South by SouthWest (SXSW), the burgeoning interactive festival which takes place each year in Austin, Texas, comes to an end tomorrow. This is the creative technology festival which gave birth to Twitter and Foursquare, amongst others. Marketers, programmers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from across the globe descend on it each year to network, find the next big thing, promote their products and swap ideas.
Unlike other ‘technology festivals’ such as CES and Mobile World Congress, SXSW has long been about the business of selling ideas rather than devices – the emotional benefits of technology rather than the functional. This year it seems there has been a shift, with more and more ‘product ‘ being at the heart of the innovation. The New York Times suggests that this shift is because the likes of Kickstarter, the crowdsourced start-up investment platform, have made is easier to get funding for product proto-types. Certainly the advent of affordable 3D printing (this indexed very hightly at SXSW this year) and low cost functional products like Berg’s Little Printer have made producing high quality media and components possible.
Each year there are multiple talking points to come out of the festival – not necessarily ground-breaking new advancements in tech, but quite often big brands/ agencies looking to use technology in a new way to drive some talkability or kudos amongst the early adopters.
Last year, controversy was caused by ad agency BBH Labs making mobile WiFi hotspots out of the local homeless people. Members of the public could identify their locations, approach them and hook up to their WiFi signal to use apps or download information – all for a small contribution to the host carrier.
This year, so far there doesn’t seem to be a stand-out moment, but here’s a round up of some of the more notable, or peculiar, things to have happenned:
CUTEST ANIMAL: Cats have been all the rage of the internet over the last couple of years, and this SXSW was no exception. Behold Grumpy Cat, who took up residence in the Mashable Tent on the first day and managed to travel across the internet (again)as people had their picture taken with him. Grumpy Cat started life as an internet meme on the meme-incubator Reddit, so his appearacne at SXSW was something of a red carpet moment
BEST USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA: Word from ‘South by’ veterans tells that the only way to get around the festival is by bike. Hence Razorfish’s deployment of a small fleet of Tweeting Bikes seems to have been a shrewd move. The bikes were left around the campus and were free to use. Using the hashtag #UseMeLeaveMe the bikes automatically tweeted their location to festival-goers who were then allowed to use the bikes to complete their onward journey before leaving it for someone else.
MOST RANDOM VENTURE CAPITALIST: In the same vein as stars like Will.I.am muscling in on the tech world, ex-NBA superstar Shaq O’Neal announced he would be patrolling SXSW looking for a cool idea to plough his money into. Ambitious ideas on basketball boots that tweeted when the ball was coming, a fuelband that vibrated to remind you to take your growth hormones and an app that generated random urban hip-hop names to name your kids were allegedly all turnd down. In fairness to Shaq, he does have a good record of investments and his use of social media is exemplary: “The way I use it [Twitter] is 60 percent to make you laugh, 30 percent to inspire you, and 10 percent to sell product and promote myself.” ROLF.
BEST LONDON BOROUGH TO MAKE AN APPEARANCE: God Bless Hackney. Ever since Silicon Roundabout landed on its doorstep, it has had an ego boost. This year it took its experiential outfit, Hackney House (last seen during the Olympics), to Austin to promote its reputation as a creative hub. Hackney youths and ‘hoodies’ were decided not best representative of London so were left at customs.
ODDEST CONCEPT: This one goes to Doritos, who created the #BoldStage, a seeming attempt to cram as many zeitgesit ideas into one concept. It’s a huge vending machine, that acts as a stage showcasing cool urban musical acts, that also allows consumers to control the content, pyrotechnics and visuals via Twitter. But it doesn’t dispense massive bags of Doritos. #Fail?
Tip of the hat to the Guardian newspaper in the UK who, having identified that hipsters in London all live in Dalston, now decided that the hipsters at SXSW needed to feel the wrath of their irony. They created this Hot Phrase Generator to coin the next big thing in phrasology. It’s actually quite good.
FInally – here is day two of SXSW in numbers -an infographic that shows the breakdown metrics of the festival. Any surprise that most mentioned food was ‘BBQ, Beer, Tacos’?