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5 Things I learned from SXSW Interactive 2011

by Ricky Lam on March 17, 2011

SXSW Interactive has come and gone. All the hungover techies and social media types are licking their wounds, packing up and head back to wherever they came from. Much like all the previous years I have went to this great event, it has been an absolute blast. There were some excellent panels (some not so excellent ones as well), great amounts of free food and drinks, amazing parties and just a large amount of cool people as well. If you were following my trials and tribulations here on this blog, you will have realized that the daily reports stopped after day 2. Much like previous years, the SXSW effect snowballs over time. At first you think you can contain all the panels, the people, the parties but after awhile, it is just completely overwhelming and you lose your sense of time and place. With that, here are 5 things I learned at SXSW.

Tablets!
iPadThe Apple makeshift iPad2 store was packed through and through the entire time I was there, with all the early adopters eager to get their new toy. It became pretty apparent that tablets are the equipment of choice for all conference go-ers, and with good reason – light, compact and long lasting, it made all the laptop carrying SXSWers feel like fools. With the BlackBerry Playbook coming out soon (they showed it off here), it will be interesting to see how tablets progress going forward.

Good Speakers Make A World of Difference
With so many people at SXSW and so many panels, it became more and more difficult to determine which panels were going to be great discussions with interesting ideas brought forth and which panel were going to be boring pitches for an author to sell their books. Just like the previous years past, I had some dull ones and then some exceptional speakers.

The best talk I went to this year was Gary Vaynerchuk‘s talk about his book The Thank You Economy which predicts that there will be a dynamic shift between company-customer relations because of the advances in technology. He stresses that the companies that do the best in caring about their customers (legitimately) will be the ones who succeed. While it’s easy to say that all companies care for their customers, Gary went to prove that while that might be a good byline for a company to claim, there are really only a few companies who actually take the time to do that. Obviously, being in a company with many customers, it makes me reflect on how we treat our customers and what we can do to improve that aspect.

Location Based Applications Work
You talk to any normal non-tech person about programs like Foursquare and Gowalla and instantly they’ll be like, “why would I want to check in and let people know where I am?” After experiencing SXSW, they might think differently. Here, a lot of companies have specials for when you check in. Maybe it’s as little as 10% off your meal, but it is still something that you normally wouldn’t have.

Foursquare/Gowalla is just the beginning of quality location applications, as SXSW was basically a big wild west for innovative mobile app companies each fighting to prove that their application will be the most useful for you. Take Foodspotting for example, it basically pins your location and lets you know what other users enjoy particularly in the area (tacos, briskets, etc). Creative applications like these will help drive the next era of mobile applications. Things are only going to get easier.

We are all developing ADD
There’s a skit in the IFC show Portlandia where Fred Armisen is so consumed by all his devices, social media statuses and blogging that he more or less explodes. Take one look at SXSW conference attendees and you will realize that we are all developing ADD or really short attention spans. No one can just sit in a conference and listen to what someone has to say anymore. If the speaker says something remotely profound, you will have them being quoted on twitter 10 seconds later. If they are boring, people use their laptops to find the next panel, talk to their friends, tweet or whatever.

Microsoft can Party
Let me tell you something. Those Apple vs. Microsoft commercials where one plays the stiff business man and the other plays the cool, “can’t go wrong” yuppie are completely off. In the three years I have been in SXSW, Apple has done virtually nothing to accommodate the ten thousand or so individuals that visit here. Microsoft on the other hand, always goes all out, and this year was no exception. To celebrate the release of IE9, Microsoft rented out the absolutely GORGEOUS Moody Theater and brought in some exceptional bands to play, most notably Yeasayer. They then gave everyone an enormous amount of quality alcohol. Good times for all. As for IE9, I played around with it and it’s got a good frame rate and the ability to dock a page onto your Windows 7 menu area has me quite intrigued. I’m not sure how all the nuances will compare to Chrome, but they have taken big steps to address a lot of the criticisms towards previous IE versions.

Well that’s five things I picked up this year in Austin. It was a great time, I met a lot of great people and I hope to do it all again next year.

Related posts:

  1. SXSW Primer – Top 6 Things to Pack for SXSW Interactive 2011
  2. SXSW Interactive Day 1: WordPress
  3. South By Southwest Interactive 2009
  4. SXSW Interactive Day 2: Eye Tracking
  5. South By Southwest Interactive (SXSWI) Highlights and Tech Trends

{ 7 comments }

WrigleyF March 18, 2011 at 8:43 AM

This definitely sounds like a blast. I wonder how many techies will be calling in sick today.

Randy5 March 18, 2011 at 8:44 AM

I love the idea that the most successful companies will be those that really do care about their customers. I’ve always felt that relationships should be key to business.

Rusher March 18, 2011 at 8:46 AM

To me, what’s often now being called “ADD” used to be called “rudeness.”

Texas2Step August 22, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Ah, you can’t take it personally anymore if someone’s using their phone while listening to you.

Rusher August 29, 2011 at 6:21 AM

Maybe not, Texas2Step, but it still kind of hurts my feelings, just a little.

OfftheWall October 26, 2011 at 5:59 AM

Good speakers certainly do make a world of difference. No amount of technological special effects can compensate for a bore.

OfftheWall October 26, 2011 at 6:03 AM

Good speakers absolutely make a world of difference. No amount of technology can compensate for a boring speech.

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