Trends at SXSW Interactive 2013

The SXSW Interactive 2013 Conference in Austin, Texas took a turn this year away from being the startup launching pad to something more substantial. It became a marketing festival – a place for the estimated 27,000 young, affluent, digital decision makers to connect with one another offline and to preview the art of our “possible” digital future.

Some highlights included:

Al Gore defending himself for selling Current TV to Al Jazeera, Elon Musk’s aspirational mission to Mars, Steve Case and entrepreneurship, Cory Booker and the self-proclaimed “world’s tallest geek” Shaq and their use of social media, Google Glass and their Art, Copy & Code experiment, the talking shoe, and the viral sensation Grumpy Cat, who generated lines around the

Kelly Callahan-Poe wrote about of some of the top trends she noted at SXSW Interactive 2013:

Making Data Meaningful 

Marketers are drowning in data these days, but interpreting that data and making it both meaningful and usable in different formats for different purposes was the topic of many sessions. Nate Silver, America’s most famous statistician, was credited with forecasting the presidential election through data in state and national polls. His success has inspired new ways to crunch data. Digitas helped make sense of SXSW demographics, trends, influencers, and social reach through its own social data visualization tool called SoDa, which pulled data from Twitter. hype


This map used Foursquare to chart people based on check-ins at venues in downtown Austin that can be filtered by venue type. SXSW got into the act this year with badges that included QR codes that were scanned upon entering each session, tracking our conference activities. 


Hacking for Good

Hacking officially has a triple meaning. The first has more negative implications: seeking and exploiting weaknesses in a computer system or network – a practice made infamous by Anonymous. The second meaning is a more positive one that focuses on solving problems using data and open-source solutions.  Several sessions focused on hacking and the promotion of hackathons for a more collaborative and accessible local government. Two examples are Code for America and NYC’s Code Core, both of which tap into volunteer technologists to solve local government initiatives like disaster relief or urban blight. The third definition of hacking is to hack events like SXSW and to show up without a badge. There were many people who arrived this year without credentials and had meetings and attended offsite events to take advantage of networking with attendees.

Digital Becoming Physical 

The intersection between physical objects and digital spaces is set to transform marketing in the next few years. The most awe-inspiring technology at SXSW this year was 3D printing, through companies like MakerBot.

makerThe Digitizer takes physical objects, scans them, then creates laser points and wraps those laser points into a 3D model, allowing the objects to be replicated. Leap Motion’s 3-D gesture-control device is set to take huge market share from Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect, especially at the $79.99 price point. There were many sessions on augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and wearables, a trend that started last year by Nike’s Fuel Band, which monitors your daily activity. Google’s experimental Talking Shoe is a hacked sneaker with a Bluetooth and speaker in it, telling you things about yourself to encourage behavior change.shoe 

Social Change

Cory Booker’s inspiring session emphasized that we all need to get back to our “advocation,” not our vocation – and that what defines you is not your position, but your purpose. With social media, we can all be change agents. Other sessions focused on sparking social change with content integration through partnerships between non-profits and Hollywood. From creating awareness of pandemics, HIV, autism or sustainability, public awareness of topics can be measured before and after exposure to programs and content to demonstrate their impact.

Sharing Economy 

With technology, you can now turn your home into a hotel with Airbnb, or trade homes for a vacation with Home Swap, share a home-cooked meal with SupperKing, share a ride with SideCar or Lyft, or even catch a ride on a private jet you don’t own with BlackJet.

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