SXSW Interactive is one of the biggest event in the global tech calendar, where 40k tech innovators gathering in Austin for an action-packed week of panels, keynotes, hackathons, meet-ups, and parties. The full SXSW experience means sacrificing sleep and it’s no surprise that many people network harder in a week of SXSW than weeks or even months back home.
Companies such as Twitter, Foursquare and Gowalla famously broke out at SXSW, so it’s no surprise that hundreds of startups and products launch at the event, which means there’s a lot of noise, especially from start-ups hoping to catch the attention of influential early adopters to become the next big thing.
When planning the Rummble Labs roadmap, our goal was to launch at SXSW with the new brand, websites, reengineered recommendations API and tech demo. We were delighted to be selected among 31 top British startups for the UKTI digital mission – a fantastic initiative, supported by the great folks Chinwag, that gives UK companies knowledge and support to help them succeed in the US.
Our aim was to build a tech demo that leverages some of the exciting new semantic recommendation algorithms that we’ve working on that SXSW attendees would find useful. The richest source of real-time information about SXSW can be found on Twitter, so we partnered with Gnip to pull in 100% of the SXSW Twitter firehose, including all mentions of “SXSW”, hashtags #SXSW, #SXSWi and over 600 official session hashtags. Tweet Labs analysed the content of every tweet, to group semantically similar people and keywords and spot trends. People can make intros and connect via a huge number of social networks, thanks to Qwerly API integration, with others who share similar interests. At peaks of activity Tweet Labs was processing 20 tweets per second! (Our CTO, Clive Cox explains how Mongo DB helped us in this technical blog post).
Here are the main trends and themes from SXSW 2011:
- Big Data and Personalisation – recommendations engines were a major theme at SXSW, with a number of panel sessions and keynotes, including Reid Hoffman who talked about Data as Web 3.0. There were in-depth interesting technical sessions and meetups such as Semantic Web and Activity Streams.
- Micro-payments – on the first night we all witnessed the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Hundreds of SXSW attendees watching in disbelief from the Driskill Hotel and most people agreed that Twitter was the best source of breaking news as the events unfolded, with unprecedented Twitter activity direct from people on the ground Japan, even most over communication networks were being knocked out by the disaster. The #sxcares hashtag was born and people at SXSW responded. Flattr turns traditional pre-payment model on its head with micropayments connected to clicking the equivalent of a like button. Think of it as a virtual tip-jar where people post-pay connect creators that are personally valuable and relevant for them. Flattr trumped the fight for attention around the Convention Center with buskers that could be Flattred by zapping a QR code. made it possible to donate to the Japan Disaster Relief Fund by zapping a QR code. For example, Hermione and Patrick from The Next Web had a mission to support themselves using Square turned into a fundraiser.
- Transparency & Reputation – Duedil have gathered a vast database containing over 15 billion datapoints on 7.5 million UK businesses, such as financials, shareholdings and credit ratings. Social reputation scores from services such as Klout and PeerIndex were integrated everywhere, including a projection of attendees Klout scores on the wall at the RazorFish happy hour!
- Group Messaging – we were spoilt for choice at the number of new group messaging services available at SXSW. This did however lead to some issues as people don’t always want to be connected to a closed group of people, so group messaging certainly didn’t replace Twitter! YoBongo was one of the most interesting new concepts, which enabled location-based group message with anyone nearby that people were using for Q&A to get the scoop on what is happening around them.
- Digital Business Cards – leading up to SXSW, people were talking about this being the year to leave your business cards at home and exchange/tweet/bump digital business cards instead. Most of the hype surrounded hash able, which tracks tweets with @metions with hashtags such as #intro and #justmet and then neatly creates a dynamic contact list. I wasn’t convinced of that its not all about serious talks, to fully appreciate the diversity of what’s on offer at SXSW you have to check out at least a couple of random talks – the first talk I saw was called “everything is awesome by we don’t care”. Talk about awesomeness reminders – which is currently oversubscribed, so proof that there are many ways to make money on the internets.
- Location – 2011 was another huge year for Foursquare and Gowalla, that went to town deeply integrating with all the events, sessions and local businesses for special offers. Checking in is almost a compulsory behaviour at SXSW.