SxSW Wrap-Up: ‘The Big Ideas’

It’s hard work distilling 20,000 people, hundreds of sessions, droves of start-ups, seemingly endless parties and even a Mike Tyson cameo into a cliffs notes recap of SxSW Interactive. Not that anyone is shedding any tears for me. America loves lists (or so I’ve heard), so here are “the big ideas” that have my brain buzzing post-Austin.

1) The Check-In Gets an Ego Check: Kudos to Gowalla’s Josh Williams, cofounder of a company that has leveraged check-in fascination to fund and fertilize the business, for reminding the location-based services space that check-ins were originally designed as means to greater value, not as ends unto themselves. When misconstrued, badges, passport stamps and other social rewards that fail to tell a more compelling value story (whether tangible, personal, philanthropic or other) can become a hindrance rather than a facilitator. “We’re drinking our own Kool-Aid,” Williams admonished.

So what does “getting real” really mean? Not a lot of concrete nuggets were offered. Perhaps it’s being able to tell a larger, more colorful personal and social narrative around places you’ve been or communities you’ve interacted with (the Gowalla idea). Maybe it’s about social recommendations that blend local places with friends’ activity (hello Foursquare). Maybe it’s gamification for larger social good (see Seth Priebatsch’s grand plan to use game mechanics to fix education). Or maybe its something else. But it’s not check-ins … not long-term, at least.

2) So, This Whole Deal-a-Day Thing May Be MUCH Bigger Than We Thought: Actually, many of my colleagues have viewed group buying as a local commerce game changer since its earliest days. But the deals session at SxSW, particularly a slide from Yipit’s Jim Moran, brought this burgeoning ecosystem into sharper relief.

I’m well aware of the critical places that deals sites, white-label providers, verticals and aggregators hold and can feel the rising demand for data to justify the opportunity for publishers. Exchanges were a natural as the space grew. But there is also real potential in merchant services, consumer services and merchant agencies. These are largely new doors to be unlocked. There may be more opportunity in b-to-b deals as well, where promising rollouts are limited (Business Insiders’ Pipeline, for one).

The next nuts to crack: better merchant care to boost customer retention, self serve that’s truly accessible (Groupon’s merchant center hasn’t exactly caught fire) and, for publishers, tighter integration of deals into brand content (not as blunt ad units).

3) Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Maybe, if I knew where the neighborhood started and stopped. Much of the future of the mobile-social intersection hinges on definitions of, and ability to utilize, location. Sounds mushy, huh?

To paraphrase NeighborGoods CEO Micki Krimmel, technology has been great for building affinity and interest groups, but can it be equally useful in fostering local connections? Foursquare and others are beginning down this path with their location + social recommendation engine, but the layer that NabeWise CEO Ann Baldinucci says is missing is the one that “sits above property listings and addresses to tell you what a community or neighborhood is all about.” That is the context wrapper that is largely absent.

Joe Stump from SimpleGeo noted that the demand for neighborhood-level data is fervent, but limited in its application if no social context is connected to it.

4) Twitter Saves Linear TV!: Well, maybe not singularly save it, but it certainly can provide a boost. Chloe Sladden, Twitter’s Director of Media Partnerships, shared anecdotal evidence that integrating second screen activity with live, linear event programming can enhance the real-time appeal of a show (i.e., DVR can’t replicate the dynamic social experience users have when connecting over a live show).

Interestingly, Gavin Purcell, the supervising producer of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” foresees a new job title growing around second screen experiences. Essentially, this person will extend the role of the community manager cross-platform to connect big screen and second screen interaction.

Many local broadcasters are already effectively utilizing Twitter in their newscasts by soliciting audience questions and surfacing story ideas. Now, can they extend the experience to a second screen to create more dynamic conversation?

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