President Obama speaks at SXSW about the future of technology
Friday, March 18, 2016

SXSW Interactive Provides Valuable Lessons To Civic Organizations & Publishers

SXSW Interactive has officially wrapped up just a few miles from the Bar-Z office. The yearly tech conference, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, always brings new technology and discussion how a variety of industries should adapt to technological change.  In past years, there has always been a stand out app or start-up. A noticeable shift in the conference seemed to take place this year.  There was no standout app or real buzzworthy news to come out of the conference.  Instead, sessions seemed to revolve more around some big picture issues. We will break down the issues and trends for our two major audiences: Civic and Publishers.


For anyone on the government side, there were essentially a few major points that arose on the local level.  First, President Obama’s keynote gave a call to action to the technology community to help “take this democracy back in ways we have not seen in a long time.” The President noted how culturally different technology and government are from each other. Technology is constantly growing, while the government is stuck with outdated technology.  

This was also reflected in many of the 20 mayors that spoke on various panels on a variety of topics. There was a general consensus that governments on a local level needed to start considering new technology as a means to improve the livelihood of their cities.   One example was the Mayor of Baltimore discussion how she was using mobile/digital solutions for food and grocery delivery in food deserts in Baltimore neighborhoods. 

Transportation was also a major hot topic of the mayor’s visits. Every one of the mayors in town got the chance to experience Google’s self-driving cars.  One panel featured Kasim Reed, Mayor of the City of Atlanta, and Muriel Bowser, Mayor of the District of Columbia.  Reed mentioned that he didn’t believe that people would be parking at his airport in 20 years due to ride-sharing, bikes and self-driving cars.  Therefore, he let up on spending for that aspect.


While there wasn’t an app, like Meerkat, that stood out at this year’s conference.  Virtual reality seemed to fill the void.  It was the one technology that seemed impossible to escape.  VR headsets were in pop-ups for McDonalds, Samsung, PlayStation and more. Virtual reality is not new to SXSW by any means appearing in pop-ups for Game of Thrones and Samsung in year’s past. 

However, due to the high volume of VR at the conference, there was discussion if this was the next medium publishers needed to invest in. The New York Times actually threw a party to show off their NYT VR content through Google Cardboard viewers.  Some of this content included brands, like Mini and GE, who shelled out roughly $1.5 million for their campaigns. The only problem that arose was a lot of consumers aren’t aware of VR just yet.  Many headsets are scheduled to launch this year and at more affordable pricing.  These releases and prices might finally bring VR into everyday consumer's life, as New York Times media columnist, Jim Rutenberg, mentioned during his session on Saturday.  Regardless, it got legacy media talking on how they need to adapt and what this meant for this industry.

Overall, journlism sessions tried to direct focus to remembering your audience at the heart of content creation.  This was stressed thruogh the importance of analytics.  Speakers from Buzzfeed to Thrillest all spoke on quality content and experiences. However, the conversation did not stop there.  Many referenced the importance of new technology and social media in growing a brand into new verticals.  They also discussed how it was critical to understand the limits of that platform. Tasty from Buzzfeed was the most commonly used example of a media company creating a new vertical and understanding the limits that come from that platform. Others even took it a step further like, Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff.  Bankoff spoke on the growing company’s brands beyond their websites and helping marketers do the same through Vox’s technology platforms.   

Even with the shift in conversations from new technology to hot topics, SXSW Interactive had a lot of valuable information to provide to attendees. We are already excited to see what SXSW 2017 might have in store.

Photo credit: SXSW Live

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