SXSW 2015: That's a Wrap

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As the lights dim on another year of SXSW interactive, we board our plane home with mixed feelings. Relief, sadness and FOMO (I can’t help but think about what I missed out on). So other than a rollercoaster of emotions, what else are we left with?

Like always, a bit of old ground was rehashed this year. Let’s start with that.

iBeacons

There was little news to report on the technology itself. However it’s worth mentioning at this year’s SXSW, Eventbase created the single-largest network of beacons for an event or sponsor, deploying 1,000 iBeacons around Austin. As an attendee, it didn’t feel that groundbreaking, with notifications limited to registration, the Aboutme connection tool and post-talk surveys. The possibilities for the data collected, on the other hand, are eminently more exciting.

Privacy

There weren’t really any great revelations on privacy, with the focus on obvious things like taking privacy seriously, involving legal up front and being honest with users. We do wonder if this is more of an industry issue than a real world one. As Dan Gutwein of Intel pointed out, “Who here in the room read the privacy terms and conditions when they accepted the free wi-fi today?” Not a single person raised their hand. Enough said.

Social

Again, there weren’t any great revelations around content. The overarching themes were authenticity, smart metrics and purpose rather than channel.

There was also a sense that social and content is growing up, as the hype of it dies down. People are beginning to realise social is essentially a bunch of different media channels that may or may not be relevant to your brand. Your need for them should be dictated by your business and brand strategy, not the other way around.

Ok, enough with the old. Time for the new.

We could talk about Meerkat, but we won't (well, not much). Despite the glowing media pieces around its domination of SXSW2015, it felt like there was a decent PR team behind it. We could be wrong, but with Google effectively shutting it out, we can't see a big future for Meerkat.

From our perspective, the emerging conversations were about artificial intelligence (AI), data-driven, actionable insights (and the death of big data), diversity and open-source hardware.

Artificial Intelligence

There were geeky high fives aplenty about the exciting possibilities of AI. We also saw acknowledgement that it's still predominantly a sci-fi concept, with most people confusing machine learning with genuine sentient machines. Ex Machina will still probably scare the pants off most people and help keep the hysteria alive. When will the machines kill us all?

Insights over data

Our very own Luke Brown and Adam Shar presented a four-hour workshop at SXSW on Measuring Digital Marketing. The sold-out session was a crash course in how to set up measurement frameworks across all digital channels and get various stakeholders on board so you can turn data into human insights.

It was refreshing to hear most big data conversations focus less on data itself and more on how to use it. Actionable insights should be the product of data – there’s not much point having a lot of information if you don’t know what the hell to do with it.

Failing to be different

Dr Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at GoogleX (and front-runner for job title of the year) gave an inspiring talk on embracing failure fast and early, in order to succeed. Teller believes we need a mosaic of people working together to build the right environment for successful innovation. This encourages diversity in the industry, ensuring more women, people with diverse backgrounds, life experience and approaches are working in technology.

Open source hardware

This growing open source hardware (OSH) movement has seen creators share their designs, templates and ideas, thanks to the affordability and accessibility of technologies such as CAD, 3D printing and robotics. It’s essentially a tech-based DIY culture for inventors, tinkerers and makers. They hang out in fab (fabrication) labs – places kitted out with the gear to make almost anything on a small scale. Maker-made stuff isn’t pretty and it’s not made to last, but it is fast, adaptive and could form a whole new crowd-sourced prototyping culture.

As for any sessions at SXSW, it’s not necessarily what was said that makes them so special. It’s the random confabs, the curious questions raised and the seeds of big ideas that are planted as a result of being surrounded by so many like-minded folk.

We’re already counting down until next year.

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