I’m still recovering from SXSW Interactive. The sheer volume of the conference can overwhelm, and I find it a bit daunting to distill the number of ideas, perspectives, panels, and conversations into something cohesive and, more importantly, actionable.
Let’s start with the numbers. This alone should serve as a great reason for anyone who has only considered attending to actually do so next year. (And yes, I do think that you should attend next year.)
Austin360.com reports: “Tuesday evening, the festival said its official paid attendance count for 2012 was 24,569, up from 19,364 in 2011, a change of nearly 27 percent. From 2010 to 2011, the fest grew from 14,251 to 19,364.”
The panels were spread across fifteen locations throughout downtown Austin, ranging from technical sessions about web and interface design, wireless innovation, and business operations to more philosophical discussions about online marketing, social networks, and our relationship to new technologies.
When I say “panels,” I mean not only actual panel conversations but also keynote addresses, solo presentations, interviews, and core conversations. Most sessions are one hour in length, though the numerous “Future 15″ talks run only fifteen minutes. Toss in book readings, signings, workshops, the Start-Up Village, and the many evening events, and suddenly you’re in the middle of a very busy hive of activity.
The content followed fourteen tracks — Design + Development, Better Tomorrow, Convergence, Health + Education, Government + Global, Culture, Science + Play, Start Up, Emerging, New Business, Branding + Marketing, Social Networks, Journalism + Content, Featured Sessions, and Keynotes — and was further categorized as Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced. Each track offered at least two options during every time slot, and there were five time slots each day. That added up to more than 1,050 different panels over the five days of the festival.
I’ve spent time over the last few days distilling my thoughts and notes into what I hope are valuable takeaways. I was looking for ideas, tools, technologies, and tactics that I can use for my clients, not macro trends, but it’s impossible not to begin to see patterns emerge or gaps appear.
Although technologies launched at SX in the past have gained acclaim and wide adoption (Twitter, Foursquare), I didn’t encounter any of those this year. There were several new apps with lots of buzz (Highlight, EchoEcho, Sonar) that seemed to concentrate on finding people in the crowds, narrowing one’s focus as opposed to widening it. I eagerly used both Highlight and EchoEcho and was pleased with the ability to find someone from my social network attending a specific panel, although actually locating them in the capacity crowds remained a challenge.
These apps enable you to narrow your social circles instead of widening them, whether by filtering people within your broader network by location alone (EchoEcho, Sonar) or by location and interest (Highlight). They offer a fascinating perspective on the social graph as they categorize your connections by interest and location while simultaneously exposing those connections to friends of friends in a relevant and intimate manner. I’m experimenting with using these tools in a non-conference setting and am eager to see if they maintain the same value.
Trans Media and Shared Screens
Trans media (content amplifed through shared screens, like tweeting the American Idol results while watching TV for example) and the multi-screen experience was everywhere. I’m fascinated by this convergence and attended as many panels on the topics as I could. Interestingly, while I expected to be impressed by content or technology, what I actually took away from these panels was more the idea of the interest graph, although the impact and challenges of contextual content gave me much food for thought.
Shared-screen experiences are a natural application for the evolution of dynamic communities, as they seamlessly integrate people into a wide network rooted in a common interest. The interest graph creates new opportunities for brands to present products, services or content based on a user’s interests, and also offers brands new ways to engage, learn from, and access new audiences.
The significance of the rise of the interest graph was underscored in a panel on consumer intent. Pinterest, Fancy, Tumblr, and Spring Pad are all examples of tools or networks that allow people to connect not (only) with other people that they know or are otherwise linked to, but with people who like or are interested in similar products, services, artists, or activities.
Brands that chose to engage with new and future audiences within the interest graph must think about the goals, tactics and management of those relationships in different ways than they currently do with their current Facebook and Twitter followers. The connection, the interactions, and the opportunities are all different. We’ve already seen some brands use Pinterest in exciting ways, creating real-time ad-hoc communities of people who all are interested in what the brand is offering, regardless of location, demographic, or social connectivity. Understanding and using this new lens on community and interaction to leverage its power and value remains a challenge, but is certainly an exciting one!
Extracting Relevant Data
Much to my delight, I was able to attend several panels focused on data. I learned more about creating infographics, using data to inform content development, data as narrative, and the continued growth of interest in personal data, and I saw demos of several analytics tools and platforms. I’m excited to see this attention continue to grow, but there was also a critical and very important shift in this year’s data panels that I’ve been eagerly awaiting. The conversation isn’t solely about data capture, monitoring, tracking and reporting anymore. It has shifted now to data as the input — data as critical information that helps to shape strategy, drive tactics, show relevance, and prove value. I had many conversations about the skill sets necessary to extract relevant data from data sets, how to identify the right metrics, and how to approach analysis and recommendations so that data can inform ongoing execution. This is an area where I’m certain we’ll continue to see growth and change over the next few years, and I couldn’t be happier about it. As technology gets smarter and smarter moving into the second half of the year (HTML5 and CSS3 anyone?), identifying what data to track and how to use it will become more important and powerful.
2012 is already moving fast, and if SXSW was any indication I’m buckling my seat belt tightly, hydrating, and getting ready for what promises to be an exhilarating ride!