Parts of my first SXSW experience lived up to the billing. As I’ve shared with many of my friends, it’s an odd mixture of inspiration, insanity and boondoggle. Spending five days in downtown Austin in a range of panel discussions, open houses for various brands, and gaining insights from people all over the world has left me with a number of impressions and thoughts.
Long time SXSW attendees will tell you each year showcases hot new technologies and trends. Nothing on the scale of the Consumer Electronics Show, but still, a few days in this place will give you a sense of where the interactive industry is headed (sorry, but I skipped most of the music scene). While Virtual and Augmented Realities were all the rage in the exhibition hall, its clear that “Immersive” reality experiences—the blending of VR/AR with audio and olfactory experiences to create deeper, realistic experiences—are only a few years from being available. It’ll be interesting to see how the next generation of start-ups integrates the various technologies into holistic user experiences. And like the examples at this show, some will be spectacular and others will be sad cheese.
I sat in enough presentations and panels by today’s “Internet Stars” to conclude that most of those people are successful not so much because of a clear strategy, but because they’re working their butts off each and every day to create new content and engage their audiences on social. On multiple occasions, when pressed by the audience to share their secrets of “How did you do it,” they couldn’t (or didn’t) articulate any specific strategy about why their brand exploded. And it wasn’t a matter of them protecting trade secrets. They just don’t know why—from a brand perspective—people are “buying” into their brands. That said, there were a few, mostly from Hollywood who played in the intersection of fashion, beauty and fame, who did seem to have a clear strategy and were able to share why their marketing works (or doesn’t). To sum it up, most panelists left me with the sense that they’re enjoying 15 minutes of fame and as soon as the attention-deprived online herd finds something shiny and new, many of the brands, products and personalities at this year’s event will fade away to make room for the next thing.
I think the most fascinating innovations—and most radical thinking—are occurring at the intersection of agriculture and technology. A few will amaze:
There’s probably a huge population that is looking forward to self-driving vehicles. And while I understand the allure of being chauffeured around by Siri or her friends at Google, as someone that prefers the experience of driving and the feel of my car on the road, I’m not so jazzed. Now, if they can figure out how to make FLYING cars that make the sound like the cars on The Jetsons
…well, that I could probably get into just because of the adrenaline rush and the view.
I certainly understand why the Metro Chamber made an investment in SXSW. However, I came away with the sincere belief that we don’t need Austin to be successful in attracting or cultivating talent. In fact, I think we can create our own event that showcases our city’s unique diversity, entertainment industry, innovation, companies, restaurants and culture. We’re thirty years behind the festival planners in Austin, but in this day and age, especially from what I learned in Austin, I believe we could create our own version of SXSW that would bring people here from all over the southeast—and the world.
So Atlanta, we were certainly good enough for the Olympics. How about our own SXSE?
Let’s build something exceptional together.