SXSW Themes

Posted by Katie Del Angel on Tue, Mar 23, 2010
Although the MITX crew was unable to attend SXSW this year, Mike Schneider of Allen & Gerritsen, a MITX member, was kind enough to fill us in on key themes from his experience at SXSW. Read on!

Every year key themes emerge at SXSW. This year, however, there were not any game changing announcements. I expected Google to release a new version of Buzz. I expected Facebook to throw their hat into the location based social networking and interrupt the Gowalla / Foursquare party. Neither of those things happened.

The major themes for technology and content based sessions were activity streams, context, augmented reality and location based social networking.

Activity Streams emerged as a major term and focus. We divide them into active versus passive. Active means that a person needs to decide to share something like a checkin or a tweet. Passive happens as a result of an action like swiping a credit card. We are actively watching for more passive streams, like Blippy, which is a purchase history activity stream that can be used to do things like share expenses within a corporation or just help people be more discretionary with spending. Gowalla and Foursquare, currently active sharing activity streams, were both hush-hush on whether they are working on passive sharing. Other passive streams to watch for are blog activity, web activity, medical records (scary) and maybe even your email. The personal passive sharing stuff is pretty interesting, but macro level public data streams like traffic and train and bus whereabouts, like what we are seeing with MassDotDev are where we really start to see this stuff get interesting.

Now that we have content, the next focus is context. Context experts like Jay Rosen of NYU and Burr Settles of CMU, along with companies like Microvision, Yelp and Layar are working to make things more contextually relevant to the general public. The prime example: You go to a museum and look at a painting. You try to interpret it and decide whether or not you like it based on your impression and a 160 character card with the artist's name, period and title of the painting. Now, go with a NYU Art History professor and have them tell you the story of the artist, how they were feeling when they painted it and the affect it has had on the art world. Companies are trying to layer this context over reality via augemented reality applications. Microvision specifically is working on lasers that can be put into a phone. This would enable us to have a smart phone in a glasses form factor that would make augmenting reality simple. Minority Report, here we come.

Location Based Services:
This technologist thinks Gowalla is 1 or 2 features short of overtaking FourSquare from an adoption perspective - or at least causing serious confusion for people who do not want to use both. The experiences that Gowalla enabled at SXSW were richer than FourSquare's. Sure, Foursquare was still really fun, but the special badges I collected during the trip have disappeared and nobody I know was actually able to win anything from them. Gowalla is now starting a conversation with their new photo sharing and commenting features. The big knock on Gowalla currently is that the GPS does not always find the location. Gowalla, when asked said we would (perhaps) see search-for-location feature in version 2.1. This is the killer feature. In the location based social networking game if Foursqure does not evolve (and they will), Gowalla will win because finding items, unique random experiences, trips with payoffs, conversations and photos are fun and anyone can get them. Foursquare only benefits the fanatics. There can only be one mayor of a location and it seems that the only one getting anything from Foursquare is the mayor. Foursquare saw how Gowalla was received and, almost as a move of desperation, told small groups that they are working on context based recommendations. I would not count Dennis Crowley out, he is smart, motivated, funny and extremely well connected.

We, at Allen & Gerritsen, are looking forward to diving into these themes with MITX and the industry, our clients and colleagues this year.

- Schneider, Mike
Title: Vice President, Director, Digital Incubator