South by Southwest is the annual conference when 50,000 people descend into Austin, Texas for the latest technology, film and music trends.
The five day technology part of the festival, South by Southwest Interactive, wrapped up on Tuesday evening.
This is the place where Twitter had its start in 2007 and Foursquare took off in 2009, so there is always conversation around “the next breakthrough product.” But with so many people and hopeful startup companies coming to the conference now, it is harder to get noticed. In fact, big brands have really taken over with displays, games, giveaways and parties.
As a result, this year the tone of the discussions was a little different. There was a focus on quality of content online, giving back with a socially-driven mission, and data privacy and security. It was an interesting mix of conversations that overlapped and tied together in many ways.
- Edward Snowden: Gave his first major appearance since the release of NSA documents and did it through a live video chat bounced through seven proxies for security. Snowden’s revelations have led companies such as Google and Yahoo to bolster their security measures, which helps protect online data from being watched by government eyes. But he said that encryption is still too tricky a subject for average consumers, especially when it involves nerdy products and services such as the Tor encrypted browser. Why did Snowden choose to speak before SXSW Interactive’s audience of techies? “They’re the folks who really fix things, who can enforce our rights through technological standards, even when Congress hasn’t taken steps,” he told Wizner. The NSA and its counterparts in other countries, he said, are “setting fire to the future of the internet. You guys that are in the room are all the firefighters. We need you to help fix this.”
- Chelsea Clinton: Clinton talked about the tech industry’s potential for social good on a global scale.”Technology has disrupted the very nature of how we can improve the world by empowering individuals to make a difference,” she said. “Giving, volunteering and contributing all have been democratized like never before.”
- Kevin Bacon: It is the 20th anniversary of the game “6-Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Bacon came to SXSW to celebrate that anniversary and talk about the non-profit organization that he started to connect money with various organizations around the world. He has taken the idea of connections that made up his namesake game and turned it into social good.
- Grumpy Cat: She is an internet sensation! Her pouty face is the result of an underbite and her small size comes from feline dwarfish. Hundreds of people stood in line again this year to get their pictures made with Grumpy Cat.
- TOMS: The company known for their one-for-one giving model (buy one, give one), has been expanding their model from shoes to glasses over the last couple of years. At SXSW, they revealed that they are now implementing this model with coffee, too. For every package of coffee purchased, they are helping with clean water in the country of the coffee’s origin. In addition, they will be opening cafes around the country that sell their products, serve their coffee and can be a meeting place for the community.
- Storytelling: It is the core of what we do online, but making it more interesting and purposeful is what was discussed at SXSW this year.
- Socially Conscious Business: Because technology companies have hard-to-find skills, the push for them to help the community around them in addition to helping themselves was strong this year.
- Creativity & Science: The alignment of creativity and art with science was talked about by many of the speakers. And mostly, the importance of keeping both in schools. One needs the other.
- Multi-Media Content: Sharing content and news in multiple ways — text, video, audio, photos — is not new. But this is being taken to new levels with interactive components and varying content on each platform to pull viewers in to stay and get more, and more content with your sites.
- Personal Security & Online Privacy: Given the news over the last 12 months of security leaks, monitoring of our personal conversations and in general growing concern over the amount of data that we share online, it was no surprise that security would be a hot topic at a tech conference like SXSW. The discussions focused on the dangers of allowing yourself to be monitored (even if you are doing nothing wrong) with a plea to the developers in attendance to think through privacy of the platforms they are creating.
- Cats!: Just when I thought that the sensation of cat videos was over, I learn that not only have they never gone away but they have gotten more popular. The next level of popular cat memes is actually cat personalities as business. The most popular cats online have managers, spokesperson deals and appearance fees.
In the years past, SXSW has been a good predictor of things to come in the technology world. I think this year will be no different.