What rawked at SxSW

21 Mar 2010|Lee Shupp

I’m just back from South by Southwest Interactive (SxSWi), and what a fun and fast 5 days in Austin! This is my third year to attend in a row, and as usual there were more panels, people, and parties than humanly possible to see.

SxSWi is one of my favorite conferences. The emphasis is on new ideas, technology, and companies, so I see lots of innovation, often in early and raw form. (SxSWi is famous for being the launching pad for Twitter and other start-ups.) The conference skews much younger than most other conferences that I attend, so I get to immerse in a very Millennial view of technology. I love learning how younger people are aggressively adopting technology, and using it much different than older folks.

Here are my crib notes from SxSWi 2010:

The conference was bigger this year (17,000 people, up around 40% from last year), with longer lines, and popular panels filling up very quickly. The official parties were packed with people, with long lines outside, so I skipped most of them for smaller venues with more breathing room. Fortunately the panels were a bit better organized, with related panels grouped into categories, and held in the same general area. This saved some long treks across the convention center, which was a very good thing.

All the keynotes were good, but standouts for me was dana boyd’s passionate plea for privacy. dana made a strong case that privacy is not dead, even though some companies claim that it’s becoming less important. dana is an ethnographer and designer who works with teens and young adults, and she believes that privacy remains important. The boundaries are shifting between public and private spaces, and it is the boundaries between the two spaces that we are still figuring out. The mobile phone is a good example, as it feels like a very personal and private device to us (holding contacts, addresses, events, and our photos) yet it also broadcasts public information (our location) that allows many new services, which sit right on the edge between “personalized” and “invasive.”

The biggest themes:
Geosocial apps, with Foursquare and Gowalla facing off with competing parties. There was rapid adoption of both applications by attendees, who immediately put them into use to find the best parties. This resulted in swarms of digital locusts consuming everything in sight at parties with free food and drink, before moving en masse to the next event.
Geo-location, with myriad apps being developed based on the location based awareness of phones. This will be a crowded space very soon.
Social marketing, which for this generation is a given, and is more important than traditional marketing, especially for start-ups with small budgets.
Design thinking- lots of ” little d” design focused on tactical execution, with some “big D” design thinking and strategy as well.
Sustainability and designing for good were also important themes.

The audience was comprised of mostly Millennial movers and shakers in technology, with a few Gen X elders. There were very few boomers. I saw more women, blacks and Latinos that I see at most tech conferences, which is a very good thing. Americans, of course, are more diverse in younger age cohorts, and Texas is a very diverse state.
Hardware of choice: Mac laptop, iPhone
Software of choice: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, Mozilla.
Vibe: young, hip, smart, serious, fun.
Focus: Entrepreneurial, new ideas, new technologies and new companies.

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