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SXSW Interactive: Exploring the Perhiphery

Ed Terpening

SXSW Interactive—or what I like to call it, “Geek Mardi Gras”—is over, and the dust is settling.

Although there was no real central theme at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference, there were very interesting themes on the periphery of digital. It’s great that the conference curators are exploring the outside boundaries of “Interactive”. It’s just that kind of attention to peripheral vision (and not a direct hit on traditional interactive) that will keep South-By relevant and interesting.

Seems to me the “Information Age” is shifting from data capture, insights, and connections (social and otherwise) to the physical application of digital. The innovators are taking digital out of the worlds of mobile/desktops/devices and other such information-focused uses to application in the physical world, like self-driving cars, 3D printers and robots. Google Glass may represent the peak of the Information Age, as an ultimate device that marries together information access with life, but in fact, doesn’t “do” anything more.

It was about Empowerment and “Do-ers”

If there was a single focus, empowerment and the continued shift from hierarchical institutions to individuals comes to mind as a unifying meme. SpaceX and the open gaming platform Ouya are examples of this trend.

Empowerment was expressed by the strong desire of people seeking experience over acquisition or consumerism. Here’s one fun example: the Internet Cat Video Film Festival held at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where an overwhelming crowd gathered to watch together YouTube videos of cats they could have viewed at home. The festival is part of their broader “Open Field” program, and the tag line says it all: “Open Field is What We Make Together”. The festival was a huge, unexpected hit. Whether “making” is 3D printing or creating an experience together makes no difference. Perhaps it’s a sign that the values of the Millennials are making a mark.


I love that John Perry Barlow revealed in his panel: he advised Kodak that they are not in silver halide (film) business, but the emotional transfer business. Of course, we all know that today capturing and sharing emotion transcends the means of delivery, and unfortunately, Kodak missed that disruption and the opportunity it presented to re-think their core business.

The “Maker Movement” could--years from now--disrupt to retailers, so how might they grok this?

Empower Experience.

The large institutions have a wealth of knowledge that “do-ers” seeking experiences need. Shifting from selling things to mentoring experience and knowledge transfer to create may be one way retailers (for example) can accommodate the consumerism to experience shift. Many retailers already invest in in-store education through workshops and experiential events. They could offer in-store or online experiences that promote the licensing of their unique designs for at-home “maker” devices (e.g., 3D printers), or provide fee access to hi-end maker devices that typical consumers won’t be able to afford at home. Think “Kinkos for Makers”. Home improvement retailers have a great opportunity to continue to own DIY in this shift, and avoid being the next Kodak if they’re able (and willing) to see the writing on the wall and have the courage to take advantage of this disruption that’s sure to hit their bottom line in the next 10-15 years.

What did you take-away from this year’s SXSW? Did you like the focus on the periphery of digital, or should the conference re-focus?