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Amongst the Crush of Ideas at SXSWi

Here I sit, at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport musing over my past five and half days at South By Southwest.

The overall visual of SXSW?  40,000 heads in phones.  As my colleague @GarretScott said “I’ve never seen so many faces casting off light-blue glows.”  And while we may always be connected that doesn’t mean we are completely untethered as the 40,000 chargers hanging from jeans pockets/handbags would attest to.

Until we can get rid of the (fill in the blank here) charger SXSW still has more room for innovation. Oh, I’ll also throw in a request for a decent Wi-Fi connection.  Seriously, though this is good news for SXSWi, the interactive third of the interactive-music-film fest, because it is thriving on attendees’ need to educate and co-create on that very topic.  Conference attendance exploded over last year.

The mob was sometimes crushing and there was a genuine hunger for ideas.  And while that might not add up to a crushing amount of innovation that was displayed it was still exciting to be a part of collective passion for ideas.

Here are a few ideas, concepts and one product that surfaces to the top of my brain as I wait to board the plane.

  • “Follow passionate ideas from interesting people” is a paraphrase from the excellent fireside chat with Tim O’Reilly.   For him it’s one of the things that have led him to be a successful investor.  His focus on people over products was thematic throughout his answers.  Barry Diller hit a similar tone in his keynote discussion three days later.
  • Thanks for sharing. Beyond Gowalla and Foursquare, geo-specific apps were everywhere. And increasingly that means you’re being watched as I noted in a tweet during the conference. (@ #sxsw and just had this pop up on my Yahoo mail page. http://ow.ly/i/93PF Somebody’s being tracked.) The trade-off for location-specific convenience is location-based marketing.   The rules of engagement are changing. And no app is entirely free when you consider the trade-offs in privacy and information that are being freely offered up.
  • The ever-increasing need to manage your personal brand. The “Steroidal Use of Social Media” session provided discussion on what you might NOT want to do.  They laid out an argument of sorts that “it’s okay to cheat as long as you’re not a cheater”.  But is it okay to game the system as long as it’s not illegal?  It’s an interesting intellectual debate.  Here’s an example from the sports world.  Brady Anderson used steroids before the ban. Barry Bond used after.  Is one guiltier than the other?  In social realm How far should you go to maximize your online clout and fan base?  The session “Shine your Light on Others to Build your Brand” provided a nice counter discussion.  Good things come to those who focus the spotlight on others – although probably not as quickly. For me, I’m more comfortable with this latter approach because I believe in quality over quantity and it’s more suited to my DNA.  But that’s just me.
  • How can everyone share media from pretty much anywhere with pretty much anyone? While the sentence is a bit of riddle; Twonky solves it with a cool way to share music and other content with your friends. Think of it as your media network. I thought it was the coolest, most practical product amongst the hundreds of products shown.

And that’s it From Austin-Bergstrom International airport.  I’m now being instructed to “turn off all electronic devices including all Apple products, iPads, Kindles…” – a sign of the times and indication of the passenger load that’s returning home from nearly a week in tech heaven.