Jim Long on SXSW ’11: No Breakout Platforms but Still Worth the Trip

This was my second tour of South by Southwest Interactive and what I have come to see is a conference whose popularity – the official tally from conference organizers puts event attendance at nearly 20,000 – has engulfed some of its usefulness and value.  If you go as an individual, you really have to be strategic with your time there to make it worthwhile, by my estimation.

It’s important here to note here this is “by my estimation”.  Your results may have been vastly different than mine.  Perhaps if I hadn’t parachuted in mid-conference coming off a grueling overseas work trip, or if I had avoided the lure of the social gatherings and gone head down into some serious panel attendance, my takeaways would’ve been different. 

Still, I think to derive value from panels and keynotes you really should fan out in teams and arrive very early.  Much of the panel content is duplicative and some panels simply aren’t that good.  But there were some quality panels and keynotes, and Patrick Ruffini of Engage communications has outlined four of his favorites.

Face to Face – It’s the People That Make the Conference

The real, measurable value of these conferences is spending time meeting people face to face.  Frankly, you could do that without buying a pass to the conference.

While some of the parties and lounges require a badge, you can meet people and do business simply by roaming the lobby of the Hilton or Driskill, or on the main floor of the convention hall.  You can always catch the keynotes at SXSW Interactive.

Even with all of this ambient intimacy allowing us to keep tabs one one another – defying time and space – it’s still no substitute for a handshake or a hug.  I had the opportunity to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in years.  These meetings produced measurable value professionally, in terms of projects/plans I have in the pipeline, and at a personal level it was lovely to spend time with the folks who mean a lot to me. This is what made the trip worth it for me.

No Breakout Platforms This Year

This was no coming out party for any shiny new technology like there has been for services like Twitter and Foursquare in years past.  Venerable Silicon Valley blogger Louis Gray proclaimed Hashable and Foursquare ”winners” of this year’s confab, but other than that, there weren’t any real standouts.

Like the title of this post implies, all of these platforms are evolving, and more emphasis is being placed on how people are using these tools – sometimes with wrenching geopolitical implications.  If nothing else, this demonstrates the maturity of mobile, social and location based technologies. 

Todd Watson from IBM said in a recent <a href="post, “For so much of the past 10-15 years, we’ve been so enamored with the technology itself. But more recently, we’ve begun to take much more notice of what the technology can do to empower humanity and human relationships, in often profound and game-changing ways: the Green revolution in Iran, the Haiti earthquake, the Chilean mine, the recent quake/tsunami in Japan…”

Watson adds that all of this technology is forcing organizational change upon institutions. Unable to keep up with the ”speed of the network” governments, businesses and other command and control institutions are increasingly being outpaced by networked individuals.  This is an compelling trend that bears watching. 

I’m interested in reading ”As One” by Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley.  In it, the authors outline many different types of organizational structures that work toward successful, unified goals.  Not the stuff of SXSW party buses, but it looks like a worthwhile read.

The Promise of Web Video at SXSW

I live, eat and breathe video.  I’m invigorated by the fact that production, distribution and monetization of video is now within the reach of anyone.  A scant few years ago this was the sole realm of broadcast and cable giants. But as with many institutions, the internet has leveled the playing field. 

I see great opportunity here and am fascinated by the idea of launching a internet TV network.  In one of the more energizing conversations I attended at SXSW, IAC chairman Barry Diller described how this internet “miracle” is disrupting broadcast and cable TV dominance, “Here you have this classic thing… You have a group of people, they’re on the train tracks. The train is five miles away. It used to be 10 miles away. In a year or two it’s going to be a mile away, and they’ll still have their hands out.”

He appeared to be quite bullish on the future of internet television and believes it will be ubiquitous within three years. 

Quietly, web video companies are doing something very de classe in the tech world.  Many of them are making money instead of just taking money.  Call me old fashioned, but I like that. In back-to-back “lightning round” sessions, companies like Howcast and Revision3 touted video ad CPM’s of $9, $15 and even $35.  More impressive is the potential for growth in online video.  Revision3 Chief Revenue Officer Brad Murphy shared these encouraging projections: (source: eMarketer)

  • 2011 – 68% of US internet users will be watching online video at least once a month
  • 2015 – 76% will be watching online video regularly
  • 2010 – Marketers spent $1.5 billion in online video (up 48% from 2009)
  • 2014 – Expected to grow to $5.7 billion

I sense great opportunity here and was inspired by these sessions.  One big disappointment for me this year was that I didn’t get a chance to meet Revision3 CEO Jim Louderback.  It’s impossible at something this big to see everyone you would like to, so hopefully our paths will cross soon.

Will You Go Next Year?

I think I’ll go back next year.  I’ve got a line on a condo just two blocks away, so at least that part is taken care of.  I’d say this SXSW was worth the trip, but as I noted to someone, I didn’t “love” it, I “liked it a lot.”

Special thanks to Jim Long for allowing us to repost this truncated version of his original article which is entitled “Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary – No Breakout Platforms But SXSW ’11 Still Worth the Trip.” You can also view some more of his SXSW pictures at flickr.

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