March 19, 2012

SXSW recap: In case you missed anything

Posted by: in North America

Our recap of the overwhelming, (at times) inspiring, soggy-turned-sunny experience that defined this year’s SXSW Interactive merely skims the surface of the event in terms of conversations and content. Anything more would be a near impossibility, given the 100-some parties and 1,100-plus panels and presentations ranging in focus from branding, journalism and science to convergence, culture and gaming (and those were only the ones on the official docket!).

“It’s hard to maintain the intimacy that you had in the early days,” observed Gawker Media founder and SXSW panelist Nick Denton. He was referring to online reader comments, but the observation applies equally to the Austin interactive conference, which celebrated its 18th year this month. Some put the attendance at 50,000, and while that may be an exaggeration, it sure felt a long way from intimate.

The aim of social network Path is to bring intimacy back to the Web, with a friend limit of 150. The point is to “share more frequently with the people you love the most,” said Dave Morin, co-founder and CEO of the two-year-old startup, on a panel loosely based on happiness. Morin also pointed to data’s role in helping us improve our health and our happiness, offering as an example the Nike+ FuelBand, a wristband that syncs with smartphones to help wearers monitor their daily activity via an app.

Big Data is a hot topic across the conference circuit, and SXSW was no exception. At the SoLoMo Redefined session, Matt Galligan, co-founder of forthcoming Circa, a stealthy news content startup, emphasized that people will soon begin to realize the monetary value of the data they’re generating with each mouse click across the Web. And Chris Messina, an open Web advocate at Google, spotlighted the rise of the “data privileged,” those who manage to derive advantages from the data they’re creating in the form of discounts, deals and the like. Of course, this all depends on consumers’ willingness to trust apps not to embarrass them by sharing too much information and on the way laws evolve to address new privacy concerns.

Reflecting today’s data-driven, real-time world, some speakers voiced caution over knee-jerk reactions to the chattering class. “Twitter and Internet comments have scared people—they have hindered experimentation,” commented Gawker’s Denton, pointing to Gap’s quick about-face last year when some consumers greeted its new logo with disdain. On the other hand, Steve Jobs found great success in completely disregarding naysayers. “In the end, Steve Jobs wore down the Apple critics,” Denton said.

Among those in agreement was Billy Corgan. Following the audience “kills the artistic impetus to move forward,” the irreverent Smashing Pumpkins frontman told an audience at the Austin Convention Center last Tuesday. “One moment of inspired insanity becomes a negative. … Asking artists to take this ride up and down the social chain is [ludicrous].”

In a provocative Q&A with Brian Solis, author of The End of Business as Usual, Corgan railed against a culture that no longer supports music with substance yet champions American Idol-like clones that churn out “laptop rock.” “We have to be responsible for the culture we’re creating,” he said. “If you care about your world, you have to understand your responsibility in that world. You can’t hide in the [masses].”

Calling music streaming services like Spotify a transitional model, Corgan offered some suggestions for artists looking for sustaining success: “You can no longer think of the thing that you make as your main source of income. Music is still my center, but I have to be bigger. … Artists have to create their own worlds. [They have] to figure out a way to drive people to them.”

Al Gore and Sean Parker discussing media and politics

Clearly it has been the end of business as usual in the music industry for some time now, with Napster marking a watershed moment back in 1999. Interestingly, Napster co-founder Sean Parker shared a stage at the convention center later that afternoon with Al Gore. The serial entrepreneur was there not to talk music but politics. Parker’s latest goal: getting more people signed on to his fundraising platform, Causes, and then moving them up the ladder of engagement—turning them from slacktivists (aka armchair activists) into more informed and engaged citizens. “A well-informed democracy is integral to a functional democracy,” Parker said, adding “We’ve been exceptionally apathetic.”

Both Gore and Parker aim to lower the costs of a viable candidacy and increase the number of informed and empowered citizens, using digital tools. “The role of money has grown and grown and grown. And the quality of the political discourse has gone down and down and down,” said Gore, who wants to start an “Occupy Democracy” movement.

Promising startups were everywhere at this year’s SXSW, with the passive location-based apps Glancee and Highlight among the most talked about. JWT’s Gemma Pollard walked the exhibition floor on Tuesday and filed a post on the upstarts she found most interesting.

For fledgling tech companies looking to pitch agencies and brands, JWT New York chief creative innovation officer James Cooper dispensed some advice along with David Tisch, managing director of the startup accelerator program TechStars in New York. For more on what they had to say at this Sunday panel, check out this Adweek story.

