It’s quite hard to avoid suffering from FOMO at SXSW. Over the course of a few days there are literally hundreds of sessions, and almost as many parties and events. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten better at realizing that its impossible to see it all, so now I don’t even try.
While I may have only gone to a handful of sessions, parties and events, and can by no means claim to have had a comprehensive overview of the festival, I won’t let this stop me putting together some thoughts and musings on this year’s SXSW Interactive.
Ever since Twitter “broke” at SXSW in 2007, and foursquare to a lesser degree in 2008, many people all try to guess who or what will emerge as the next big app of the festival. Because of this, seemingly every single website, app, or tech related service now launches at the festival, or has a major presence, and as a result there doesn’t tend to be any clear break away app or product.
Its much easier to identify certain trends, and from my perspective, here are a few:
1) Brands have finally showed up!
In the past, the interactive festival has been attended primarily by developers, start-ups, venture capitalists, and agencies. And to my mind, this was finally the year that brands attended the festival in force. There seemed to be a lot more brand managers, marketers and communications professionals in attendance. Good for them, this stuff is too important not to learn first hand.
2) Data overload and the disappearing interface
There were a lot of conversations this year about data overload. As more and more data (be it valuable or not so valuable data) continues to come at us on our multitudes of devices, we need to find ways to digest this information in increasingly intuitive and efficient ways. Ways that don’t distract from our real world experience, but instead augment it.
At least two companies brought this to the forefront at this year’s festival. Leap Motion demonstrated their gesture-based technology that enables users to get at and manipulate data and content in new and (ostensibly) more powerful ways. While it is very cool to control a computer with hand gestures – and I’d be the first to scrap my mouse – it will be interesting to see exactly how this “minority report”technology will ultimately be adapted (vs other emerging interface technologies, like say voice navigation). Its great for moulding virtual clay, and not an ideal way to navigate a spreadsheet, but where the exact sweet spot for gesture technology is has yet to be determined. What is for certain is that a lot of people are definitely interested in finding out. Leap Motion is taking pre-orders, and at $79.99, sales are in the hundreds of thousands.
Google Glasses were also featured in a keynote this year, and the debate rages as to whether sporting these devices will in fact get technology out of the way, or turn us all in to “glassholes”. For more on this see the related article in The Verge:
3) A MakerBot Scanner!
MakerBot announced a 3-D scanner at their SXSW keynote. This is just really cool. Way cooler than the line-ups to get a picture with grumpy cat.
The 3-D scanner is being touted as a device that will enable your to “archive your possessions or save your kid’s play-dough sculptures.” As CNET says, its “real world cut and paste”.
Until now, the problem with 3-D printers was the need to model an object in 3-D before you could print it. Now with the 3-D scanner, you can scan an object in 3-D, and simply feed it into a 3-D printer when you need another one!
This year’s SXSW has taught me that we are one step closer to the Star Trek, but it’ll probably be a while before we can replicate tomato soup.
4) The Quantified Self
There is continued interest in, and many panels about the quantified self-movement. This movement quantifies how new technology and devices enable us to track and learn more about our health, our moods, and performance.
It’s worth noting that until recently this has been a very grass roots movement, with over one hundred Self Quantified groups in 31 countries around the world and growing.
Once these products start opening up their APIs to developers and agencies, so that third parties can get access to and mine this data, we can expect to see a lot more innovation and growth in this area.
This will lead to powerful and innovative ways to connect consumers more closely with brands. And much more importantly , if you’ll allow me to get all utopian about it, self quantification holds the promise of bettering humans by the provision of objective and quantifiable data. The tradeoff is that also has the potential to contribute big time to the data glut (See trend number 2 above).
5) Mezcal is really awesome!
6) How much bigger can this festival get?
Like every year, it seems that the festival is getting bigger, and more international. It just doesn’t seem like it could possible grow any more, but each year it does. The interesting part of this is that it would appear as if Austin’s infrastructure can’t really handle this anymore. Just ask anyone who stayed at a house or hotel 30 miles out from the conference, or ask the people who spent a few hours out in the rain at 2am trying desperately to catch a cab or a shuttle bus.
It will be interesting to see how the festival organizers try to resolve the challenges that result from continued growth at SXSWi in 2014.
I can’t wait to find out!