SXSWi 2014 Trends: Privacy, Practicality and Intimacy

DGC is officially on the ground at this year’s SXSW Interactive and it’s already been a busy couple of days of meetings, sessions, music, client catchups, reporter briefings and of course, parties.

My topline takeaway so far (and I’m not tapped into whether official attendance levels are down from years past) is that the whole experience feels much more manageable this year.

There are of course the same logistical challenges of transport, lines to get into events, etc. but there have been only a handful of sessions I’ve wanted to go to that I couldn’t get into and there has been ample space to decompress and work along with ample power outlets (I haven’t run out of charge yet!). Here are some of the trends we’re seeing emerge this year:

  • Privacy is front-and-center: There’s been a lot of talk about privacy, being driven in part by the industry’s focus on personalization and data but also controversial and heavily promoted feature presentations from Julian Assange (hosted by The Barbarian Group) and Edward Snowden (a discussion between Snowden and Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist) who skirted U.S. law by engaging in their discussions virtually. As we’ve seen in many recent industry conferences, people are talking a lot about privacy but are playing it safe- they’re saying it’s important but are talking less about how to navigate it and statements seem almost circular.
  • Be there, but be smart about it: We’re seeing less of the enormous, splashy brand presences than in year’s past (like the three-house Google Village in Rainey Street from SXSWi 2012.) Notably, Foursquare turned their decision to not have an official presence at this year’s SXSWi into PR by responding to Adweek’s Chris Heine and the WSJ reported Snapchat and WhatsApp would be no-shows.  There are certainly branded “houses” encouraging punters to experience a company’s brand such as Funny or Die’s takeover of Lustre Pearl, Yahoo’s space at Brazos Grill and AT&T’s The Mobile Movement activation but they all feel very sensible and experiential vs. going for enormous scale and pure stunt value.
  • Where is the wearable? Lots of chatter about wearable technology and its potential but on the whole it’s been tell, not show. Perhaps that will change once the exhibition hall opens but there’s been fewer sightings of Google Glassers than we expected. The question remains: is wearable still ahead of its time?
  • You can make, but can you run a business? There have been a lot of sessions focusing on corporate culture, operations and staying happy. SXSWi is a conference with an eye firmly on innovation, creating and making but the convergence of the startup world and general business seems to be driving more discussion around “staying power” and how to run a company efficiently with an eye on the long term. It feels like a natural exchange of expertise: startups are teaching corporations to be more agile and corporations are teaching entrepreneurs the benefits of a little structure and direction for lasting success.
  • Shhhh: This observation could go in two directions – 1) people trying desperately to escape the crowds and quieten the noise and 2) apps like Secret and Whisper helping people create inner circles. Avoid Humans, an app that utilizes Foursquare data created by Austin-based GSD&M, is indicative of the former as attendees (and locals) try desperately to create pockets of zen amongst the chaos. The latter is an extension of the trend behind Google+, Path, and the like: Intimacy is key and the smaller meetings, discussions and events are the ones people are really valuing.

We’ll be sharing some outtakes of some of the most interesting sessions and activations we’ve been seeing in the coming days, so stay tuned!

Posted on March 10, 2014, in The Hit Board and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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