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Top 5 SXSW observations

After just returning from my first South by Southwest (SXSW) conference I can first and foremost say I am exhausted. It is a whirlwind 5 days with constant motion and activity. The throngs of smart and driven people was something that restored my faith in the business and tech world. There still are people out there that are changing the way the world works every day, heck every minute, not solely because of the money to be gained, but because of the challenge and ability to shape the future. The opportunity to meet with and just chat with these minds was the greatest benefit I received during my time in Austin.

For all of you who weren’t able to make the journey here is a quick run-down of my top 5 observations after the show. These are a mix of new technologies, content review and philosophical musings. (Please also take a look at what my fellow attendee, Parker Trewin (article) thought about the show.)

  1. Group texting – Everyone was talking about it, it is essentially AOL chat rooms on your phones. This has the potential to really change the way we communicate, however emails and twitter were still the primary use of communication for me and my colleagues. I think this has to do with the need for yet another app on our already overloaded smart phones. I already have multiple messaging services on my phone and to have another one that needs attention seems like a stretch. I’m sure I will change my mind on this shortly just like I did 2 years ago with Twitter. For those of you looking to check out this new technology I suggest GroupMe, not only because they hooked up free grilled cheese all week but because their app is the easiest to use whether you have an iPhone or Android.
  2. No one is wireless – Everyone had the latest smartphones, laptops and iPads, yet the most crowded places in the whole event were the massive charging stations. Chevy sponsored a charging station, (in promotion of their new Volt electric car) that could probably support 100 devices at once. With all the talk about our mobility no one could ever go the whole day without being tightly attached to the wall. Even at night people had their charges in their pockets to try and squeeze out a few more minutes of battery (myself definitely included).
  3. Geo-location is everywhere and nowhere at the same time – While it seemed like everyone was using Foursquare and Gowalla to check-in, it seemed like there was no point other than just fitting into the crowd. I definitely used the services just like everyone else, but it really was just because everyone else was, I didn’t do it to get any special prizes. The idea of geo-location is great and will have lots of practical uses, but in my opinion location based check-in services don’t seem to be the wave of the future. I think these will be features of future apps not the sole app.
  4. Twitter and Facebook had zero branded presence – the two leaders of the social movement, and which most of the apps shown were built intimately with, had absolutely no visible presence at the show. I don’t think this hurts the brands in any way of course, I just found it slightly odd that they biggest players in the future of the web and technology don’t show up to arguably the biggest event in that space. They had no booth at the trade show, no sponsored parties, or even guerrilla style marketing or presence.
  5. The conference sessions weren’t where the learnings came from – The consensus on the content of the sessions was that it was very weak. Not very innovative or actionable. However every person I talked to was very forward thinking with ideas that they could hardly get out of their head fast enough. This to me was worth the trip, the individual and personal interactions that I had with other attendees. Cozying up to CEOs, entrepreneurs, and major nerds was fascinating and I loved every minute of it.

Did you make it to the show? We would love to hear from you on what you thought or if you have any questions I’d be happy to discuss what I learned and observed in the comments.

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