Back to normality, early SXSW thoughts

I’m finally decompressing from SXSWi. It’s 4AM of the day after I got home, and I can’t sleep, so clearly it’s the perfect time for this post!

Here are the big trends and why:

Social gaming.  We’ve all been hearing about it for long enough to know this was already coming, but Austin was plastered with everything from a social gaming keynote, to panels, talks, strategies, startups, apps, roleplayers, hashtags and enough buzz to spin off into it’s own mini-event next year, somewhat like SXSWedu has.  The short version is, game mechanics are here to stay, primarily because engagement and activity levels are through the roof.  Pushing short-term rewards is also a dangerous game, however, Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR reminds us in a very well-received keynote. (Here’s another really interesting TEDTalk he gave in 2010, with a message very similar to his sxsw keynote).

Group texting.  Whereas the last years have been characterized by mass-communication tools like Twitter and Foursquare, this year we saw an inceasing trend towards localization, curation, selection, and sub-grouping.  Group texting is but one example of this trend, with upstarts like GroupMe and Beluga squaring off much like Foursquare and Gowalla did last year (GroupMe appears to have won).


Decline of social?  As I already predicted, terms like “social media” weren’t really part of the lexicon, it’s all so ingrained in what we do.  Any app or website being pushed had a social component; with this standardization, I think soon we’ll be describing products which aren’t inherently social as antisocial (think, Word or Excel).

Managing the online persona.  With so many more heads in the social media industry in the past year, topics like “How to manage your Corporate vs. Personal Brand” were numerous and very popular.  As someone who took over a corporate account after having begun my own well before, I’m always thinking about how to manage this complex issue.  The social consensus seems to be, “Where There is Authenticity, Anything Goes.”

Mass adoption and rapid change

Twitter as a medium for all kinds of different applications really hit tome for me here.  Interesting features at the Frog Design party, as well as exhibits throughout the ACC and trade shows, played on the sheer volume of Tweets in the area with interesting visualizations, graphs, and interactive displays.  With new apps like HeatTracker, built on top of Foursquare and Gowalla, which in turn are built on top of Twitter, a whole new vision of how social media function is starting to appear.  With massive, hyper-connected mediums like Twitter all openly available and digital, we’re becoming able to catalogue and organize information in new and exciting networks of like-minded users, allowing even more specific and nifty apps which slice out a certain chunk of the graph to handle really well.  My picks: foodspotting, localmind, Qonqr, Hashable, Yobongo, HeatTracker, locaii.

The wide adoption of Twitter at SXSW in specific is just a great example of this.  SXSW really “sold” me on the value of location-based mechanics, some of which I’ve always viewed with contempt, because I’ve never had the ideal use-case of many relevant connections happening in a hyperlocal area, having lived essentially in the suburbs for the last few years.  I could instantly see the appeal of LBS in a very widely-adopted crowd. 

But many of my friends are’t really into the whole idea of LBS, especially becoming familiar with how the more flamboyant users’ use of it can feel like spam.  It’s really amazing to see how quickly a rapidly deployed technology, like Twitter or FourSquare, can become part of popular culture; by numerous metrics discussed at a few different panels, services like Twitter and Facebook activity can spread through a culture by orders of magnitude faster than older technologies like newspaper and television – but those who haven’t already adopted appear likely to do so at only marginally increasing rates over time and similar exposure.

So, the challenge seems to be, bootstrapping a user-base into existence in areas deprived of the intense incubating effect a gathering like SXSW, or being a tech hoptspot like SF or NYC, can have.

Education Editorial

The issues of location reminded me of the unique advantage of a university, and the importance of fostering adoption of social technologies in children and adults in education.  All students and teachers are already within a very clearly defined, intellecutally connected network, on many different levels: the social graph of their interconnected class schedules, the systems like Blackboard many use to communicate privately, P/TA and school boards connections to local government, etc.  Academics are already used to the operation of these kind of networks, so the learning curve would be simple. 

As our students begin to use these tools in a constructive and responsible way (and, here’s a great opportunity for educators and administrators to advise them, a relationship which benefits everyone), their interest will disperse throughout the world as they graduate and leave their institutions, pollinating the tech workforce and cities they move to with the games, apps, and LBS services they love, and, significantly – will continue to be using to stay in touch with their friends for purely personal reasons. 

