SxSW Musings and Where the World Is

SXSW_0As I’m writing this I’m sitting on a plane from Austin heading to the Microsoft MIX conference in Las Vegas. I have 12 of the 16 new foursquare badges in hand, a brain full of ideas for what’s to come, and a brazen interpretation of the SXSW conference. I figured I’d share a few thoughts.

Augmenting Maps with Reality. For those of you who came to my Bing panel, thank you. And, of course, a huge thanks to the panelists – Dennis Crowley (foursquare), Laura Diaz (NAVTEQ), Kellan Elliott-McCrea (Flickr) and Ryan Sarver (Twitter). I prefaced our panel with the idea that we would do no demos and have zero visuals and no presentations. The panel was a true panel with nothing but discussion. We discussed everything about how maps are created today, the data that is geo-tagged for usage with maps, how new types of data will shape the mapping world, how pictures and video will reinvent mapping and data visualization, integrating the historical aspects of mapping and shaping our real lives around location and the applications that leverage location contextually.

Location is happening now. I know, I’m totally skewed on this topic; however, if you think about it I’m really not. I’ve been working in location-based services for over 10 years and every year “is the year of location and mapping.” So, I’m actually kind of tired of hearing it. At SXSW, I was seeing it. Companies like foursquare and GoWalla were promoting their apps for checking into locations and sharing your position with friends. I’m a foursquare user and if you were in Austin, you were able to get an updated version of the application. I found myself using the foursquare application for things I’d yet to use it for:

A. Trends (Parties) – I was using foursquare for finding where the coolest parties were, at any given time. If I was at a party and it was getting lame, I would fire up foursquare and see which nearby venues had the most people checked in. Then, I would head that direction.

B. Search – I found myself using foursquare to find places to eat, drink or relax. I noticed a distinct behavioral change in myself because I wanted to acquire badges that entitled me to nothing more than bragging rights. So, I would use Foursquare to find places since I would get “credit” toward a badge if the venues were marked correctly.

C. Connecting – If I met someone – socially, professionally or otherwise – and I added them on foursquare, I was using foursquare to contact them via text, phone, Facebook or email. Since all of these settings are built into foursquare (and usually exposed) it made it quite easy to connect with people I had just met. This means, no more business cards!

Life is good. Applications like Facebook have been predominant in finding out what’s going on and sharing your life experiences through your status or photo and video uploads. Now, Facebook has become a one-stop destination where everyone is publishing information about what they’re doing in real time. If I want to Tweet about the band I’m watching, I fire up TweetDeck and post it to my Facebook (and Twitter accounts). If I want to commit to an event, I fire up Hot Potato and share my event information where I’ll be. If I want to tell people where I am, a badge I’ve achieved or a mayorship I’ve self-coronated, I can share all of that with Facebook and Twitter automatically. The key is that at the end of the day, it’s about having fun, living life and sharing your life with the people who want to be in your life but perhaps can’t. So, reading streams of data coming through Facebook is the closest thing.

Search war continues quietly. You may think the search war is between Bing and Google. Maybe it is. At Bing we’ve been winning over users by creating great experiences and helping users make decisions rather providing search results to every web site under the sun that has some heuristic relevance to the respective keywords. On top of that, Bing has innovated in areas such as Image Search, Visual Search and my favorite Bing Maps. How does this war wage on? In my opinion, it comes do to applications who are collecting massive amounts of user data. Many applications are about collecting information about places, people, events, etc. I downloaded a new application called Double Dutch. It’s about creating reviews about places. Similar to Yelp, I suppose, but with a location focus versus a business focus. Double Dutch (if they can do it right) is supposed to filter content in a way that makes location the center so you can find places that fit your needs more readily. Flook is one of my favorite applications. Flook allows you to take photos, geotag them, categorize them and add contextual information. All of this information is being fed into a few different popular destination sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace so they have instant access to them and have quietly snuck into a position that makes Facebook (for example) a top referring site for information. In fact, Bing and Google are both ingesting information from Facebook and Twitter to ensure they have great experiences in search.

Mobile has happened. For years I’d heard about how mobile phones were going to take down the PC market and change how we do everything. Not. Mobile is definitely here. If you’re not on it, you are missing out on some really great stuff. Everything I listed about is based on mobile scenarios. I was able to operate entirely with just my phone while at SXSW. The SXSW show even had a mobile application that let me peruse the event schedule. I saw so many people face-down in their mobile devices – texting friends to share information, trying to find the next good party, checking email, updating Facebook, Tweeting pictures – I mean you name it and people were doing it on their phones. All that being said, it doesn’t mean the PC market is dead. Not even close. It just means we as a society have a found a new way to communicate. A new way to share our lives with people. I wouldn’t write this blog post on my phone – I’d go insane! However, there are some really great use cases for mobile that make life fun! And, while we’re not working on our PCs, we’re having fun on our mobile devices.

SXSW was certainly the most unique show I’d been to (Maker Faire a close second), adding film and music to the mix. And, The City of Austin does a great job putting the venue together. So, a quick shout out and thanks to the people of Austin for making my time there so enjoyable.

I’m the mayor of this blog post.

CP – Follow me on Twitter @ChrisPendleton