What were the big Trends at SXSW? In search of the essence from a 5-day content bender

SCOTT-LAST-2.jpgBy Scott Woodhouse at SXSW

SXSW creates an insane amount of noise - on the web and in the real world -it's very easy to get lost in it all. The place is swarming with freaks and geeks, one in ten of whom are panelists, all of whom have LOTS to say and aren't afraid to tweet about it. Keynotes, panels, hashtags, conversations, demos...it's a 5-day content bender.

And from street-level, it's impossible to know for sure if you're really taking in the best of what SXSW has to offer. By day five, I felt like I needed to pause, look up and get my bearings. Because the reality is setting in that at some point my boss is going to ask me what I learned at SXSW. I've stuffed all these discrete bits of information into my poor, overworked hippocampus, but I really need to start appropriating all that content into something usable and communicable.
SCOTT-LAST_4.jpgSo when I saw "Hype vs. Reality: Takeaways from SXSWi 2013" on Tuesday's bill I breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully these guys can tell me what I learned at SXSW.

In collaboration with the organisers of SXSW, Beth McCabe and Itai Asseo of Digitas collected and synthesised the mass of social data generated before and during SXSWi to compare the hot topics going into the event with what actually trended. Did the hype match the reality? What were the real stories of the world's biggest interactive festival? And why? Yes, please guys, just hit me with the headlines.

To visualise the data in a hangover-friendly way, Beth and Itai demo'd SoDa, a social data visualisation tool that's in very early alpha stages - very cool. Love all the new data vis stuff that's emerging now.

SCOTT-LAST-1.jpgSo, here's what we learned.

Interactive has eclipsed Music and Film
Beth and Itai looked back through the festival's 20-year history, which began as a music festival. "SXSW Interactive" was coined in 1999 and by 2010, had overtaken Music and Film in attendance. This year saw 25,569 at Interactive, compared to 18,988 at Music and 16,490 at Film.

Young, educated, affluent device freaks 
According to SoDa, Interactive-goers are young, educated, affluent decision-makers. And you sense it. The place is buzzing with smart thoughts. But this also: according to check-in visualisations, charging stations were among the most popular locations around the festival, and people literally moved from power outlet to power outlet. Begs the question: at a thing like SXSW with so much vibe, what do we miss out on by being so "connected".

People enjoy smart things and frivolous pop culture equally
If you base it on social reach, the biggest breakout personality at SXSW was Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX [and co-founder of PayPal]. I didn't see his keynote, but it must have been good - the man clocked up 11,823 mentions. Despite the hype surrounding high-profile speakers like Al Gore, the second-most mentioned personality was Grumpy Cat. This is such an important truth, and one that BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti slammed home in his sensational keynote: traditional media feels like it needs to focus only on the serious content, but it's normal human behavior to enjoy smart things and frivolous pop culture equally and together. Even the smartest people in the world are humans - not robots.

The "influencer" gap is shrinking
The average panelist had 3k twitter followers and 1k Facebook fans - a reasonable audience. But, if you look at the attendee data, the average geek on the street has 632 Facebook friends and 1,200 Twitter followers. Everyone's packing klout these days.

Big topics: space, big data, digital-physical, entrepreneurship
Looks like the world is getting over its fixation with social media and apps. Here's what people care about in 2013:

·      Space - As well as Musk's keynote, there were 34 panels on space [compared to only a handful last year]. Space is becoming more accessible and privatised, and SXSW encourages people to think big and seriously explore ideas that are probably half joke, half reality. I love that. It reminds me of the startup culture you encounter in Silicon Valley.

·      Data - Data is arguably our greatest resource, but we're only just starting to work out how to use it. In their #artcopycode session, Google pointed out that we're beginning to see new uses of data through visualisation, utility, contextual ideas and the like. But we produce 2.5 quintillian bytes of data each day, and only use a fraction of that. Keynote Nate Silver predicted the 2012 US presidential election in all states and wrote a book about finding meaning where there is meaning. Self-tracking and self-hacking was a big theme too - finding the trends and patterns in one's own behavior and making changes [things like eating habits and exercise].

SCOTT-LATR-3.jpg·      Digital-physical - While apps have dominated in previous years, 2013 year was about connecting the digital and physical worlds. Leap Motion - software that removes clunky interfaces to replace clicks, taps, drags and drops with natural human movements - stole the show. But, 3D printers / scanners like MakerBot and connected objects like Google's talking shoes were also big players in the #sxsw livestream.

·      Entrepreneurship - Start-up culture has infected every corner of the Interactive universe. And rightly so. Heart, passion, prototyping, the guts to fail [and take value from failures]...there are so many things we agencies would do well to learn from entrepreneurs.

I don't have proof, but I feel like the word "engagement" is dying - and probably lots of the other buzzwords the "gurus" have been slamming us with since the explosion of the social web. Looking back on the stuff that trended this year, it's heartening to see that the world and the web is moving forward and becoming more connected. There's a strong sense that it's less about tech for tech's sake. Google Glass is all about giving people access to the technology they love, without taking you out of the moment. And like Google Developer Advocate for Project Glass Timothy Jordan summed up beautifully in his keynote: "technology shouldn't get in the way of life".

Well, that's it for Mish and I at SXSW. Thank you Whybin\TBWA\DAN for an incredible time. We're off to see our big brother TBWA\Chiat\Day in LA.
Scott Woodhouse is a planner and Mish Fabok is a digital producer - both are from Whybin\TBWA Group, Melbourne and both are in Austin to get serious about interactive, tacos and parties. Woodhouse is writing exclusively for Campaign Brief.

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