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SXSW 2013: A Recap

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SXSW is an annual Music, Film and Interactive festival, but in recent years it has become most well-known for the interactive aspect of it as technology is increasingly present in our lives and some major start-ups have gotten their launch at the festival. Twitter famously got its start at the 2007 festival and Foursquare at the 2009 festival. The founder of Foursquare this year said “SXSW is the place you come to live in the future for a few days, then you go back home to living in the present.” This festival really is about the trends in technology that we will see emerging among the masses over the next several years. Much of the technology discussed at the festival may not hit the mainstream for a couple of years.

This year there were over 30,000 attendees at just the technology festival, which lasts five days in Austin, TX. These attendees include developers, designers, entrepreneurs, marketers, major brands and technology companies.

I think I am still recovering from the busy days at SXSW Interactive 2013, but while the learning and experience is still fresh on my mind, I wanted to provide a quick recap of the top themes we heard during the five day interactive conference. Here you go:

  • Hardware. What did we hear a lot about this year? The hardware rather than the software. Google Glass–the glasses that have a screen that shows essentially what is on your phone screen and allows wearer to take pictures, search maps, talk with friends and much more–was demo-ed (and they were really cool!). MakerBot–a digital printing machine company–introduced a new product called the Replicator that can replicated 3-dimensional objects (it looks like something from the future, but it will be available in the fall for consumer purchase). Design of wearable technology–like the Nike FuelBand and Jawbone UP–that track your movements in an effort to improve well-being, were much discussed. Google even demonstrated custom sneakers (not for sale, but to demonstrate the kinds of technology that can be developed on their platforms) that talk to you about your movements; it was quite entertaining–the wearer can choose different personalities like sarcastic, encouraging or bossy. There are scales that tweet your weightwatches that track your heart rate and cameras you can wear that take pictures every 30 seconds, recording your day in images.
  • Data. All of this technology is generating massive amounts of data about each and every one of us. How that data is crunched and used was also a point of heavy discussion. With data like this available, people like Nate Silver (a speaker at the conference) is able to accurately crunch numbers to predict the presidential election. And marketers can target you for very specific products that are relevant to you based on your lifestyle, online activity and preferences that you have shared. This is why you see online banner ads seemingly following you around the internet for products you have searched or sites you have visited or get coupons at the grocery store that are related to some of the other products that you buy. With more and more of our data entering the cloud, this kind of targeting will only increase and become more precise.
  • Space. Surprisingly (or perhaps not considering the move to privatization of NASA), space travel was a hot topic with about 15 sessions dedicated specifically to this topic and one of the most popular keynote speakers was the CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, who is working to privately fund space travel.
  • Viral. And, because everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, there was a lot of talk about the making of memes and viral videos and in general how to get your content noticed and spread on the web. One of the most popular appearances at the festival was Grumpy Cat, a cat that became an internet meme; there were lines three hours long waiting to get a photo made with Grumpy Cat. And of course, talk about how videos like Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake go viral. So marketers and want-to-be-internet celebrities were paying close attention to these conversations and how to use sites like Reddit and BuzzFeed to find an audience. The founder of BuzzFeed was a featured speaker and gave insights about the kinds of content that is innately shareable on the web: cute animals, nostalgia, heart-warming moments, and human rights, among other things.

Stone Ward was blogging throughout the conference to share our learnings day by day. You can find all the posts related to SXSW on this link.

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