Rather than write a post on how big (or too big) it has gotten or how it has changed, I just wanted to write some quick notes about what got me thinking and what caught my eye at SXSW this year. Here they are…
Augmented Reality - I think that Amber Case’s keynote was the most interesting of this year’s Interactive festival. With Google reportedly launching Heads-Up display Goggle’s later this year, I think we are going to quickly begin to move toward the consumerization of this type of technology.
This was probably the one thing this year at SXSW that really spun my head a bit. I went to a couple of sessions on the topic and I’m not sure I’ve really settled on what it really means. But at a high level, technology moves to the background, becomes invisible and, if done right, enhances our lives. I think this is probably really the NEXT BIG THING.
The one thing that I’ll add here is that I think for this type of technology to become successful and useful, good experience design is going to become even more important than it is now.
Mobile Payments - I believe the number of sessions at SXSW on a topic is an indicator of the future…and there were several sessions on mobile payments, mobile wallets, NFC, etc. Although this might be me being the oracle of the obvious, I think this is coming and I think it is coming in the not too distant future. Based solely on the number of sessions on the topic of SXSW, there are a number of people thinking and working on this.
That said, my opinion is that the opportunity here is not simply to put my credit card on my phone. I think that is easy and if anyone is focused on that, then you are thinking too small. I think there is an opportunity to really change the payment experience – for both the payer and the merchant and really disrupt the industry.
If it were me, I think I’d be working on a way to somehow dynamically price and arbitrage the cut that the credit cards companies get from the merchant so that they could offer a lower price to their customers at a higher profit. Using my credit cards is not really a big inconvenience, so just making it available on my phone doesn’t really get me all that excited. It has to be something bigger.
Social as Context & Background - As my friends and colleagues know, social media, computing, networking, etc. is a particular interest of mine. The most interesting aspect of the discussion around social at SXSW for me is that the discussions seemed to focus not so much on the value, but on the measurement and implementation of it.
My feeling here is that I think we’ve gotten to the point where social is now taken almost as a given. I think we’ve gotten to the place where social is a part of the context of experience design, just like mobile has become. If something doesn’t connect or allow me to share with my friends and others, then we perceive it to be broken…and the most valuable and engaging experiences are those that allow me to do these things simply and successfully.
Digital Democracy - In one of the featured conversations, Al Gore shared the stage with Sean Parker. One of the keynotes was Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America.
It feels like there was a lot packed into this discussion at SXSW…participation, the meaning (and practice) of citizenship, using technology as a lever to improve the experience and effectiveness government, etc…and I’m not sure that it can be cleanly unpacked in a paragraph or two of a blog post. In short, I think it comes down to that things are not fantastic…if we don’t do something, they will get worse for us and our children…and the geeks need to step up, pitch in and be leaders to help fix it.
I think those items were probably the big four….outside of that, there were a couple of other interesting things that caught my eye.
First, the big device launch at SXSW (sort of launch…it was actually launched prior to the festival) was the Nike+ FuelBand. Although it wasn’t as crazy as the iPad 2 launch last year, Nike did have people lining up to buy them.
I got up early one morning and was able to grab one each for both Kim and I. (I’ll probably do a more detailed post on it later, so stay tuned.) I think personal analytics is going to be a pretty interesting topic to watch over the next 12-18 months. I’m really interested to see how it evolves.
On a different note, at least with the crowd that attends SXSW Interactive, tablets were ubiquitous at SXSW. There were at least as many tablets being used as laptops. If you pressed me to estimate, I think there were actually many more tablets than laptops…also, as you might suspect, most of them were iPads. Maybe the most interesting thing was the number of people carrying wireless keyboards or keyboard cases to use with their iPads.
Also, although Highlight was predicted to be one of the potentially breakout applications at SXSW, I don’t think this happened. First, I don’t think the hardware is ready for the software. Even with a Mophie Air attached to my iPhone, it sucked the power our of my iPhone at an incredible rate. Many of my friends at SXSW also shut it off.
Continuing on the same topic, I forgot who said it, but another interesting observation about Highlight (and probably about a whole bunch of other apps at SXSW) was that it was built on top of Facebook’s Open Graph (one of the “Stacks” as Bruce Sterling put it in his closing keynote). One could argue that it really is just a feature extension for Facebook. In concept, I really like the idea of social discovery (especially of interesting people), but I wonder if building something on top of someone else’s platform is the way to create a meaningful business.
Two other final thoughts…(possibly more later)…
First, I’m looking forward to spending some time with Indie Web Camp over the next week or so. Based on Evan Prodomou’s session on the Federated Social Web, I’m more excited to start to get educated and start to play with some of this. I think it’s both important…and it’s going to make things better.
Finally, I think we’ve definitely gotten to the point of app overload. Personally, I’m really starting to think about digital clutter…about what I find useful and what I don’t and shutting down and deleting those things that are not useful to me.