Thursday, March 24, 2011


    SXSW for IT
  • In the annual blur of music, parties and art, consumer apps offer new tricks for tech pros.
  • In the annual blur of music, parties and art, consumer apps offer new tricks for tech pros.No event better captures the mad American mashup of music, film, new media and emerging technology than the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festivals. Held each March in Austin, Texas, the 10-day hipster geekfest wrapped up its 25th uber-cool year on March 20.

    Never heard of SXSW? (For heaven's sake, don't tell anyone, especially your 26-year-old boss.)  Even if you're not into celeb sniffing (Is that Jake Gyllenhaal? Danny DeVito?), striver panels ("What Would Lady Gaga Do?"), buzz-hungry bands (Yuck), awesome fantasy films ("Dragonslayer"), hoodies, chain smoking, skinny jeans or projectile vomiting, you need to know what's happening here, Gramps.
    Microsoft thinks so. It hosted big, as did Google, Samsung, Apple (Apple!), Adobe and many more you would recognize. IBM (sponsor of Smarter Technology) even hosted a two-day Smarter Planet Summit featuring Smarter Cities. And let's not forget this is where Twitter first peeped onto the world stage four long, irritating years ago.  
    Amid the 24 x 10 swirl of sight, sound and socializing, this year's SXSW showcased a number of consumer-oriented tech products with intriguing potential for adoption by IT and enterprises. If "consumerization" wags the tech these days, what better place to look than this event's best in show?
    The following are all winners of 2011 SXSW Interactive awards. In different ways, they suggest interesting professional applications, for organizations of all sizes and interests to perhaps subscribe to, license or emulate. Beyond that, they're just pretty cool. Take a look …
    Best in Show: GrouponWorks—Online discount coupons for collective buying
    You've doubtless seen this latest shopping phenom, maybe even joined online strangers to get big discounts on local restaurants, spas, coffee and goodies. But have you considered how Groupon (or similar) could bring your company's goods (or even IT services) to a wider (or targeted) geography or B2B community?  Resellers, partner programs, branch offices, this means you.
    Breakout Digital Trend: GroupMe—Group messaging and conferencing
    Like Groupon, GroupMe garnered lots of buzz before SXSW. Somewhat ironically, GroupMe is basically a retro "friends and family" calling/texting app. You plunk out a message on your cell phone. Only those in your predefined inner circle can read it, check each other's geo location and photos, or hop on an automatically dialed conference call. Kind of like Facebook, only with people you actually want to communicate with … and it's easier/cheaper than unified communications. Possible IT applications: ad hoc team collaboration, disaster recovery or emergency communications, Happy Hour planning, etc
    Community: iFixit—Free editable online repair manuals
    This is what online tech support and help desks ought to be. From cell phones to iPads to toasters to cars—you name it—iFixit provides nice, clear, friendly help and community support—and even spare parts. Think of this less as a threat to your service revenue and more a way to make customers, partners and resellers love you and your products. Join and start your own.  
    Business: Get Satisfaction—Online customer complaint department
    Speaking of customer love, which is better: customers complaining about you on Facebook etc., or customers complaining to you in ways you can help? It's the latter, of course. Get Satisfaction offers a neat online community builder that helps you soothe customer gripes. The Enterprise version features domain aliasing, SLAs, integration with CRMs and more.

    Student: FeedSpeaker—RSS feed narrator
    A simply way to let your visually impaired employees, customers and others choose and consume global RSS feeds from the BBC, CNN and more via speech/speech recognition and geospatial tracking. Bravo!
    Experimental: MemoLane—Social media timeline
    MemoLane, a finalist, actually didn't win this category. But I liked it a lot and thought it worth including here. Basically, the Web-based app automatically gathers tweets, blog posts, pictures and notes from an individual or group into a neat, graphical timeline. Sort of like a less OCD version of Gordon Bell's ambitious MyLifeBits project. It's fun for ski trips and family vacations. But I also see interesting possibilities as a lightweight, informal group collaboration and documentation tool for organizations. Take a look and see what you think.  
    Kiosk: Unilever—Smile-activated vending machine (SAVM)
    At first glance, this project embodies ingenious "out of the box" thinking about user/machine interfaces. Users walk up to a kiosk, smile broadly and are rewarded with a tasty ice cream—thanks to facial recognition software hidden in the machine. Clever! Delightful! (Somewhat more creepily, the kiosk facial scans also estimate age, gender, mood and God knows what else. If you are, say, a terrorist or escaped con, does that mean your "treat" is a puff of nerve gas?) Even so, the SAVM offers a much-needed fresh approach to interactions that don't require keyboards or even touch. Now if I could just get a business PC with a Wii controller …
    Amusement: The Most Awesomest Thing Ever—Violent animated online chooser

    Basically, you go to a Web page and vote between two things (John Elway or Elvis, for example). The losing choice blows up. Then you see how your choice compares with other players. MATE's creators, Big Spaceship, enthuse: "Only the strongest shall reach the hallowed halls of the Most Awesomest."
    Undergrad idiocy aside, these doofs may be onto something. On the job, "Most Awesome" could be a very fun way to make a wide range of key decisions, from where to go for team lunches to deciding whom to downsize, new markets to enter, etc. It's like a Crazy 8 ball for the new millennia. Plus it's wicked fun.
    Click these links for the complete lists of 2011 SXSW Interactive Awards Winners and Nominees.
    What business uses do you see for the technologies

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