The Warby Parker party

While many spent their last night in Austin scamming tickets to the American Express-sponsored Jay-Z concert, we opted for a more subdued but civic-minded Warby Parker party that featured a quirky performance by vaudeville-inspired troop The Citizens Band. A few nights before, JWT hosted a capacity crowd at the Kung Fu Saloon, with the overflow partiers enjoying libations a block away at The Brew Exchange. For those who couldn’t get in, you missed out; we certainly messed with Texas!

Speaking of, with so much going on simultaneously at SXSW and so many at-capacity events, Fear Of Missing Out is rampant, with FOMO references flying across Twitter and Facebook alike. So we couldn’t think of a better place to talk about it; if you missed my presentation on that very topic, you can see Jessica’s synopsis here.

Inevitably, with such an overwhelming amount of people, panels, presentations and parties at this year’s SXSW, the topic at one panel turned to the question, “Has SXSW jumped the shark?” What do you think?

1 Response to "SXSW recap: In case you missed anything"

1 | Michael Dezso

March 24th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Avatar

Thanks for the thorough synopsis. It’s hard to get your hands and head around it when you’re there.

In terms of the question of whether SxSW has jumped the shark, I’d say that it’s reminiscent of the Yogi Berra-ish that no one goes to the restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded.

I’d say in some ways that the scale makes it difficult to get exactly what you need out of the conference. As Sunni Thompson said to me, “you have to meet SxSW halfway.” I’d add that you can no longer just stroll around and get it. You have to have a plan and stick to the plan. It’s too big to just wing it.

But where else can you see the future of tech, culture and commerce?

SxSW is dead. Long live SxSW.

Comment Form

SIGN UP FOR OUR WEEKLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER:

New Trend Report: Meet the New Family

2014 iPad App

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Room-sharing service Breather
    September 16, 2014 | 3:30 pm

    Breather

    Described as the “Zipcar for rooms,” Breather is an app that enables access to “beautiful, practical spaces” that can be rented anywhere from 30 minutes to a whole day. While sharing-economy players like LiquidSpace and PivotDesk offer work and meeting spaces, Breather positions its rooms as homey spots that can serve a range of purposes (though not, the founder assures, seedy ones). Rooms include the basics—a desk, a couch, Wi-Fi—as well as some fun touches like a candy jar. Lockitron technology lets users unlock doors with their mobile phones. Breather is available in New York, Montreal and San Francisco, and recently raised $6.5 million in venture capital, citing plans to “own every major market in America.” —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: Breather

  • Barco Escape’s immersive screens
    September 11, 2014 | 4:15 pm

    Maze Runner

    Escape is a triple-screen system from Barco that “allows you to truly be in the movies, not just at the movies”—in line with the rise of immersive experiences, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond. Audiences at five U.S. locations and one Belgian cinema will get their first taste of the concept with next week’s release of The Maze Runner, about a group of teens trapped in a massive maze, which will feature about five minutes of immersive footage at key moments. ScreenX is among the other multi-screen, multi-projection cinema experiences we’ve highlighted. —Aaron Baar

    Image credit: Maze Runner

  • “Smart” personal safety
    September 2, 2014 | 6:01 pm

    Defender

    Earlier this year we wrote about the Guardian Angel, a pendant that alerts emergency contacts whenever wearers feel unsafe, created by JWT Singapore. Smart technology is addressing personal safety in other ways too. The Defender is a smart pepper spray that works in tandem with a mobile app, taking a picture of an attacker while contacting authorities. It’s in the final week of an Indiegogo campaign that has well exceeded its goal. Similarly, First Sign has crowdfunded a smart hairclip that detects physical assault, records the evidence and sends for help.

    Meanwhile, college campuses are embracing a more basic form of this tech, encouraging students to download apps like Rave Guardian and Circle of 6, which enable a chosen network to monitor a student’s GPS location during a night out. In a different vein, students at North Carolina State University made headlines last week for their Undercover Nail Polish, which changes color in the presence of “date rape drugs.” —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: The Defender

  • Nestlé’s animal-welfare standards
    August 28, 2014 | 10:00 am

    Nestle

    We wrote about rising concerns over treatment of the animals that people eat back in 2012 as brands including Burger King, McDonald’s and Hellmann’s pledged to institute more humane practices. We also included Humane Food among our Things to Watch for 2013. The trend recently picked up more steam with Nestlé’s announcement of animal welfare standards for its suppliers worldwide, following an investigation by the group Mercy for Animals.

