Three things I learned at SXSW

We went to Austin, Texas to attend SXSW Interactive — you’ll never guess what happened next.

Three days ago me and my co-founder Björn came home from Austin, Texas after spending a week at SXSW Interactive. It was a whirlwind of events, networking, talks and very little time to process everything in between. If you’ve ever been to anything this intensive, you probably know the feeling. Now that I’m back home and have (mostly) recovered, I thought I’d sum up my thoughts and share some reflections from the seven days we spent in the epicenter of “what’s hot right now in tech”.

Before I go full on listicle on you, let me just start by saying this: don’t spend $1100 on an interactive pass. Seriously, don’t!

I might come off like a complete cynic, but to be honest most of what you get from your pass is “keynotes” from a bunch of smug tech people who either want to plug their own company — see Dirk Ahlborn from Hyperloop (basically a pyramid scheme ran buy a used car salesman). Or you get the same kind of guys (yes, there were literally only guys) who just love the sound of their own voice, see Biz Stone, the cast of Silicon Valley and Dirk Ahlborn (yes Dirk again).

Again, sorry for being cynical but $1100 is a lot of money. You shouldn’t have to pay to hear people plug their company. I’m in the startup-biz so listening to entrepreneurs pitching their “thing” is something I do every day.

“Oh, you actually bought the pass? Sorry for not telling you that was a waste of money”
 — Friend and advisor with 10+ years in the startup game

Maybe I’m just fed up with tech.

However, there were a few highlights and glimpses into the future worth mentioning.

1. The government is recruiting

Needless to say, the interview with president Obama was the highlight of the conference. I knew the guy had a good sense of humor and a stage presence worthy of a Shakespearian actor, yet he surpassed all of my expectations. It was like looking at the offspring Tony Robinson and George Clooney (at the Golden Globes). Man, could Big O deliver!

His message was clear: the government wants to attract the best women and men in tech to come and work for them on some “real” problems. Obama was “selling” the government hard. One thing he said was (paraphrasing):

”In government we try to solve the tough problems like how to get more people to vote. We’re not the place for solving problems like where to get the best mocha frappuccino”

It was a talk that sold the government job as one of the best workplaces for those who truly want to make the world a better place.

2. Message first and Conversational UI will be THE big thing in an internet age that’s 100% mobile

Might not come as a big shock for people who use Slack and that have been following the latest development of Facebook’s Messenger and their chatbot SDK. The next platform for developers to sink their teeth in will be Messaging platforms like Slack, Messenger and WhatsApp.

The trend isn’t new. There are already about 10 million companies developing apps for the Chinese app WeChat, and the same goes for the Japanese app Line.

The idea is simple: why build an app when you can integrate your service into a platform that people already use? Competing in the AppStore (or Google play) isn’t the way of the future. Why should I open the Uber app to book a taxi or open Foursquare to find a cafe with a wifi when I can type the question into Messenger?

Assist is another interesting service that, instead of building an app, decided to integrate with Kik, SMS, Slack, Messenger and more.

The user interface for all these services is, of course, conversational — a format that is on its way to becoming the standardized design for mobile.

And let’s face it, in three years’ time there’ll be no need to talk about anything else other than mobile (heads up to all designers who still start by designing a webpage then switch over to do the responsive version).

3. Globalisation = no surprises

I came to Austin with a naive hope to get a glimpse of the future. Boy was I wrong. I traveled with a group of 14 Swedes and we all said the same thing: no one heard about a single thing that they hadn’t heard about before. Remember, this is the conference that helped launch Twitter and Foursquare. The fact that there was no real news is the ultimate evidence that information truly is traveling faster and that we are indeed living in a globalized world.

Yes, I realize that is easy to make this claim as a white male living in western Europe who just spent $1100 on watching company presentations. However, I do believe that the time for big ass launches and unraveling is over.

My wisdom, in a nutshell

  • Don’t spend $1100 on an interactive pass. Go to Austin to network and enjoy the free parties.
  • The government wants talented tech people to work on a voting system instead of working on an AI-driven mobile and social app that helps you find great coffee.
  • The future is mobile (duh!) and if you go mobile you need to do so via one or several messaging apps.
  • We live in a global world where there’s no room for surprises.

To hopefully get a look at what the future of online learning might look like, please follow what we’re doing at Daily Bits Of.

Originally published by Niklas Laninge (@laninge) at on March 21, 2016.

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