The Hits and Misses of South By…South West
Guest Post by Tony Via
2011 was my first South By… more on that in a second. Between in-flight Wi-Fi and complimentary Bloody Mary’s, comfy chairs & charging stations in my layover airport (nice job, Dallas), and an exuberantly friendly (which, if you’ve never been South, you can’t truly appreciate) concierge when arriving at my Austin suite, I was a happy traveler. Back to that name for a second… I quickly learned that nobody adds “Southwest” when mentioning the conference in conversation. Everyone wants to know if it’s your first South By, and by the sound of things there were a lot of us n00bs present. Rather than going in strictly chronological order… you should have been following the #SXSW hashtag on twitter for that… I’m going to give a thematic recap.
I’d have a hard time choosing a favorite, so let’s call it a tie between Guy Kawasaki and Blake Mycoskie. Most know Kawasaki, likely for his excellent and imminently quotable speaking and writing, and he did not disappoint. Some choice lines included “The nobodies are the new somebodies” in reference to the power of the crowd in social media, and how “I know you would do the same for me” works much better than a simple “thankyou” as it builds on the power of reciprocation. Letting people pay you back builds ecosystems. Blake was no less full of energy, and was arguably even more inspirational as he shared the story of founding TOMS shoes. I thought a great takeaway was his point that the greatest competitive advantage to give your company is to allow employees to feel like they’re part of something important. I think that’s why we’re all here at HealthCentral. To be fair neither was a panel per se, since they were keynote speakers, but there were some great smaller sessions as well. Tim O’Reilly made some great points about software and the open ideals that founded the internet being potentially transformative to government, education, and healthcare. Barry Diller, as usual, offered sage advice… my favorite gems including a suggestion that President Obama hype people up less at rallies to stay home and write better laws (zing!). In truth its a philosophy that escaped many attendees. Do something great first, before trying to sell me on it.
The most off-target panelists, aside from the aforementioned speakers who sounded brimming with hype but bereft of product, were those obviously shilling. It’s great that you made it to the shipping stage, and I’m sure you’re proud, but SXSW is about learning and community. Particularly egregious were RIM and Mint, panelists for whom took every opportunity to hijack what should have been informative sessions and turn them into infomercials. People, particularly the demographic in attendance, know when they’re being sold to. And they hate it. If you’re going to pitch me, build some goodwill first. Mozilla was a great example of the right way to go about it. They had a sponsored ice-cream truck with some delectable desserts, and on a warm night a refreshing treat was all the incentive I needed to lend a developer my ear for a minute about why I should try their app on my iPhone. Other big misses included one day’s keynote by Chris Poole, of 4chan fame (if you don’t know the site, DON’T go poking around), which was a rambling, mumbled mess. Maybe his talk appealed to the “fanboys” but not to me, or the other half of the audience who walked out.
THE BIG THEME
Foursquare definitely understood how to tie everything together, from exclusive badges, to exclusive rewards and concerts, to an actual foursquare court to play on. They “got it,” and the “it” this year was definitely building on mobile & geolocation / geofencing. They understood their audience and how powerful that engagement could be, both in terms of building a strong brand and in building a strong community that… as a next step… can be monetized and marketed to. Facebook has won the war and is now THE platform on which the social layer is built, and foursquare is leading the way in terms of the geo layer. What’s interesting, is that the dynamics at work have lent this to most commonly be referred to as the “game” layer, but I think that discounts what’s really at work. Game dynamics are motivation actions, but the action is in the targeted mobile space. Of note, one of the panelists from foursquare never said “smartphone” once, and instead repeated the phrase “the computer in your pocket…” which I think speaks to an understanding of the shift already well underway. Mobile devices (first smartphones and now tablets) are moving from being ancillary to the core of our daily computing and web lives. Much the same way that ten years ago a company not on the web elicited a confused or condescending “really?!” the day & age has arrived when having a poor mobile experience will result in the same head scratching and frustration. I’m excited to say that we’re starting to see that now at HealthCentral, working on both the templates and the tools that will lead the way in the mobile health space.