Here, not a moment too soon, is a more-or-less random recollection of the big ideas and trends I witnessed at South by Southwest Interactive.
Location-based applications were predicted to have the biggest hype, and that was borne out. These are applications, primarily for mobile devices, that let you "check in" at a location to tell your network where you are, see where other people are and share information about the spot. The two most popular, Foursquare and Gowalla got the level of attention that Twitter enjoyed at previous events. Even in Geek Central, though, they failed to live up to their promise. There's a huge opportunity for aggregation. More on that in another post.
Twitter's big announcement was the creation of their @Anywhere service. Twitter's official blog post about the new service is neither particularly compelling nor clear. Mashable has a better description.
In short, Web site operators will be able to drop some code into their pages that will allow viewers to perform a variety of Twitter functions without leaving the page, like follow a person mentioned on the page, or tweet about what they're reading. I'm sure there's more to come. Facebook has stolen a march on Twitter by making the Facebook Connect protocol an easy way for people to sign in to Web sites without needing an account, and Twitter no doubt wants to win back some of that ground.
Twitter turned, Frankenstein-like, on it's inventor during co-founder Evan Williams' keynote interview, conducted by Umair Haque. People became instantly bored after the announcement of @Anywhere and didn't keep their feelings hidden. People began getting up and leaving no more than 15 to 20 minutes into the discussion. Lesson learned: it's a tough crowd to impress and to sell to - if they don't hear a message that's cool or benefits them, they're out. (One tweet read, "I've seen more energy at a lawn bowling tournament.")
The exhibit hall was big, but I was surprised there weren't more booths that caught my eye. For an event with SXSW's reputation, the overall exhibit presence was pretty lackluster. Triangle-area cloud phone system providers Phonebooth.com managed to stand out just for having red English-style phone booths.
A guy in a gorilla suit chasing a guy in a banana suit was about the extent of the wackiness I witnessed in the exhibit hall.
My friend Kipp Bodnar from Hubspot wrote the definitive post on the right way to attract attention at SXSW, "Foursquare's $5.99 SXSW Booth.
While other companies spent tens of thousands of dollars on their booths, Foursquare caused a line around the block when their founder Dennis Crowley took on the crowd in the playground game four square. Total cost? The price of a rubber ball and some chalk. Brilliant.
As for the panels, I've already expressed my displeasure elsewhere at the fact that many were oversold or disorganized or both. From a corporate perspective, gleaning what I could from the many positive discussions and interactions I did have, here are the big themes I noticed:
- We still want good case studies of how to integrate social media into existing marketing campaigns.
- We still want to figure the ROI.
- Many companies are staffing up for social media, creating social media manager positions and departments.
- Many companies are still trying to get it done without adding headcount, but sensing that can't last.
- Companies are still worried about employees making mistakes in social media.
- There is still a significant disparity between the people who understand and appreciate the changes social media can bring, and those who are skeptical, mistrustful or outright hostile.
- There is a huge opportunity to apply analytics to corporate social media activity and derive some real value.
- Companies are beginning to understand that social media needs to be integrated into all aspects of the organization, but not many are doing that yet.
- Lots of corporate social media folks feel the need to swear publicly at SXSW to show they're not one of the "suits."
- The people who do this for a living within corporations are still a fairly tight-knit and supportive community glad to see one another's success. I hope it can stay that way.
Photo credits are tough for this one. The picture of me and the gorilla and banana was taken with my camera, but I don't remember who took it. I shot the image at the top, but I don't know who's original artwork it is. If you know, please tell me.