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Op-Ed: Carmichael Lynch Strategist Shares His SXSWi Experience

Since yours truly is back home from SXSWi, figured I’d give the floor to someone who can offer some fresh, outside perspective on the Austin happenings. This little ditty comes to us from Tim Letscher, senior strategist at Carmichael Lynch, who like others can’t help but mention Highlight.

SXSW Interactive is called many things – geekfest, spring break for nerds, networking lovefest, etc. – and of course there’s the inevitable debate about whether or not it’s jumped the shark. But with thousands of tech/startup/marketing folks packing the streets of Austin, there’s no doubt that at SXSW we collectively crash into the future.

One of my personal highlights this year included Sunday’s keynote from futurist Amber Case, in which she boiled down the advancements in computer interfaces into the three properties of water – solid, liquid and air. Your thousand-button TV remote is a solid, with a tiny nub for every function. Your contextual iPhone keyboard is liquid, adding or changing buttons to suit any task at hand.  What’s to come is the invisible interface, one that is ambient and helpful based on the context of where and what you’re doing. Millions of us walk around with supercomputers in our pockets and bags. iPhones and Droids and Windows phones that know where you are, where your friends are, what time it is, what the weather is like, etc.  And we’re headed towards an even more connected future based on proximity and commonality.

Speaking of proximity and commonality, one app making a big splash at SXSW this year is Highlight, which uses data from your Facebook profile and in real-time shows you who is close by and if you have mutual friends or shared interests.  Already, a colleague noted that he “found” a friend he hasn’t talked to since junior high.  Pretty cool.

So where do brands fit in? Soon enough they will soon forge relationships around those serendipitous moments provided by apps like Highlight — though they must tread carefully, and it won’t be right for every brand. (Especially because of the potential creepy “Minority Report” factor.)  Done right, brands will augment these experiences in a way that’s useful and valuable to consumers. Done wrong, the damage to a brand’s reputation would be hard to repair.

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