Every March, Austin absorbs a massive influx of talented artists and entrepreneurs for the South By Southwest Conference & Festivals, aka SXSW. There, they get to network, bask in each others' genius, and showcase their own work, while those of us who aren't able to attend salivate in anticipation, waiting to see what "next big thing" will be revealed at the festival.
Sometimes, it really is the next big thing: In 2007, Twitter set up massive screens at the Austin Convention Center to encourage attendees to tweet about their experiences. The company won the conference's Web Award (now known as Interactive Awards) in the blog category, and even though the company had been around since 2006, that SXSW proved its real coming-out party.
But how good is SXSW at reading the tech world tea leaves? We've looked at a few of its past award winners to see how they fared after their shining moments in Austin.
Storify (Social Media): Thanks to the boom in social media, our thoughts and moments tend to be scattered across a multitude of sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. Storify helps you pull it all back together, weaving those threads into timelines with coherent narratives -- in other words, your stories. And it works with input from large groups as well. Founder Xavier Damman says Storify has been used by the New York Times and the White House to document various events, and people have pooled the social input from friends and family to "storify" their weddings and birthdays. The site's popularity has been growing rapidly, but there have been some privacy concerns as of late.
Airbnb (Mobile Award): Airbnb connects travelers seeking cheap and convenient lodging, with ordinary folks who have some space they'd like to rent out temporarily. Although Airbnb had been around since 2008, the launch of its mobile app has made it faster and easier to use (and won it this award). The company has been associated with its share of scandals and rental disasters, but none have cut into its growing popularity.
Aadvark (Community Award): This popular search engine connected users with a network of their friends and friends of friends to answer their questions. Google acquired the company around the time it won this accolade, but shut it down a year later. It may have seemed like a great idea at the time, but the evolution of social media rapidly made it fairly obsolete.
Gowalla (Mobile Award): One of the first location-based social media sites, Gowalla allowed users to "check in" wherever they were. The app was similar to Foursquare, which was also nominated in this category. Facebook acquired Gowalla in 2011, and then shut it down a year later. Meanwhile, Foursquare lived on, and has grown substantially. One can find celebrities like President Obama "checking in" to places and giving tips.
Gigotron (Mobile Award): Given the continued popularity of hipster culture, you would have thought this app would have been thriving today. As founder and CEO Benjamin Satterfield put it, Gigotron was the Fandango of concerts. Music lovers could scour all upcoming gigs on one app, based on location and genre. Even the most obscure bands were featured on the app. However, hipster culture thrives on irony, and Gigatron came to an ironic end: A year after it beat AP Mobile News Network for the Mobile Award at SXSW, the app was removed from the iTunes App Store.
Mosio (Mobile Award): Mosio realized that that texting was becoming the preferred method of communication among a large demographic, and that texting really did offer some advantages to actually talking over the phone. They now cater to over a million businesses and people, improving the customer service industry, various other service industries, and are even helping schools reach out to their students. In essence, they are making communication faster, secure, and anonymous when needed.
So What About This Year's Winners?
Earlier this week, SXSW picked its best in show entries. Will they be Twitters, or Aardvarks? Only time will tell. But we do have an opinion.
SoundCloud (Community Award): SoundCloud links listeners with the musicians they listen to. The social media/music platform makes it easy for anyone to upload their "sounds" and connect with their fans. Users can listen to podcasts, be introduced to aspiring artists and their work, or simply rock out to classics like the Rolling Stones. SoundCloud has been gaining momentum since it's launch in Europe in 2007, and doesn't seem likely to fizzle out anytime soon.
NASA Mars Curiosity Rover (Social Media Award): In a successful attempt by NASA to make something potentially boring and nerdy into something fun and interactive for social media junkies (i.e., Gen Y), the robot exploring Mars is sharing its wit in frequent 140 character updates.
"I was sent to Mars to find evidence of past habitable environments. Achievement unlocked!"
Pretty adorable, though probably not very sustainable long term. Still, with over 1 million followers, he's probably the most popular robot in the social media universe these days.