More than 5 days of iridescent screens, info porn and sponsor-paid drinks, Austin's South by Southwest Interactive - or better known to techno-geeks as SXi (South-by interactive) - was a departure from my typical world of invite-only, senior-level focused events into the innards of technology and entrepreneurship spread out from one end of Austin to the other. And while I limp away from SXSWi slightly bemused by the chaos, what did emerge from it were several golden nuggets that highlight some important trends.
Government and Geeks are cool. 'Like'
There's no doubt: the future belongs to the 20-something technophiles feeding the latest round of life-changing innovations. Whether it was Peter Diamandis praising the DIY innovator, the social-something-5-letter.com guy showing off his latest app in the bar, or Code for America Jennifer Pahlka's plea to programmers to do something for their government, what resounded was that being nerdy is both cool and essential. Ms. Pahlka went on to say that 60% of government employees are retiring in the next 4 years due to a hiring boom in the 70s. So not only is coding cool, it's a chance for programmers to pursue their passion and be paid to help people in a really big and meaningful way. A few great sites that popped up in this vein include localmind.com, seeclickfix.com, seednetwork.com, neighborgoods.com and openplans.org.
Health + Technology = Wealth + Winning
Wealth and winning are for everyone: individuals, .com creators, hospitals, senior citizens, healthcare, and doctors. Simple videos, a new heart sensor or an online doctor network are just a sampling of modern tools leading to millions in savings and substantially increased satisfaction. But this isn't happening in a vacuum: you will be likely involved and so will your friends, because as with everything else at SX, social media is taking the industry by storm. Check out just a few of these of-the-moment companies: Rock Health, Ginger.io, Keas Health, and Cake Health. Which brings me to my next observation....
Go ahead: Soc-ify and Game-ify
While this is no revelation by any means, the desire to socialize or gamify anything/everything is here to stay. The benefits to gamification were well-stated in a panel featuring Philippe Cousteau, grandson of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, as a way to "optimize relationships and convert risk into opportunity." On the social networking side - many thought Facebook or Twitter was the revolution - I would argue they are likely only Chapter 1 of a long novel. One clear favorite yet controversial app at SX was Highlig.ht., which notifies you when your fb or other social media friends are nearby. In addition to social media and geolocation apps, the next trending software category was management of social media - dashboards, widgets and thing-a-ma-bobs to monitor, integrate and understand social media campaigns.
Platforms for your Lens, or in plainspeak, Things to Watch
- Mobile wallets such as ISIS are only about 1-2 years from being commonplace. This development opens the door to non-credit companies such as Dwolla to reach complete acceptance. If you haven't already, be sure to sell your BofA stock soon!
- Beyond Foursquare, geolocation is now IN. Geofencing, geotagging, geolocating.
- Samsung is launching a fascinating "US Olympic Genome Project" which will test your genome against Olympians to answer the question "How Olympic are you?" Watch out newborns.. your parents will want to know!
So while it may seem that a crowd of 20,000 people may be a little excessive, along with sponsors spending on free lounges that could only be located by constantly monitoring twitter and text messages with friends, SXSWi did provide the giant fire hose from which ideas could be developed, trends monitored and new like-mind friends were found. What was also impressive was the economic benefit Austin realized - hearsay has it that many of the local bars make 50% of their annual revenue from all the SXSW traffic. I'm sending a '+1' to my friends at LEGO Mindstorm and the Google Developer Village for bringing history together what can only be described as the greatest mash-up ever....so far.