The educational->professional synergy taking place for today’s digital natives is just startling, and a tool educators must be using! Damn the painfully slow academic machine.

5 thoughts on “Back to normality, early SXSW thoughts”

  1. a fine postmortem (initial or otherwise)’ve clearly captured key trends here on certain emerging tech (and when i say "emerging", i mean "likely been in beta for a while but now making its foray into mainstream) two things resonated with me most on a visceral level (as you know i am a huge advocate of visceral processing) (1) your thoughts on the "decline of social" and (2) this: "So, the challenge seems to be, bootstrapping a user-base into existence in areas deprived of the intense incubating effect a gathering like SXSW, or being a tech hoptspot like SF or NYC, can have" well done, my friend. now i really have NO excuse but to attend next year ;) a

  2. Thanks, Autom-1) Yes, I think the term "social" will definitely go away more or less completely in the next 2-3 years. Social is the new default. Brands that don’t ‘get’ social by default, don’t get 2011. I also think Facebook’s ubiquity and grred will ultimately be it’s demise. In the next year-2, I see the bulk of real engaged sharing happening on more finely-tuned apps, like Instagram and Foodspotting, localmind, GoWalla. Facebook isn’t going anywhere, but it will become increasingly "uncool" and reek of inauthenticity as it sort of flounders around in a lot of different areas with mediocre products serving 7 million people, yet still fails at basic privacy, trying to pretend no one’s watching them swindle America’s social network (go twitter and Google!), all the while becoming increasingly saturated with time-wasting spam and marketers. 2) The interesting question for growing commuinties is whether people get burned out on game mechanics and how long that process takes, or if it’s the need for variety and spontaniety, escalating rewards, role-playing mechanics, etc., to get a lasting solution or pattern of activities to succeed in the long term.Has anyone had a really interesting experience with a LBS game or checkin service? Anything truly surprise you – maybe a flash mob, or a contest, or a well deisgned game?I have games on the brain! -JP

  3. as the well experienced and consummate gamer yourself, this is right up your alley my friend. in my current line of sight and from a purely marketing perspective, gaming elements offer incentive to engage say in an activity traditionally experienced unidirectionally i.e., talking head(s) to an audience. with check-ins, scavenger hunts, badges, rewards how can an audience *not* be ‘incentivized’ as long as there’s something of added value to them it will be worth it. yet you raise an interesting point: the burn out factor. will folks evenutally tired of these tactics, will the novelty wear off quickly AND perhaps more interestingly do you need to have the mindset of a gamer to appreciate the UX from a holistic perspective (must it be holistic for it be a successful long-tern interest/commitment)..what, indeed, as you’ve noted,are the implications as gamification enters mainstream and is embeded into many existing models used to get people’s attention, get them to buy into the experience and keep wanting that UX time and again..

  4. Funny to see how the internet mashes up everyone’s interests. I’ve read a few dozen of those "writers and bloggers need to be coders to be effective in 2010" posts; I wonder if the collision of gaming and advertising will lead to pervasive "advertisers need to be gamers!" strategy posts? I could probably already write one extholling the virtues of designing ad campaigns thinking like a game designer.Social gaming is already truly mass-market with the likes of Zynga and Facebook social/mobile gaming taking off in the female and traditionally older demographics, but I think there’s still a stigma of immaturity attached. True mass adoption of games, though – could be interesting!

  5. what, bloggers don’t know how to code already? er ya ok..maybe not, but anyway, with respect to one’s design/new media expertise layered with the perspective of a gamer, of course why not..but do you really even have to be a gamer? end of the day, are we really looking at gaming as a dominating force in itself or the behaviour born out of gaming that influences and fashions how we think and react to stimuli personified by game mechanics? individual behavioural transitions are often so quietly nuanced among trend-driven group activities yet the immersive and repetitive pattern of play and competitive pursuit are a dead give away, as the common denominator binding common interest so singuarly at times. will this be seen as transformational? not sure but it would be interesting to know/access any research being done in this area.. k that was a blah and a half of my 2 cents haha

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