SXSW Interactive kicks off with help from social discovery apps



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Posted on March 9, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 9 at 7:40 PM

AUSTIN -- A little rain won't stop South by Southwest tech enthusiasts. The Interactive festival that showcases the newest developments in the tech world kicked off Friday.

"We're bringing together very, very creative people from around Austin, from around the U.S., from around the world, to a very creative city, and it's generally a great mix, and there's generally great weather for it also, although today may be a little bit of an exception on that," said SXSW Festival Director Hugh Forrest. 

What started in 1994 as the smallest SXSW festival has grown exponentially with 2012 being the biggest year to date. About 17,000 people are expected to attend over the next five days, and this year, everyone's talking social discovery.

"Which is this idea that on your smart phone, if I'm standing in line at SXSW registration, I can understand the person next to me in line likes the Boston Red Socks, and I also like the Boston Red Socks; we should strike up a conversation and talk about how much we like the Red Socks," explained Hugh. 

"These are all users all around Austin who are checking into places and can be asked questions in real time," said Beau Haugh, co-founder of Localmind. 

Haugh and his team launched the social discovery program Localmind at SXSW last year. This year they are expanding and demonstrating what the app can really do.

"Is there free barbecue at Brushy Square Park?" Haugh typed. "And I'm going to send this question," he said as he demonstrated how Localmind works. Moments later, someone on the Localmind network answered, "Yes!"

Crowded Room has a similar app. It helps you network with people around you using Facebook. The company's reps opted for a slightly more attention grabbing way to peak the crowd's interest -- women in police officer uniforms.

"It definitely attracts some attention. I think more people want to be arrested more than anything," laughed Crowded Room representative Krystal Malloy.

Social discovery isn't the only hot topic at SXSW Interactive. Another program that actually plans to launch in Austin this summer was also getting a lot of attention. Isis is a mobile wallet.

"It stores your credit cards, your debit cards, your loyalty cards, coupons right on your phone. So here we have a vending machine set up, and with a tap of my phone, I've just bought a notebook," demonstrated Isis Head of Marketing Jaymee Johnson. 

SXSW Interactive organizers say they aren't sure which program will be propelled to the forefront, but the festival promises a mix of fun, technology, and innovation aimed at launching the next big thing.