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SXSW 2011: The Quick and Dirty Takeaway

SXSW Interactive 2011 Takeaway
This is a quick and dirty bullet list of #SXSWi 2011 trends, observations, and accomplishments.  While this list is limited to bullets, I’m happy to answer questions or have a discussion on any specific point. 

This year’s trends

  • Hyped trends: Geolocation, Group Messaging, iPad 2 most buzzed about by agencies and in the tech blogs (TechCrunch post).
  • Great sights and sounds of SXSW – TechCrunchBuzz Out Loud (last few mins of episode), TWiT.
  • Observed trends:
    • Group messaging would be cool …if you could get a data signal.
    • Go bar is as useful as the Hilton lobby.
    • Sex sells!  Never have I seen so many ‘booth babes’ wandering the streets – this indicates that the event is much more mainstream than it’s previous, more geeky years.
    • Agency and PR attendees seem to be the single largest group, and most appear to be n00bs (Mashable post on brands at SXSW).
    • The techies are hanging out in very small and private groups.
    • Everyone is using: Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, Path, and Pandora.  Everyone else is a startup or less relevant.
    • Startups don’t have a chance.
    • Ignore the sessions unless a) you know a panelist, or b) the panelist/speaker is huge, a la M00t.
    • Marissa Mayer biffed it big time.
    • Google insulted everyone by failing to engage with people and opting to pitch products hard and fast.  The company remains essential, but the love-blush is long-over.
    • Twitter is pissing off everyone – especially developers, but everyone still loves Twitter.
    • Everyone is still on Facebook, but only because your mom is on Facebook.  The kids are on Tumblr.
    • Over-sharing/networking is over.  Facebook and Twitter are the established broadcast platforms, and Tumblr is quickly on the rise.  However, everything else is focused on quality over quantity and exemplified best by the success of Path.  All of the old skool kids are going for quality over quantity.
    • Growth: estimated 24-30k attendees for Interactive; projected 20% over 2010 (check with SXSW – these are only man-on-the-street numbers for staffers).
    • Rumor: 2012 capped registration and panels (see above).
    • Networking value is tremendous…
      • …but one must be VIP.  And even then, VIP is still massive.  Eg, appx 5k people responded to the Media Temple (mid-size) party, 500 were VIP.  The best networking events were not advertised and very small.  Rule of thumb, don’t RSVP – simply attend and use SMS to talk with old contacts to find the best, small events.  Stay sober!
      • Unless it’s Scott Beale’s event or the Gizmodo ‘party’ (really, just a small meetup), don’t bother with the lines.
      • Hang with Protocols and you’ll be in good shape.  But don’t talk about Protocols.

Emerging trends

  • SXSW has ‘jumped the shark’ for old skool techies.

    • …but everyone will continue to come to SXSW – it’s the central gathering point ofThe Tribe (used loosely to describe the social media vets).
    • We all are really, really sick of agency and PR people but a lot of them were nice, have lots of money to spend, and are genuinely curious about The Tribe.
    • The highest-quality ‘meetups’ (ready, drinks with cool people you care about) are usually at one small, quiet venue and you’ll probably never know about these meetings.
      • Useful people will come to you – SMS is still dominant and used for small group organization.  The best meetings are in private and will never be tagged on #Hashable.
  • SXSW is the single best/most useful annual conference for media and advertising people.
  • The tech industry is now the media industry and influencers matter (see previous RWW link).
  • Geolocation is established and is becoming another crucial ‘layer’ (a la, the social ‘layer’) on sites and apps.  This is all about using geolocal data for interesting ideas and moving past the simple check-in.
  • Curation is the new creation.
    • Active discussion: is curation just as important as creation (Mashable article)?
    • Curation can assist with info-overload.
    • Curation leads to higher quality community; eg, good karma kills trools.
  • Gaming, gaming, gaming!

    • Content companies are adding ‘gameification’ to sites by integrating leader-boards, awards, badges.

Accomplishments

  • I interviewed three very cool subjects: Ze FrankJay AdelsonTim Kring.
  • I moderated philanthropy and social media panel which recieved very high marks, accordind to SXSW organizers.
  • I reinforced old and created new connections.

Summary
SXSW remains an essential event.  Though the influx of marketers is annoying and the influencers are burning out, no event in media or technology brings together more high-quality old skool and n00bies than SXSW.  While it’s easy to be cynical, SXSW Interactive is where trends are set, money is spent, life-long connections are made.  If you work on the web or in media, you should have a presence at SXSW.

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Dan Patterson

Journalist & Technologist

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