    “The move is one of the broadest-reaching commitments to improving the quality of life for animals in the food system,” notes The New York Times, “and it is likely to have an impact on other companies that either share the same suppliers or compete with Nestlé.” Observed the influential blogger Food Babe: “People want to know where their food comes from, and in order to survive the next decade, the food industry will have to change.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Nestlé

  • Alternative waters
    August 19, 2014 | 1:59 pm

    Vertical Water

    With the coconut water craze going strong, watch for more variations on H2O thanks to consumer interest in more natural alternatives to soda and openness to novel products. Antioxidant-rich maple water (made from maple sap) is gaining attention, while almond water from the startup Victoria’s Kitchen has secured space at Whole Foods and Target. As the AP reports, there’s also cactus, birch and artichoke water—made from either water extracted from the plant or boiled with the ingredient in question—whose makers tout their vitamin and mineral content, as well as their infection-fighting properties. —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: Vertical Water

  • Smart mannequins
    August 13, 2014 | 5:01 pm

    Iconeme

    One of our Things to Watch in 2014, beacons have been popping up everywhere from airports to restaurants to museums. But the biggest pickup for these devices—low-cost transmitters that use Bluetooth to precisely track consumers’ mobile phones and send targeted content—has been among retailers. Now, British retailers including House of Fraser, Hawes & Curtis and Bentalls are testing mannequins outfitted with VMbeacon technology from the startup Iconeme.

    A “smart mannequin” enables nearby shoppers with a related mobile app to get details about what it’s wearing and how to find the products in the store or buy them online. The big question is whether customers will be motivated to opt in; skeptics say the technology doesn’t yet provide enough real benefit. —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: Iconeme

  • De-teching apps
    August 7, 2014 | 10:55 am

    De-teching—the idea that more people will choose to temporarily log off—was one of our 10 Trends for 2011, and in our 2014 trend Mindful Living, we discussed the idea that digitally immersed consumers will try to use technology more mindfully. Perhaps ironically, several new apps aim to help people do so.

    Moment tracks phone use and alerts users when they reach their self-imposed daily limit. Pause is “designed to help us reconnect with real life”; it encourages people to use Airplane Mode and engage in real-world activities, and attempts to turn this behavior into a game among friends. Finally, Menthal is part of a research project out of Germany that helps users find out, “Are you in control of your smartphone? Or is your smartphone controlling you?” —Marian Berelowitz

  • Intuitive eating
    July 29, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    Veggies

    As spotlighted in our 10 Trends for 2014 report, people are becoming more interested in Mindful Living, including the notion of eating more mindfully. And with consumers showing declining interest in dieting, the idea of “intuitive eating”—paying closer attention to the body’s hunger signals rather than following a strict regimen—has been steadily gaining traction. Recent media mentions include articles in Fitness and New Zealand’s Stuff, and a Refinery 29 writer is blogging about adopting the practice. With a recent analysis of studies finding that intuitive eating can be a successful strategy for people who are overweight or obese, watch for more consumers to embrace this anti-diet philosophy. —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: Theresa Kinsella

  • Chinese mega-cities
    July 24, 2014 | 1:15 pm

    Tianjin

    China, home to the world’s second largest rural population, is expected to add close to 300 million more urbanites by 2030, when Shanghai and Beijing will likely account for two of the world’s Top 5 mega-cities, according to new UN research. “We are observing one of the most significant economic transformations the world has seen: 21st-century China is urbanizing on a scale 100 times that seen in 19th-century Britain and at 10 times the speed,” notes a new McKinsey paper on cities and luxury markets. China’s wealth will be concentrated in these urban areas: Over the next decade, McKinsey expects Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Shenzhen, in addition to Hong Kong, to join the list of “top luxury cities.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Jakob Montrasio

  • Brands + Google Glass
    July 15, 2014 | 6:09 pm

    SPG

    As Google Glass makes its way into the hands of more people (last month it became available in the U.K.), brands are experimenting with the new possibilities that the platform affords. In March, Kenneth Cole became the first to launch a marketing campaign—the “Man Up for Mankind Challenge”—through a Glass app. Users were challenged to perform and document good deeds for the chance to win a prize.

    Starwood’s new Glass app, billed as the first such app from the hospitality sector, lets people voice-search its properties, view photos and amenities, get directions and book rooms. An array of other marketers have turned out apps for early adopters, from Sherman Williams’ ColorSnap Glass (easily create a paint chip that mirrors anything in view) to Fidelity (delivers daily market quotes for Glass wearers). —Tony Oblen

    Image credit: SPG

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »