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SXSW startup energy shifts from social to content and wearables

Posted by Deborah Hanamura on March 11th, 2014 at 1:10 pm

SXSW has a well-deserved reputation as a launching point for social media platforms. This is where FourSquare and Twitter launched. Instagram announced their $1 billion purchase on the SX stage. I observed this year that the startup energy has shifted from a "what's hot" buzz around social media to a more complex approach to technology and marketing.

Just two years ago, the convention center was crawling with young startups clamoring to launch the latest social wave. That chatter has largely died down, and been replaced with more diverse conversations around cloud computing, content management, and interface design. I must admit that the social startups were more playful in their gorilla marketing efforts, and added to the electric atmosphere of SXSW.  Purely from a business perspective, I’m intrigued to see a rise in more mature business concepts.

I miss some of the more bombastic curbside promotions (despite past controversies around human charging stations and the like) but appreciate the increased diversity in interactive startups. There were two categories of products and services that I saw take a particularly notable leap forward at this year’s interactive festival: content and wearables.

Solving a problem we have: Content solutions

Marketers are challenged by the complexity of the new content marketplace. Between search engine algorithm changes, demographic migration among social networks, and the demand for always-on customer care, businesses are scrambling to deploy effective content management programs. These programs are hard to get right because they need to be flexible, future-ready, easy-to-use, and cannot show any indication of weakness or automation.

Two companies taking data visualization head on include Piktochart and Visual.ly. While Visual.ly is addressing the visual content challenge with custom services and what seems to be a freelance network for designers, Piktochart is offering a more scalable, less customizable self-service solution. Each offers a niche design product to help businesses re-package stories as infographics.  Four of the 10 Korean Geeks of Gangnam startups focus on content – most notably Amootoon and Contentsfirst (focused on niche entertainment content distribution).

The bigger the brand, the more complex the content is to produce and distribute. SXSWi had more content on the floor than in years past and I anticipate a surge in automated content management solutions in the next two years.

Solving a problem we don’t have: Wearables

GoogleGlass has become the grand ambassador of wearable technology. While I expected to a lot more Glass wearers on the convention center floor, that doesn’t mean that the wearable trend wasn’t present in full force. The concept of wearable technology has been embraced and isn’t seen as revolutionary anymore. Now businesses are trying to figure out how to make wearables practical, affordable, and desirable in the short term. Notably:

Epiphany Eyewear and Epson are both going after Google Glass. Epiphany Eyewear offers a hipster-friendly black-rimmed spectacle that includes cloud storage, video camera, and web platform. Meanwhile Epson has taken a sharp turn away from label makers with its Moverio glasses, which was a CES Innovations Award nominee. Unlike the Epiphany eyewear, the Moverio is short on fashion and focuses more heavily on gadgetry. Google Glass and Epiphany are targeting a seamlessly connected experience as users navigate from space to space. Moverio, however, is better equipped for gaming, 3D content, and content consumption.

Logbar showcased Ring, which is a controller that fits like an interactive class ring. Ring connects to other devices and applications using Bluetooth. Users have to use a series of gestures or use their finger to “draw” commands. It’s got a low price point, and is fun as a novelty. Logbar is taking advantage of another trend – crowdfunding – they are currently offering pre-orders via Kickstarter. Ring may not revolutionize wearable technology, but it’s an indicator of what is to come. We’ll see lots more attempts to expand wearables beyond glasses.

Yes, social media is still very much alive and well at SXSWi, yet it’s taken on the Grand Dame position as other technologies and innovations make their debut. There’s still plenty of niche social media at the festival (including a social network for origami lovers) but the nature of the event is changing as technology moves toward the next wave of innovation. For marketers, solving the content conundrum is on the agenda, and for the rest of us, wearable technology is going to normalize.

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