This is my first time at SXSW, and to be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I got here. It's an awesome experience, but there's so much to do and so many people to see it can be a bit overwhelming. This is why something became very clear to me while here. At a place like SXSW, we're able to see technology come to life almost like nowhere else, especially technology that allows meeting and interacting easier. Everyone is connected everywhere all the time, allowing new technologies a chance to really take off and prove themselves.
The fact that there's so much to see and do, technology becomes a social utility. Twitter proved this when it took off at SXSW a few years ago, allowing people to know what is going on and what each other were up to in real-time. Foursquare did the same three years ago, providing updates on where people were and which places to go. These technologies allowed people to connect without an introduction then, and it continues today.
Dennis Crowley said it best during a panel this week in which he described technology as being an "ice breaker." Our lives, our passions and our interests are online. Social utilities are using that information to lower social barriers and connect us to others.
This year platforms like Sonar, Highlight, Banjo and Glancee are the talk of the show with their features allowing people to know who is around them that they know as well as people they might want to know based on shared interests and social connections.
These apps each perform differently, but the basic idea is the same: make face-to-face meetings with online people more approachable, less awkward and more commonplace. Glancee uses Facebook data to alert users of others nearby who share similar interests. Highlight, leveraging social profile data, allows users to see the names, photos, mutual friends and other information of people around them who also use the app. It also notifies users of friends who are nearby or if someone they might be interested in meeting is nearby.
A Social Layer Over Introductions
At any given moment a user can be aware of who is around them, who they are, what they're interested in and what they should talk about. Social data feeds a utility making interpersonal relationships less daunting and potentially more enjoyable.
How Much is Too Much?
We put so much information about ourselves online, and many have been doing so for sometime. Now, that data is becoming more useful. Instead of creating yet another profile, new networks are taking that data and making it useful for us.
Still, privacy remains a concern. Users are becoming more accustomed to their personal information being accessible to others, but there's certainly a privacy debate these social discovery apps will bring about. SXSW is the perfect place for this to take off because people are more open to this kind of information sharing. However, with this kind of information being very public, addressing issues of privacy and the "creep factor" will be a necessary hurdle.