Just as I did last year, I wanted to summarize my key takeaways from SXSW Interactive. I learned a lot this year and I’m excited by the way the industry is maturing. I was surprised at how much more sophisticated the business side of the conference was – things have progressed significantly from last year, when panelists were seriously debating whether or not UGC could be monetized! (This year I was surprised to hear detailed and accurate discussion of SEO and analytics in a conversation about mommyblogging.) If you attended, I’d love to hear what themes or trends you noticed. Here are my top 10:

  1. Social media has hit the big time. Registrations for the interactive portion of SXSW were up 40% this year over 2009, and this year interactive registrations exceeded registrations for music!
  2. Public and private are converging. Increasingly, people are posting under their real names, rather than anonymously (or under “handles” or pseudonyms), and people are taking advantage of tools like Facebook Connect to merge their identities (and social networks) across multiple sites. At SXSWi 2009, there was a lot of anxiety around “collapsing contexts” (what happens when your mom finds your Facebook or your boss sees your tweets), but in 2010 panelists and audience members alike took it as a given that personal and professional interactions will intersect online in complicated ways.
  3. The real-time internet is a reality. Asynchronous communication on-line is becoming obsolete, as people access the web where ever they are. Expectations around response times are changing radically as users become more accustomed to immediate answers via Twitter and text. Particularly in interactions like Ask & Answer, in which the poster expects a response, turnaround time is critical.
  4. Location-based tools are the next hot thing. foursquare, which launched at SXSWi last year, was omnipresent at the conference this year, with competitor Gowalla following close behind (also-ran Loopt was busily trying to capture some market share). There were multiple panels on GPS and location-based software this year and they were all packed. Look for brands to leverage this technology in multichannel marketing and to create seamless interactions between their brick and mortar and on-line stores.
  5. Privacy isn’t dead. Despite the emphasis on “real” (id, time, place), users still have concerns about how much information they reveal about themselves. Danah Boyd’s opening remarks on privacy and publicity focused on the importance of control and context; how much people are willing to share depends on who’s going to have access to that data and what they’re going to do with it. On the other hand, personalization is increasingly important, and visitors are willing to share information in exchange for recommendations and customized experiences.
  6. End users are eager for tools to help them find the signals in all the noise. An important motivator for users to disclose information about themselves is enabling improved discovery and filtering. The number of inputs continues to increase, as we explore new tools/platforms and add people to our networks, and the amount of information we’re processing can be overwhelming. Giving users more ways to find the people and information they’re looking for is critical (Twitter co-founder Evan Williams discussed this in conjunction with a roll-out for @anywhere, a Twitter app that allows users to follow other users where ever they are on the web, rather than having to return to Twitter).
  7. Storytelling and narrative are becoming more important, not less. In an environment of microblogging and streaming updates, users crave context and visual cues to help them contextualize all the information they’re taking in. On the other hand, storytelling is becoming more condensed and relies heavily on images and pictures rather than text.
  8. Everybody loves video. New technology makes video easier for novices (and the fact that online videos are so often amateurish is part of the appeal – it creates a sense of authenticity and immediacy). Chatroulette (warning: not safe for work, or possibly anywhere – I didn’t link to it for a reason), the video chatting site everyone loves to make off-color jokes about, came up in almost every panel, but video blogging, video books, and video reviews all got lots of air time.
  9. Customer service is becoming an essential part of social media strategies. Brands are beginning to realize that initiating conversations with customers will uncover issues that need to be addressed and that they have to have a plan to reach out to dissatisfied customers before launching any kind of social media campaign.
  10. The line between tools and games is blurring. It’s not enough to make user interfaces frictionless or easy to use, designers need to find ways to actively encourage end users to engage in the behaviors they want to drive. Game theory is being leveraged on all kinds of web sites and tools in order to build engagement and community and incentivize specific behaviors. (The success of foursquare is primarily due to the fun, gaming aspect of it, compared to other location-based tools that are more utilitarian.)

What were your key takeaways?