SXSW – What it’s all about and what start up’s that could make a splash

There’s no doubt you have noticed the abundance of web chatter over the last few days about SXSW, but if like me you are based far away from the hype, you might be wondering what it is all about.

 

SXSW is the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival which was first held in 1987 in Austin, Texas. The idea was to draw attention to the city’s vibrant music scene. despite the city not being among the top American metropolitans it had a very cosmopolitanism population because of the influence of the University of Texas which brought people from all over the world. Austin also had a reputation as a party city.

Whilst the festival started solely as a music festival in more recent years it has morphed into having a strong technology focus as well. In 2007 a totally unknown social media start up called Twitter came to the event. the rest is history. In 2009 it was FourSquare’s turn. With a track record like that there’s no wonder techies the world over watch with gleeful anticipation for the next start up super star when the event kicks off each year.

Industry big players get involved too. This year Google have built a replica of their famous headquaters on the outskirts of Austin named Google village. Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung and many others all are ramping up their presence there this year as well.

Being a music festival by origin the event still attracts huge stars with Hollywood stars such as Leonardo DiCaprioMatthew McConaughey and Jack Black all making appearances in the Texas capital.

But are there any big hopes this year in the technology area? This year the theme appears to be “social discovery” smart technology that moves the user experience from an active “check-in” (like Foursquare) to technology that runs in the background and automatically notifies users when the situation calls for it.

When I originally read about this I thought we were getting closer to relevant deals and discounts being automatically pushed to people depending on their location. Whilst the concept of marketers knowing where you are at any given time does frighten a lot of people, being told that your favourite magazine, which you buy every week any way, is on sale at a discount in a store you are passing, seems like an exciting step forward to me. However most of the start ups that are being highlighted for attention seem to have networking and conferences as their main focus.

Apps like Sonar which operate similarly to Foursquare but uses filters to display to you people with similar interests to you that are in the same proximity.

Glancee mines Facebook and presents to you people close by that have common interests to you. It has a user interface which allows you to initiate chat with them through the service too.

Highlight tracks your location and then notifies you when people you have met are nearby. It stores their details and so I suppose works as a digital way to remember peoples names!

The one that I think is probably the most interesting is Roamz. It works like a kind of backward Foursquare. It tracks where you are and then suggests locations, sites and events that you may like to go to based on your own interests. What I think this does is remove the check in process, which in turn may increases up take by the masses. I still think ultimately though that there needs to be more reward to people for giving up their privacy and this will only come when businesses participate more widely and offer discounts and deals to those people using these services.

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