Friday, March 25

Celebrating a Shark-Free SXSW 2011

So I finally recovered from SXSW -- an entire week filled with meat, free beer, marathon interactive sessions, and great loud music. I was a bit concerned going into this year's festivities. Attendance for the interactive portion was up 40% to 18,000 people, anyone reserving a hotel room starting in January was stuck staying 30+ minutes out of town, and big brands were sponsoring everything from the convention center to free taco trucks. If SXSW was going to jump the Miller Lite shark in a Chevy Volt full of Pepsi Max, then this was the year.

Fortunately Austin didn't disappoint. More crowded? Yep. More parties with free music and beer? Yep. More trouble finding a lunch spot that didn't require a 30 minute wait? Yep. The only thing geekier than walking around Austin wearing a SXSWi lanyard? Wearing one while standing outside the pop-up Apple Store to buy a brand new iPad2.

I found the conference sessions just as stimulating and interesting as 2010. The post-session beer sessions with my interactive peers were the perfect nightcap as your brain swelled from innovation overload.

For the second year in a row I avoided most of the advertising/marketing sessions and went for the fringe topics = nonprofit social advocacy, location-based APIs, user-generated gaming. Discussions about crowdsourced digitization of historical photos -- in a room full of museum curators and librarians -- was relevant to any marketer: How do you manage user-submitted content efficiently, without micromanaging the process but ensuring quality?

Sometimes you ended up debating sock puppet-based transmedia marketing experiences (Ethics of Pervasive Fiction). Or enjoying IT banter around cloud computing services (who knew Salesforce.com was so funny?) The most annoying emerging trend was digital slackers taking pictures of PPT slides via their cellphones. Too...hungover...to...write...things...down...

Most of these sessions provided unique insights into how non-marketers are using the Interweb. Many which can actually be applied to marketing strategies. You realize that a whole bunch of people still leverage the interactive space for non-advertising purposes. It was nice to gaze at other industries' digital navels for awhile.

So here's my roundup of the cool hip new start-ups, trends, and movements. Impossible to uncover them all, but enough to reassure me that innovation has not stopped at Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.


Geo-Event-Based Anonymous Social Media

Color (iPhone / Android) is part of a new emerging social category. Here is a summary:

“Rather than friending or following people, a Color user simply posts pictures. Users see pictures posted recently and nearby their current location. This concept seems fitting for events -- say, a sports game or a wedding -- where lots of people who don't necessarily know each other are taking photos of the same thing. If Color is used by a statistically significant percentage of folks, nearly every location that matters on earth will soon be draped in an ever-growing tapestry of visual cloth."

They caused a minor disturbance due to a recent VC infusion of $41 million.


Group Instant Messaging

A new make social networking simple movement is brewing. These apps allow you to create group message lists that don’t require sending/receiving SMS texts (they are sent via the apps). You can easily add people from your Facebook/Twitter/phone contact lists. Sounds really basic, but I found they were useful in Austin to keep track of people and coordinate meet ups. They also allow group members to invite others into the "pod," thus allowing an interesting two degrees of separation social network to form.

Probably not something you would use all the time. Can suffer from “chatroom clutter” if too many people are invited to participate. They require everyone to have the app installed, which is the biggest weakness. The leaders:

Beluga
“Beluga offers a mobile app and web service that enable simple, instant, and rich group messaging from your phone. Use Beluga to plan a night out or just share updates and photos with your close friends and family. Like SMS, it’s instant. Like email, everyone’s in on the conversation. Best of all, it’s private.”

They were just bought by Facebook

GroupMe
“Start groups with the people already in your contacts. When you send a message, everyone instantly receives it—it’s like a private chat room that works on any phone.”


The Democratization of Video Game Creation

GameSalad
GameSalad believes that video games have become too complex and expensive to create. They developed a visual game builder that allows anyone to make their own video games, without understanding programming and graphic production -- object-oriented gaming. Could result in a new breed of amateur games that redefine the industry. Or just a bunch of crappy games that no one wants to play.


Crowdsourced TV

CurrentTV's Bar Karma is a fully-produced TV show whose episode plots are determined via crowdsourcing:

“You decide the creative direction for Bar Karma, and that process starts right here. You can contribute to anything from the episode's overall story down to what the characters are wearing. It's up to you. Impress the Bar Karma producers and community with your suggestions, and your name just might end up in the credits.”

The plot is developed based on user submissions and alterations. CurrentTV then selects the final plot and produces it. The Storymaker plotline builder was developed by the guy who created The Sims and Spore.


Geo-Location Mobile Gaming

I found the start-up mobile game company Dokogeo really exciting. They hosted the session titled Beyond Check-Ins: Location Based Game Design (presentation audio).

They have two games that mash up physical space with game play, in ways that are much more interesting than a basic Foursquare-style “check-in for points” game. Both utilize Google Maps and your phone’s GPS to incorporate your physical location into the experience.

Seek N Spell is an app that mixes up Scrabble, scavenger hunts, and tag. After downloading a Google Map of your immediate location, the game drops letter tiles around the area. You then race from spot to spot, picking up the tiles and spelling words. The person who spells the most (and longest) words wins.

Dokobots could define a huge new “endless game” trend. It is a geocaching Tamagotchi game that covers the entire earth with game pieces. Here are two good summaries = 1 | 2.

You walk around collecting robots and batteries from the live map based on your actual GPS location. Your robots travel with you, you can take pictures with them, mark locations that they have “visited”, etc. Then you can drop them off at any time. If someone else picks up that robot, then they can see all of its pictures and travels. You can also track the robots that you dropped and see how other people used them (like those traveling garden gnome photos).

I found it easiest to pick up objects while driving around in a cab, but walking is just as rewarding. It just launched three months ago. I find the concept fascinating and something that my kids would become instantly addicted to.


Collaborative Creativity

4Chan creator Christopher Poole's keynote speech also made your brain hurt (summary | presentation audio). If you haven't checked out the site, then do it from home. It's not safe for work, kids, small animals, or anyone on probation. But the idea of real-time user-generated disposable Internet memes is about as pure as the Interweb gets. He also unveiled his new slightly-less-likely-to-get-you-arrested collaborative site called Canvas, which is currently in invite-only beta.

A bit more safe for work is the collaborative time waster Fridge Magnets. It is a visual chat room where you try to build words out of letters, while others on the page try to do the same. Sometimes playful, sometimes aggressive, sometimes downright creepy.


The Music Industry Isn't Dead Yet

Yes, there is still music at SXSW. You have to tolerate stepping in drunk hipster as you rush from bar to bar, but it is worth the hassle to see awesome bands who you have never heard of. Here's my shortlist of great live shows:

  1. Typhoon
  2. David Wax Museum
  3. A Place to Bury Strangers
  4. Local Natives
  5. Gold Panda
  6. Surfer Blood
  7. Pains of Being Pure at Heart
  8. Casio Kids
  9. Strfckr
  10. Night Beats

Without a doubt the event will be even larger next year, but I still recommend attending. Just bring your shark jumper, book your hotel room this July, stay away from the street pizza, and see a couple bands while you are there.

1 comment:

Graham Cousens said...

Excellent writeup, Stephen.

Don't forget Tokyo Sex Destruction