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).
QR codes. OMG QR WAS EVERYWHERE!
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.
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.