Bold Predictions for South by Southwest 2011

One of the most important digital events of the year, South By Southwest (SXSW), is less than a month away! Ketchum will be there in force with a number of colleagues participating and reporting back to the network and our clients on all the news and excitement that is sure to unfold. Before, during and after the conference, we’ll be sharing insights about the hot developments surrounding the event.
 
Today, we’re talking about five technologies that have the potential to be the next big thing and making bold predictions about how they could rock the digital landscape. Everyone’s favorite game in the weeks leading up to SXSW is predicting what technology is going to break through. In 2007, Twitter took SXSW by storm, and now nearly 90 million tweets are sent each day. In 2009, it was Foursquare, which now has 6.5 million users battling each other to become the mayor of their favorite spots. Last year, Wolfram Alpha won awards for best in show and technical achievement for its computational answer engine with 10 trillion pieces of data, which 600,000 people use every day to solve complex problems. Do any technologies have this potential in 2011?

To find ideas, I turned to another hot site, Quora, where people are asking the same questions (see here and here). Here are some of this year’s predictions: 

 
Instagram
What is it?
Instagram takes photos that are instantly shared throughout multiple social networks with only one upload required. The app recognizes the weakness of low-quality mobile photos and provides you with filters to make the photos look more professional. In four months, it has already attracted nearly two million users.

Why does this have the potential to be awesome?
Instagram focuses on making the photo the star and making publishing it easy. Though mobile apps for social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare) already allow you to take photos, you have to share on each network individually. By offering filters to make low-quality mobile photographs look more professional, users can make their content more appealing to their social networks.

Bold Prediction
The filter concept to improve mobile phone photos will be copied by Facebook and Flickr for mobile sharing, but this site will survive because of the ease of sharing photos across networks. 
 
 
SCVNGR
What is it?
SCVNGR (pronounced “Scavenger”) is a location-based mobile app that adds a game layer over the real world. Backed by Google with an estimated one million users, and said to be making millions in revenue from clients like Sony and Buffalo Wild Wings, SCVNGR adds the fun of games to the check-in functionality of sites like Foursquare. For example, fold your burrito wrapper into origami and get points to earn a free burrito.
 
Why does this have the potential to be awesome?
Foursquare has proven that people like game mechanics in their location social networks. By adding game elements that can encourage users to interact with the product or service at the location, brands can deepen their engagement with users and their social networks. Additionally, many brands want to integrate with Foursquare but are facing execution challenges in getting the promotion to work right. This software provides flexibility and creativity to brands looking to engage with consumers on location-based apps. Virgin Mobile has already started preloading the app on its LG Optimus V Android-based phone.


Bold Prediction
Foursquare is the mayor of location-based social networking, but a “second-tier” location-based social network could acquire this company in an attempt to outdo Foursquare.


Plancast
What is it?
Plancast creates social networks around events with an extremely compelling user interface that makes it easy to see what others are doing. You can subscribe to people’s plancasts to keep track on events they’re attending and make connections in advance of the event to smooth networking. 
 
Why does this have the potential to be awesome?
Event-based social networks are not a new idea — see Meetup and Eventbrite, for example — but Plancast is the best execution of the concept yet. When researching events for SXSW, it was simple for me to see where interesting people were going. I was instantly drawn to events I had never heard of because a certain person was there or because hundreds of people were planning on attending.

Bold Prediction:
Plancast will become the Foursquare of pop-up locations where people focus on networking around an event in real time. 
 
 
GroupMe
What is it?
GroupMe is free group texting and conference calling. It’s like a private text message chat room or reply-all texting. Each group is given a unique phone number. Text that number and you text the group. Call the number and it automatically connects the group in a conference call. You can also create a short-term group online or through an iPhone app.


Why does this have the potential to be awesome?
Twitter turned the convenience of a text message into a worldwide broadcast. GroupMe turns the convenience of a text message into a group discussion. The ability to have a mobile way to communicate simply with a group is functionality currently missing from mobile devices.

Bold Prediction
This technology will be acquired by Google or Apple and integrated into smartphones. In 10 years, we won’t remember text messaging without it. 
 
 
Hashable
What is it?
Hashable captures your relationships as you meet new people, network with them, and introduce them to others. It manages your network by posting and sharing the people you meet, tracking who you engage with most, and discovering new people by seeing who your friends meet. Think of it as Twitter-meets-your-Outlook-address-book, which not only stores but also remembers the events where you network. 
 
Why does this have the potential to be awesome?
Lots of companies have tried replacing the business card through technology, but they don’t go beyond the introduction. Hashable integrates well with your contacts and allows you to constantly upda
te the meetings you have with people. The inner-circle feature adds game elements and more personal contact information that can help segment important contacts from professional network spammers.


Bold Prediction
This could replace the (annoying?) introduction feature on LinkedIn, as people will have more a concrete digital means to back up their online relationships.

 
What do you think? Is there anything you’ve heard about that you think will make a splash at SXSW? Let me know.

 

Ben Foster is SVP Digital Strategist in Chicago and an adjunct faculty member at DePaul University. He loves surfacing technology news and geek culture on Twitter @benphoster. He has seen 67 Phish shows, caught three foul balls at baseball games, and plays a frost mage named Killosaurus in World of Warcraft.