March 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

Hey, SXSW People: Let’s Keep It Real, Shall We?

sxsw 2012

Each year, hundreds of thousands of excitable people gather in Austin for the SXSW Interactive, Film, and Music festival (photo link below).

In 2007, it was Twitter. In 2009, it was Foursquare. In 2011, it was apparently group-messaging apps such as Group.me, and this year, it’s supposed to be Highlight, Glancee, or maybe Sonar.

Each year at SXSW — especially at the Interactive part of the festival — every over-caffeinated kid genius with start-up dollars in her eyes and professional technology enthusiast with a jones for novelty in his heart gathers to eat barbecue, drink beer, paw at smartphones in the glaring southern sun, and, most faux-importantly, speculate about the next big thing.

But what if you don’t need to hit a home run to make a difference, a business, or, for that matter, a living? Sometimes hitting a single is a wiser strategy than swinging for the fences.

You know why smartphones are so cool? Because they can install more than one app. In fact, they can install several, or even hundreds of them. After a year, 94 percent of those apps are never used again. In an ecosystem like that, in which we tend to use a variety of things and shift between them with fluidity, why should only one app “win” SXSW for the whole year? It just doesn’t make sense.

To that end, SXSW attendees and people who will read about what they are doing down there in Texas, let’s try to keep it real, shall we? Some things are interesting, effective, entertaining, useful, and newsworthy, even if they aren’t trying to change the world, reinvent cities, blow up the moon, or do anything else that mostly exists in the fever-dream-riddled minds of professional onlookers like, well, me.

Yes, I know whereof I speak. But I’m not playing that game this year. At SXSW 2012, I’ll be looking for stuff that’s good. Stuff that’s interesting. But not stuff that will “change the world,” if only for one week in Austin, among people who are anything but representative.

Let’s not let the great be the enemy of the good, shall we? Let’s try to focus on neat stuff that might improve lives, if only incrementally: useful, single-function apps; helpful communication tools; new ways of sharing, enjoying, and discovering music; and even apps that concertgoers can wave in the air to make a concert slightly better. Stuff that might earn some enterprising developer $10K per month, even if it doesn’t lead to an acquisition by Apple, Google, or some other new-media powerhouse.

The best thing about SXSW is that there is no single “best thing” — instead, it’s the variety of people, things, and ideas that find themselves suddenly concentrated in the same weird town that makes it special. To try to reduce all of that beautiful complexity, all of the gray areas between useless and “world-changing,” and all the small-yet-awesome innovations down to one single must-have app that becomes the story of the festival is to ignore what makes SXSW worthwhile. Otherwise, we’d be able to sum up the whole thing with a single tweet: “Install this: [link].”

And with that, it’s time to pack. See you in Austin. And if you’re bringing something neat there, please, let me know — even if it might not change the world and all of its inhabitants forever.

Photo of SXSW 2011 courtesy of flickr/inUse Consulting

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamesmartinRM James Martin Rm

    Spot on. It’s not about being the hottest thing at Southby, it’s about being useful to as many people as possible for as long as possible. Cf. last year’s big trend, group texting: who actually says today “hold on, I’ll just send everyone a group text?” Keep it real indeed. And good luck out there!