South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) is an annual five-day convention in Austin, Texas, for digital enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and brands to showcase digital knowledge and products. The show is hosted at the Austin Convention Center, and social activities, brand activations and panels and workshops are held throughout the city.
This year, five themes seemed to stick out at the conference – starting conversations without news, groundbreaking technology from big brands, “change the world” mentality, harnessing mobile and the de-evolution of start-ups.
1. Starting Conversations Without News
Media companies Forbes and Yahoo! (this link currently defaults to SXSW Music coverage, but you can sort by Interactive content to see the items Yahoo! shared during SXSWi specifically) had significant presences at SXSWi, but didn’t have anything newsworthy to share. Rather, they focused on curating content and participating in already-existing news cycles, and then building those touch points into sustainable conversations with influencers – giving them the ability to turn offline interactions into online content.
2. Groundbreaking Technology From Big Brands
Google Glass stole the show in terms of online conversation volume and overall attendee awareness. Love it or hate it, Google has an innovative, game-changing product on its hands. Leap Motion technology, similar to Kinect for Xbox 360, was another standout due to its real-world use potential. 3D printing has an opportunity to revolutionize design and production, bringing ideas to life almost instantly. Space exploration was also a popular topic, with NASA showing off its successor to the Hubble telescope at the show. The common factor of these highlights is that each involves hardware, not software. Famously, SXSWi helped launch eventual social network/software giants Twitter (2007) and Foursquare (2010), but no such software arose at SXSWi this year.
3. “Change the World” Mentality
Attendees of SXSWi have a desire to change the world. They dove into the digital space with the aspiration of spreading their messages to the masses in an effort to revolutionize, help or change perceptions. Countless dollars are spent by sponsoring brands, making non-profits more of a subculture at the convention. That said, the optimism and desire to innovate for good are pervasive themes among attendees and sessions throughout the show, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a heavier emphasis placed on non-profits and “tech for good” in future years.
4. Harnessing Mobile
Transportation companies Uber and SideCar made a splash at SXSWi by enabling easy access to rides around the city and beyond via simple, effective mobiles apps. Mobile apps that provided a service to attendees were the ones that were highly adopted. Other apps, notably Hater, generated buzz. (Hater has been described as an Instagram of things people hate, giving users an opposite of Facebook’s Like button and Twitter’s favoriting.) Numbers around whether the app is actually being adopted rather than simply being talked about are yet to be released.
5. The De-Evolution of Start-Ups
Being an official sponsor of SXSWi is expensive; being anywhere in Austin during SXSW is expensive. For start-ups, whose budgets range from tight to non-existent, justifying the expense of a noticeable presence at SXSWi is becoming more difficult. Every start-up wants to believe it can be the next Twitter or Foursquare, but with the surplus of start-ups in the digital space, it’s unlikely that SXSWi will offer the springboard needed to get in the spotlight. Plus, big brands, like Google and NASA dominated the news and conversations this year, limiting start-ups to the back seat.
SXSWi is a great place to stay in tune with current digital trends and discover what new trends are on the horizon. What takeaways did you have from the show or its coverage?