Thoughts on SXSWi 2010

Hallway crowds

I’m bad at remembering to write post-event reports. I get home, the exhaustion sets in, there’s work to catch up on, and by the time I get around to it all the interesting things have slipped my mind. So this time I’m forcing myself to get it done, tired or not.

The past breakout success of Twitter and other services at SXSW means that there’s often an anticipation that each year we’ll discover the next big new thing. I saw a bunch of commentary leading up the event trying to guess what that would be. But honestly? I think the current wave of social/mobile technology is in a middle stage of development now, where most of the groundbreaking has happened, the services are scaling out, and the surrounding environment hasn’t changed enough to cause substantially new things to emerge.

Twitter is still the clear winner for keeping in touch with people at this sort of event. I saw DMs used as a proxy for SMS, several friends CCing people to keep them in the loop, and frequent hashtagging for context (most entertaining hashtag activity: coming up with alternate, shorter hashtags for panels because the official ones were long and unwieldy).

Having to check into both Foursquare and Gowalla to find out where my friends are is not particularly efficient, but I’m not sure I want that kind of efficiency in a non-SXSW context.

I still like the gameplay in Foursquare best, of the location-tracking apps I’ve used in the last year. (But Gowalla won the party competition, with Diplo performing.)

There were a few new event-sharing sorts of things getting attention this year. I didn’t end up using Plancast at all in Austin, but I’d like to see how it could be used with Calagator for Portland events. Sitby.us had (by far) the best mobile schedule-browsing interface of the options I tried, but checking into a session room never led to a friend coming to find me and grab a seat in the same row. Again, I’m not sure there’s much new happening with these services, just different implementations trying out combinations of features, smoothing out the interface, finding out which parts are sticky enough to keep people coming back.

All this isn’t to say I didn’t see anything fun or interesting. The panel I was most looking forward to, on post-digital design, did not disappoint. I liked the session on recommendation engines (featuring wacky correlations from Hunch), and seeing crazy hackerspace projects, and Clay Shirky prodding people to think about why we share content, and what that means for those who create it.

I also had some fun music experiences, talked to people I haven’t seen in a while, met new people, and worked on ideas for a couple of new projects (keywords: party bus and “the fine line between creepy and fun”).

Oh yeah, and I took a few pictures. I’ll probably have more to say about that too.

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6 responses to “Thoughts on SXSWi 2010

  1. Very good, honest, thought out review. Thanks for keeping it real!

  2. If sitby.us had the layout of the Radisson, I’d have been able to sit next to you! Would it have changed your perspective if it happened only once?

    I agree with your take on being in the middle stage of development for the social technology we use. I think the next year will be about finding ways to integrate what we have while not taking the individuality out of each service. For providers, they’ll be looking at how they can support integration while maintaining enough control to make it worth their while.

  3. @adamd: Even once would’ve been a great proof-of-concept. It seemed like they had the right idea, it just didn’t pan out this time. I’d like to see it in action again at another conference (maybe osbridge?).

    It’s interesting that you mention the integration/control issue, since that’s part of what I’m trying to poke at with the creepy vs. fun thing. Companies and individuals are both dealing with those trade-offs, just from different perspectives.

  4. I am so jealous of anyone who gets to experience SXSW, I am a big fan of many of the acts appearing! Shagbots from my hometown are going to be bad ass!!

  5. The ‘real’ next big thing is called Anybodyoutthere, it’s an amazing platform, really worth a try.
    But it could be just as well Chatroulette (not really cos it’s NSFW).

  6. Awesome post..you should totally write your thoughts in the Lunch SXSW community!