With South by Southwest Interactive now all but forgotten in the wake of the tunes from the 2 000 or so musicians who took to stages all over Austin for the music portion of the festival and conference this past weekend, organizers and tech enthusiasts alike are reflecting on another year gone by.
For ten days, role-players involved in the tech, film and music fields gathered at the annnual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, with an eye to discovering new trends and the people driving them. The annual event — which begins with the Interactive portion and leads into the Music one, with Film overlapping for the whole duration — celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and cemented its status as a hotspot of creativity and ambition.
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The Interactive portion of the event has grown to overtake the Music, which used to be the biggest, and the number of participants registered has risen to around 20 000.
Although there didn’t seem to be any one stand-out service or brand that attracted the most attention, as was the case in 2007 when Twitter made its breakthrough, there was still much buzz generated for a few of burgeoning applications, among them, Highlight. The app, a location-based social networking startup that notifies users of people in their vicinity who share their interests or friends, found a home at the hip, tech-heavy event where the notifications were flying about. Highlight embodies the trend that is moving towards using location data to create social networks, and essentially takes what Foursquare has done – allowing users to check-in at specific locations — to the another level. The feeling at SXSW is that it’s only a matter of time before all apps are location-based.
Highlight launched in January but the number of users is growing, thanks to word of mouth. Another start-up that attracted attention is the website AmericansElect.org — an organisation devoted to popularising a third-party candidate in this November’s US presidential election. It picked up one of the festival’s top honors — the “People’s Choice Award,” which went to Groupon last year. Other honours went to Pinterest (Breakout Digital Trend), the pinboard-styled social photo sharing website that has shown an explosive growth in users over the past year and Take This Lollipop (Best of Show), a viral Facebook app that employs users’ data and photos to create a brief online horror film starring themselves.
Into this mix was a smattering of South Africans, also looking to make their mark and contribute to the field. Daniel Pincher, from the social media agency Society says he found this year’s experience invaluable. “Some people see SXSW as the place to spot the next big thing in social media, however the real value for me is in the cross-pollination of ideas that happen. The event attracts not only technologists but also musicians, filmmakers, foodies, marketers, fashion entrepreneurs and a whole variety of people from different backgrounds. The really interesting thing is seeing how ideas from different industries and cultures bounce around.”
“It’s also fascinating as a social media marketer to see inside the headspace of the people creating the platforms we use for storytelling and communication on a daily basis.”
That was evident in the Music portion where the more organic, off-line side of the festival showed its stripes too. Bruce Springsteen gave an impassioned speech with some good-old fashioned advice — telling young artists to “rumble” and learn how to play their hearts out night after night, as that’s how he learnt to do it. SA artists Spoek Mathambo and The Parlotones surely heeded that advice when they took to the stage for their respective showcases, playing with a passion that would make the multiple-Grammy winning artist proud.
Other highlights of the event included a presentation by former US vice president Al Gore and Napster founder Sean Parker on the increasing role of social media in politics, and Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan, who called on fans to keep supporting their favourite artists, no matter what trends keep surfacing.