SXSWi (South By Southwest interactive): A Wrapup (Sorta)

     |    Wednesday March 20th, 2013
Cartoon monkey sleeping: SXSW Exhibitor Awakes on His First Morning in Town

SXSW Exhibitor Awakes on His First Morning in Town


First, apologies. This post would have appeared sometime last week, as promised, had there not been a minor catastrophe. Part of it was my fault, but part of it wasn’t. The part that was my fault was spilling coffee into my computer. Okay, that was dumb. The part that wasn’t was that the wi-fi in my hotel here in Austin fried all my e-mail programs, which had to be reconstructed by hand at the Apple genius bar. It was then that my keyboard stopped working and I had to give up my laptop for a week. Moral: be careful using wi-fi in hotels. Other moral: never get so wrapped up in trying to fix your computer that you’re not watching where your sleeve is.

At any rate, this caused me to miss Bruce Sterling’s closing speech, which is always the most amusing part of SXSWi, since he tends to just let go and rant. Of course, there was no reason to believe I could have gotten in. I was only able to get into one panel the entire time because there were so many people in attendance. At a conservative estimate, SXSWi seems to sell five registrations for every chair available. Lines hundreds of people long for rooms that couldn’t possibly have accommodated them weren’t uncommon, and if you were lucky enough to get in, the chances of your getting into the next thing you wanted to see were nil. Of course, the question remains how many of them were worth getting into; previous experience has shown that many of the “ideas” presented are both obvious and tired, repackaged in hip! shiny! clothing. The one panel I did manage to get into was embarrassingly dumb; the computer work could have been done by a bright 8-year-old, its rationale by a not-so-bright…well, however old the guy giving the presentation was. I won’t embarrass him, but I hope he hasn’t given up his day job. And hey, I didn’t stand in line for 2 1/2 hours to see Grumpy Cat. Others did. Really.

This left me cruising the trade show, where a full range of useful and stupid things were on display. Notably lacking were social networks that had no utility, which was one of last year’s big items. Apparently Facebook is the 300-pound gorilla, and, despite its obvious problems and drawbacks, it’s well-thought-out. The privacy-invaders are still out there, though: I was handed a card by something called LoYakk, which advertises “Instant Local Community — Anywhere.” Apparently “community” means commonality in consumption: their app can help you find other users who are consuming the same brands. Just what you’re supposed to do after that, I have no idea, but I assume the brands get something out of it from LoYakk. Then there was the enigmatic Gigg, whose pitch only included the words “If Instagram and Twitter got married, this would be their wedding song…” I use neither, so exactly what this bastard child would look like eludes my fertile imagination. And since I’m not about to scan their code and load their app onto my iPhone, I’ll remain ignorant. A slightly weirder pitch was made by Image Meet and Greet, a company that will sell you a celebrity’s autograph, which is authenticated by a video of the celebrity signing your exact artifact, which you also get. This was launched by an event at which a very well-known comedian (whom I won’t embarrass because he’s a friend of a friend, or at least their kids go to school together) signed autographs remotely at a party launching a Playtex “post-intimacy wipe” product. You can’t make this stuff up. The one community-building online app that made a modicum of sense was access4artists, a Facebookian setup that provides a place for artists to have a space from which to share or sell their music. They have enough bandwidth and storage to provide the highest-quality files out there — no crappy MP3s — and enough flexibility to allow you to set things up any way you want to. There are elements of MySpace in this, too, but with a much less horrific interface. I just wonder if, the sincerity of the guy who founded it, with whom I spoke at length, notwithstanding, this is too late to the gate.

There were the usual DOA schemes, too. AdMenuMedia proposes a scheme in which you get an iPad instead of a menu at the restaurant, and, if you want to make more money, there are ads, animated if you want, inserted into the “pages.” This conjures up a scenario whereby you hand your wife the iPad, she slips it in her purse, and you leave the restaurant, brandishing your phone and say that the babysitter just called and the kid is sick. Score: one iPad and one restaurant you probably didn’t want to go back to anyway. Miko and Neurowear are DOA because they’re so creepy. The latter is described as “bionic cat ears called ‘necomimi’…a new communication tool that uses brainwaves to express the users [sic] feelings.” Miko, on the other hand, “frees the user from having to select songs and artists and allows users to encounter new music just by wearing the device. The device detects brainwaves through the sensor on your forehead. Our app then automatically plays music that fits your mood.” I’m not sure where the music library is or what criteria it uses for selection, but it’s very hard to imagine either of these catching on in the U.S. A visit to the developers’ website is like touching down on another planet, one unfriendly to life as I know it.

As for hardware, how about the Go Puck? Puck apparently stands for Portable USB Charging Kit, and it’s a pocket-sized charger with three or five USB ports that’ll recharge your iPhone or Android numerous times. If it works, it sounds great, but I harbor memories of a gizmo a company called Mophie sold me a couple of years ago, a case that fit over my iPhone and added more juice when the phone ran out. It worked fine for about six months, then didn’t hold a charge. They may have addressed this issue: they were there this year. But I’m going to pass.

One elegant solution I saw was the stuff from Henge Docks, who make docks for Mac laptops, which can then be used as the CPU for a larger screen. Add a bluetooth keyboard and you’re ready to rock. Head out on the road and just pull your laptop. As a guy whose desktop real estate is at a premium, I really liked this solution. Only problem was that I’d have to buy a big screen, which I have no objection to in principle, just in principal, if you get my drift. Anyway, I’m saving their propaganda. And finally, as always, there was a company that was offering to print your merch: t-shirts, caps, coffee cups, etc. Social Imprints, though, is a bit different. As their card (which lacks the URL for their website — come on, people!) says, they’re a “full service custom printer that provides higher paying professional employment, job training and hope to ex-offenders and recovering drug addicts.” The finished jobs they were showing were of a very high quality, and they’d have my business if I had any to give them.

So, sorry I can’t report any idea-oriented stuff, but until SXSW gets some traffic control into its system (literally nobody I knew got into a single Interactive session) that’ll remain difficult. Nor have I had any barbecue since I’ve been here. It’s not all fun and games, folks!