharing stage at SXSW) to create a new form of media.  Hopefully we can just drop the descriptors and call it ‘media’.

  17. Thanks for the update Jeremiah. I didn’t attend this year and I more interested to hear about smaller conferences are emerging on your radar which may carry the spirit of SXSWi was 5-6 ago? Any thoughts? 

  18. Wow Yann there’s quite a few smaller conference that provide a more intimate and deeper vibe.  I post all those that I attend on my blog (speaking page) and also look at Plancast to find other events.  Jason Falls throws some great events, I’d connect with him.

  19. Great observations. I was there four the fourth consecutive year. The dynamic has definitely shifted from what may have been it’s corp ethos. I think it’s natural however as the tech sector has grown from basements to boardrooms.

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  21. Jeremiah, off hand do you know any SXSW 2012 attendees that had significant success from a business perspective? Who were the Twitter and Foursquare startups of 2012? The company I work with is deciding if we should attend. While I am aware of connections alone that are worth so much, I am still curious of the ROI. Any insight would be fantastic 🙂

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