2014 marks my 16th year attending the SXSW Interactive, Film and Music conference. Throughout the years, I’ve been part of some historic tech moments. I blogged alongside Scoble in 2006…literally, I elbowed him by accident. I joined the Twitter explosion in 2007. I sat in the front row for Zuckerburg’s keynote in 2008. While memories like these standout, this year’s event was the most holistically thought-provoking. I left re-energized and inspired by new ideas, connections and passions.
Below are nine trends from SXSW that have motivated me to innovate. Also, feel free to download this SlideShare presentation for the highlights!
The biggest breakthrough this year wasn’t a new startup - it was the subject of privacy. Speakers like Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks; Edward Snowden, an NSA whistleblower; and Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union; gave mind-blowing presentations about data security and government surveillance. Beyond the center stage, people were buzzing about Secret, a new app that allows users to “speak freely;” Darknet, a new kind of Internet where people can conceal their online behavior; BitCoin, which enables anonymous payments with no central bank; and Ghostery, which looks for third-party page elements (or "trackers") on the web pages you visit and notifies you if they are present. Even with all of this news, we are just starting to scratch the surface of this important topic.
2. Wearables and Printables
While software enthusiasts preached privacy, the hardware gurus pushed sensors, wearable gadgets, and 3D printers. Google exec Sundar Pichai announced the company’s plan to release an Android-based SDK for wearable devices. In addition, several SXSW attendees demoed the potential to use new technologies. I saw everything from a Twitter-powered, 3D printer that allows you to create your own Oreo flavor to smart medicine bottles that will send you a text message if you miss a dose.
From digital lobbying to patent reform to the power of the online “unruly mob,” SXSW made it clear that entrepreneurs and elected officials want to cooperate to modernize US legislation and government. A new film by Brian Knappenberger called “The Internet’s Own Boy” premiered at SXSW and shined light on outdated technology laws. This Kickstarter documentary follows programming pioneer Aaron Swartz from his involvement in RSS and Reddit to the tragic consequences following his hacking stunt at MIT. This film not only celebrates the life of an online visionary, but also inspires heated discussion about online access to information and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It’s a must-watch film for anyone in tech!
You couldn’t turn a corner this year without hearing someone talk about “small data” or “big data.” Lots of smart marketers showcased how they’re using information for research, personalized news delivery, and location-based incentives. The best session I went to on the topic came from the energetic Founder of Kiip, Brian Wong. His mission is to serendipitously reward people for everyday moments like running, playing games, and listening to music. For example, if your mobile fitness app detects you’ve just beat your all-time running record, a third-party consumer company could send you a coupon for a free sports drink. Beyond entertainment, Wong showed that people want to be rewarded for completing a task on their to-do-list. Sounds like a new feature idea for Producteev!
The one thing SXSW does better than any other event is provide a platform for unique experience creation. From small app companies to corporate giants, the most successful organizations focused on manifesting shared experiences - not pushing messages. (Hello, bacon-scented alarm clock!) In all seriousness - it’s time to get smart about our smart devices. Soon, your tablet, fitness tracker, and refrigerator will all be connected. Brands must think beyond how to serve up a specific marketing campaign. Instead, they must start focusing on how to create daily, customized experiences across connected devices and IRL!
From Uber cars to Airbnb rooms, most SXSW attendees participated in some form of the sharing/collaborative economy. If you aren’t familiar with this latest buzz phrase, you soon will be. According to Crowd Companies exec Jeremiah Owyang, “it’s a powerful movement in which people are getting goods and services from each other” rather than buying from big brands.
Yes, people talk about work at SXSW. In the session “Workhacking Away from ‘Business As Usual,'" strategist Ayelet Baron and Forbes Blogger Rawn Shah led a conversation about modern work. They painted a beautiful picture of “café people” moving from:
- Work-life to life-work balance
- Function-based jobs to project-based work
- Competing for market share to creating new markets
They also made bold statements, such as "change management will die because it will happen too quickly", and "retirement will be a thing of the past." While I’m not ready to “divorce my job,” I was truly inspired by their passion, knowledge and predictions.
Community and social media got plenty of airtime at SXSW. Jive intern paul.vinelli made several recommendations based on his experience studying the What.CD online music community. Some of my favorite takeaways included the following:
- Backscratching and praise leads to strong relationships.
- Individuals should be accountable for whom they bring into communities. If you invite someone in who breaches the guidelines, both you and the violator can be penalized.
- Members must main a strong ratio of contribution to consumption - say goodbye 90:9:1!
- Community membership is in many ways its own reward.
Out of the hundreds of people I listened to during the week, none exhibited more passion than pop-star Lady Gaga. My favorite quote from her Friday morning keynote is "at the end of the day, nobody's going to remember what you tweeted when you die. No one's going to remember your Web content. What's going to be remembered is those magical moments you have helped create.”
Did you attend SXSW? If so, what did I miss? Share you favorite moment in the comment section below.