What this Year’s SXSW Proved

SXSW has always been about meeting people and that’s why it still matters.  This year a few technologies looked to make a big splash at the conference by making that primary benefit easier to obtain.  These technologies combine the location awareness of your mobile phone with the interests you have on your social networks and match you to people nearby based on your interests.

The top apps to accomplish this were Highlight and Glancee (if you prefer Android like me) with the hopes that we’d make some amazing connections with people. The benefit of these technologies looked pretty good on paper which led many pundits to recommend them.  But, unfortunately for me it didn’t work out that way.

Here’s an example: I used Glancee pretty frequently the first 48 hours at SXSW before uninstalling it. It was sucking my battery life while making not so interesting matches like this:

  • You should meet Trey A.  He likes Pepsi, You like Coke
  • You should meet Jeff M.  You both like Mashable.

Could you imagine going up to someone and saying, “Yo Dawg. I heard you like Pepsi. Well, I like Coke. What’s up?” Or, “So, you’re at SXSW and you read Mashable?  What’s up dawg?”

I agree with the VCs that poured money into these ideas that there is something about using the information we create and share on social networks to bring us closer together. This information is the fundamental benefit to the social technologies that have changed media, but we haven’t done enough with it yet.

I’m often asked, “What’s going to be the next Facebook/Twitter”. Instead of answering “Pinterest“, I answer that we haven’t reached the full potential of the current generation of tools, and this year’s SXSW proved that.

The information people are creating are building a social graph  made up of your interests, those whom you trust to surface information on those interests, and how you prefer to consume the media surrounding your interests. It is the social graph, not some new website or app that will provide the next fundamental shift in media. The social graph tells us this:

  • Media Preferences – the type of media we prefer to consume
  • Topical Interests – the topics we prefer to consume
  • Influceners – who we trust to surface media to consume

In the future, the media we create for our clients will likely come from a large repository of multiple components that is personalized for each user we wish to reach. By knowing the topics, influencers, and consumption preferences, we can pull from this repository to create a personalized media experience that has the best chance of helping our message stick.

To create this future, we need not only the personalization algorithms that Google, Twitter, Facebook, and others are creating, but also the data created by people upon which to make these predictions. In other words, we need more people creating more information and to get them to do this, they need to own and be paid for the information they create. This, will establish the information economy predicted by many pundits.

Jaron Lanier, most noted for coining the phrase “virtual reality”, was the speaker that made this future more tangible to understand and I can’t wait until Amazon sends me his book. His premise, as my meager mind could understand it, was that there are 2 versions of your identity that exist online and that people need to have some sort of ownership of both of them:

  1. The profile you create and populate on sites.
  2. The profile generated by advertising algorithms that allow Facebook and Google to extract data from your identity.

We will continue to have machines replace the jobs of humans. It is easy to predict the types of manufacturing and service jobs that technology will replace.  3D printing will replace manufacturing jobs and even service jobs like taxi drivers will be replaced by automated cars (a “moral imperative,” says Lanier who lost his mother in a car accident at a young age).  So, the jobs of the future will pay based on the information we create.

Now, the problem currently is that when we use sites like Facebook (DISCLAIMER: I LOVE FACEBOOK) they own the information.  More importantly, they are extracting economic value from your information and not providing you access to this.  So, to transition to this information economy, the way we think about data ownership has to change to speed our transition to an information economy.  The more we can think about the financial incentives for people to create information, the more productive we’ll become.

What’s next is using the Social Graph – the information on social networks – to create more personalized media experiences which ultimately leads to an information economy where people own and are compensated for the information they create.

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.