SXSW 2015: Bigger and better than ever
The annual SXSW festival in Austin, Texas has become many things to many people — more than 30,000 of whom succumbed to the arm-twisting and selflessly immersed themselves in the rollicking hub of music, films, thought leadership, and pretty incredible barbeque.
While it is hard not to feel inspired when surrounded by such positive energy and creative output, there is some hand-wringing that the gathering has lost its authenticity. That is certainly an understandable criticism, particularly when expressed by the local Austin constituency that fiercely protects its individuality, but the continued expansion of SXSW has largely positive connotations.
In fact, one could argue that the increased inclusiveness of the festival is a testament to the core values it promotes. So, yes, corporations inevitably will play a larger role in guiding some of the SXSW tenor. The festival itself remains a fundamentally open, vibrant exchange of ideas — the most popular (and significant?) of which may be the perpetual happy hour!
Among the most impactful new technology themes that emerged from this year’s SXSW, are:
1. Social Streaming Video is Exploding. The breakthrough app of the conference was Meerkat, a recently-launched live-streaming platform. The app gained serious buzz when Twitter shut off Meerkat’s access to Twitter users days before the SXSW conference.
2. Robotics are Here; Mind & Organ Cloning are Coming. The prevalence of robotics at SXSW went to a new level this year. A “robot petting zoo” gave attendees the chance to touch, operate, and program ground and aerial robots. Additionally, a popular keynote by Martine Rothblatt discussed a new future that includes machine learning through “mind cloning,” and with innovations in biotechnology, a very-near future where we will be able to create new organs and expand our lives by up to 50 years.
3. Virtual Reality Will Be Accessible Very Soon. Virtual reality is now within reach. The most notable place of entry is gaming (the SXSW gaming expo had plenty of virtual reality demos), then will bridge into other experiences. Chris Kluwe and Derek Belch discussed how augmented reality and virtual reality could be used as advantages in sports.
4. New Generation of Retail. An all-female panel took the stage at one of the most popular sessions discussing the innovation in retail. Julie Bornstein from Sephora, Katrina Lake from Stitch Fix, and Jennifer Hyman from Rent the Runway discussed their thoughts on this change. The panel also discussed appealing to a new female consumer who is “smart” and “not trying to fill some emptiness with shopping.”
5. Social Influencers: Authenticity is Key. YouTube star Michelle Phan spoke to attendees about the keys to success for gaining subscribers and followers on social media. She stressed the importance of “keeping it sincere” and not trying to “put on a show.” As more and more social media stars bubble up, they will partner with brands in ways that complement their authentic voices.
Did you attend SXSW this year? What are your thoughts on the 2015 events versus previous years? Let’s chat here, or find me on Twitter @endbadly.