Reflections on SXSW 2016
When the President shows up at a conference does that mean that it might be getting too big? Not cool anymore? Not at all. Compared to other shows like CES (170,000 people) and NAB (100,000 people), the plus or minus 30,000 people at SXSW is big, but not too big. The President attended because it’s important. Politics aside, President Obama is smart enough to understand that the attendees of SXSW are in the process of rebuilding America. To paraphrase Kevin Plank from Under Armour, “data is the new oil.” He actually characterized the visit as a recruiting mission.
The Blue Water crew at SXSW was all over the place. See our Twitter feed @BlueWaterDC for details.
Here are some of my takeaways:
It’s time for us to stop differentiating mobile and web. It’s the Internet -regardless of device. As technologists, we need to build things that work well on all devices. Mobile usage will eclipse desktop, and it’s going to happen soon. Taking a mobile-first approach to content strategy and information architecture forces organizations and agencies to distill messaging down to the most important call to actions and content. Mobile first isn’t a new idea, but it still seems like many organizations are hesitant to take a serious approach to adequately address the mobile experience. The time is now.
Brand is everything. The difference between a great idea being a successful business and languishing in obscurity often comes back to brand. In a session with leaders from Under Armour, Droga5, Squarespace, and Hello Alfred, it became clear that successful technology brands (and successful brands in general) are freaks about their brand touch points and experiences. Is an Under Armour workout shirt or shoe that much different than Nike or Adidas? According to Under Armour, no, not really. It’s the brand perception and experience. It’s what someone thinks of when they are wearing Under Armour – they can do anything.
The best session I attended was titled: You Know What? F*#k Dropdowns. Bay Area designers Eric Campbell and Golden Krishna ran the session. The premise of the presentation was that dropdowns have gotten way out of control. All of the countries in the world with the US all the way at the end of the list? We have the ability to determine what country someone is visiting a site from. Why do we continue to put users through this? What about male or female dropdown selections? Mr., Mrs, Ms., Sir, etc. Do we really need to know this information? It's easy to use location-based services, even biometrics to auto-populate information for users so they don’t have to constantly type in the same information. Do you really want to have to type in your name, location, and credit card information at 2am when you need an Uber? Let’s leverage the next generation of js, camera, location services, and other technologies to eradicate dropdowns.
The exhibit hall was a wonderful mess of scrappy new technology companies from all over the world showcasing their apps, hardware, wearables and whatever else you can imagine. The Asian section was the highlight. Blue Water partner, Acquia had a fun social experiment with The Bumbys where attendees could stand in line (a long one at that) and have one of these masked characters judge you by your appearance using a 25-year-old typewriter and lots of white-out.
The international contingent of the show was a big surprise. Everywhere you turned someone was speaking something other than English. We also sat in on a number of sessions with European technology leaders to gain a more global perspective on what is happening overseas.
You have to “roll with it” to a certain extent at SXSW. Popular sessions fill up quickly. Arrive early if there is something that you definitely want to attend. At some point throughout the event you may become annoyed if you continue to get turned away from sessions, but given the amount of people in attendance, the event is run quite well – which isn’t easy.
Austin is a cool town. The mix of culture, music, technology and a really easy place to get in and out of with great hotels is a perfect fit for this event celebrating its 30th year.I’d highly recommend the show for anyone in technology or interested in emerging technology. I came away with a renewed motivation to push boundaries and innovate. We’ll definitely be there next year.