For one day there is odd convergence of hung-over techies and hipsters as SXSW Interactive comes to a close the same day that SXSW Music kicks in to gear. It’s like Anthony Michael Hall’s character in The Breakfast Club and all his friends are suddenly overrun by Judd Nelson’s character’s and his friends and they realize it’s time to get out of town.
Even before that overlap day, SXSW Interactive 2013 took on more of the showbiz gleam of Music than its typical glow of immerging technologies. The big buzz wasn’t for breakout new digital media like the introduction of Twitter in 2007, but for Grumpy Cat and theatrical politicos like Al Gore and Rachael Maddow.
Despite the eroding borders of what makes the conference “interactive,” there were several topics that clung together enough to be considered trends. Here are a few that rose to the top.
Making sense of a sea of data
Everywhere you turned, there were clever marketers trying to entice attendees to hand over the keys to their personal data. People stood in long lines to exchange their social media site authentication and email addresses in exchange for having their photo virtually projected onto a mystery Austin location and a free mini pack of Oreo Cookies.
Several sessions explored ways to make better use of all of this consumer data, to extract more money from each of consumer for valuables like cookies. There were also several panels and presentations on how to improve our health by capturing our personal data with the calories consumed and burned.
It’s clear that data is the new currency in interactive technologies.
Turning the digital into physical with 3D printing
Even though 3D printing was introduced a handful of years ago, it made a splash this year with the Opening Remarks of SXSW Interactive proffered by Bre Pettis, founder of MakerBot, a 3D printing company. Pettis declared that we are on the verge of the next industrial revolution with affordable printers that anyone can snag for a mere $2,200.
In a presentation on Saturday, Ping Fu, founder and CEO of Geomagic Inc., described how designs and products can be manufactured anytime, anywhere for anyone by digitizing real world object and recreating them with 3D printers. The opportunities for use include: historic preservation; space shuttle safety assurance; creating Invisalign orthodontic braces and personalized prosthetics; making iPhone cases, shoes and toys.
Austin is simply not big enough to hold all of the amazing ideas that come out of SXSW Interactive. We need to take this party into orbit. In his Saturday keynote address, Elon Musk, the CEO of both Tesla Motors and of SpaceX had one of the most quotable moments of the conference declaring, “I would like to die on Mars, just not on impact.” He hopes his company’s Grasshopper rocket can cost effectively take people and payloads into space.
Among the 10 other sessions categorized as "Science and Space Exploration," was the intriguing topic "Crowd-Sourcing the Space Frontier." That’s right, the big-brained rocket scientists are turning to the likes of you and me for their next big ideas. Christopher Gerty of NASA’s Open Innovation Program; Darlene Damm, founder and co-president of DIYRockets; Edward Wright of the United States Rocket Academy/Citizens In Space; and Stephen Murphey of the DIY Space Revolution talked about how NASA is looking to include crowd sourcing and funding to augment its current innovations to spur new missions.
The paucity of break-through technologies may be the hallmark of this year’s SXSW Interactive, but there was still plenty of excellent information. One digital media expert shared his thoughts on how clever can be cool, but content is still king.
“Many brands are obsessed with devising clever activations to break-through the noise at SXSW. With the growing throngs of people and increasing competitiveness to find seats for the popular topics, companies may not need people walking around in inflatable suits to get people’s attention," says Chad Latz, president, global digital practice at Cohn & Wolfe.
"I waited in line for over an hour for some panels only to find myself unable to get in. Since quality content is always highly cherished, rather than scantily clad brand representatives, consider developing a compelling series of panels that align with perennial hot topics that will draw people in. Be cautious not to bait attendees with compelling titles and then use it as a forum to subject them to an hour pummeling of brand promotions. #FAIL."
SXSW Interactive continues to grow, but is it losing its cutting edge, or is it adapting to a more tech-focused landscape and the growing needs of its diverse attendees? We'll stay tuned for Interactive 2014 to see.