It started as a music festival back in 1987, but these days SXSW in Austin, Texas is as much known for attracting some of the tech industry's biggest brainiacs and predicting (or overhyping) the best new ideas in websville. Here's our rundown of the best from this year's shindig:
Though we'd rather eat an iPad than see the word 'gamification' accepted into the English language, we can't deny the concept has potential. The founder of Google-backed start-up SCVNGR (scvngr.com) Seth Priebatsch even claimed at SXSW 2011 that adding a 'game layer on top of the world' will be one of the biggest tech trends of the 2010s. Games will sit on top of Facebook's 'social layer' and let you take part in virtual challenges that bring real world rewards, like a free mini burrito at your local Mexican. Never underestimate the power of free snacks.
Nature knows a fair bit about good design. It's been refining the best ways to exploit earth's physics for millions of years, so has something of a headstart over your Tuesday brainstorm. Hence the concept of 'biomimicry', otherwise known as plagiarising nature. The subject of a popular session at SXSW 2011 from Chris Allen of the Biomimicry Group, it covers everything from Nissan's concept of modelling autonomous car systems on the behaviour of schools of fish, to the rather useful AskNature.org search engine.
3. Group messaging
It may sound like an idea from 1997, but the Groupme smartphone app (groupme.com) was the winner of SXSW Breakout award. Currently US-only with international versions coming 'very soon', it lets you share texts, photos and locations privately with a selected group of contacts. It looks a potentially handy tool for organising meet-ups at this summer's festivals, though if you fear getting sucked into group discussions might impinge on your Twitter time or, heaven forbid, real life, there is thankfully a 'mute' option.
This timesaver was the 'co-winner' of the 'StartupBus' competition, which sees teams of hackers race to build a working idea on a bus ride from several US cities to SXSW in Austin. Rather than wait in line at restaurants with nothing to concentrate on other than your lack of tasty food, you simply scan a QR code in the window on your Android phone and automatically get added to the waiting list. You're then free to explore what fun's on offer in the surrounding area, while waiting for the text that says it's your turn to go and get a party of flavours dancing on your palette.
5. Web 3.0
Tim O'Reilly – the legendary geek who coined the term web 2.0 – led a future-gazing talk at SXSW 2011 on what's known, inevitably, as web 3.0. The driving concept behind it is what he calls 'sensor-driving collective intelligence', where 'our phones and cameras are being turned into eyes and ears for applications' and where the world casts an 'information shadow' that adds to the collective without us consciously doing it. In other words, the hive mind is evolving, creating 'extraordinary opportunity and mind-bending implications'. See, SXSW isn't all about free mini burritos.