10 Great Moments From SXSW Interactive 2011

Every year, SXSW Interactive finds and displays the best from gaming and the web. From social networks to the next web, here’s the best we’ve seen so far from SXSW 2011.

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Acts of Sharing, developed by Brian Boltmann, is developed around, well, sharing. Instead of buying something expensive, you use Acts of Sharing to ask if your friends have it handy. It essentially combines Freecycle and Facebook to help save you money and get closer to your neighbor. Thousands of users have signed up so far, and it’s poised to be the next big social network, especially in urban areas and among younger demographics.
Google talked, in detail, about its plans for mobile, especially Maps. Google revealed that over the Christmas holiday, Maps was accessed more on mobile platforms for the first time. Google talked at length about revisions to Maps, including a traffic feature to let you avoid the worst congestion, and 3D renderings of buildings appearing in Street View. In other words, Google wants to put you right there.
In addition, Google is integrating augmented reality heavily into Maps, combining items like airport times, restaurant recommendations from Hotpot, and other information into Google Goggles. Of course, this raises lots of privacy questions, which Google’s presenter brushed off in the course of the talk…but that’s another SXSW.
SCVNGR’s Seth Priebatsch presented a talk about the “game layer.” Priebatsch explained that we’ve largely done the work of socially networking to each other, and the next step is use that network to create various games, which can have far reaching effects. For example, Priebatsch demonstrated that if you turn an exam into the “enemy” of the “game” of school, cheating drops dramatically. Gaming is the next great frontier of social networking and media, and Priebatsch is showing there’s a lot of leveling up in our future. Just hopefully less grinding than “World of Warcraft”.
It’s probably less than a surprise than 4Chan’s public face and the head of Facebook have entirely different ideas of anonymity and privacy online, but Chris Poole, better known as “moot”, presented a pretty strong takedown of Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg believes that people should have one identity that they take with them everywhere they go, not least because that’s the only way Facebook makes money. Poole, on the other hand, points out that being totally anonymous allows users to experiment and try new things with a much lower “cost of failure”. Although Poole does acknowledge that he’s had a bit more trouble levering his meme-and-activism machine into profit due to, well…have you been on 4Chan?
Yep, Mike Tyson is back in gaming after years of being away. You might remember Iron Mike used to be a major feature of “Punch-Out!!!”, until he started biting ears, getting face tattoos, and generally projecting a less than family friendly image, even for a boxer. Apparently this game offers the opportunity to beat Osama Bin Laden senseless, thus bringing dozens of 2001 Flash games to the iPad. Oh, and apparently stars from “The Hangover 2” can be added to the game, because Bradley Cooper needs some knuckles applied to that purdy little mouth. Also, John Lennon is a rumored fighter. What, no Yoko?
J. Craig Venter sequenced the genome, and created the first cell with a synthetic genome. So it’s not surprise he’s up to creating synthetic life.
Why is this a big deal? Venter has shown that it’s possible to create vaccines that evolve as diseases evolve. Venter’s key example was an AIDS vaccine that evolves as HIV, a disease noted for evolving extremely rapidly, changes, keeping pace with its attempts to compromise the human immune system and keeping it from taking over. Venter’s work is on the cusp of changing everything about medicine and wiping out preventative disease.

The latest advance in instant-messaging and texting has been services like GroupMe, which combine the two so that everyone, even the smartphone-free, can participate in a private group chat while out and about. GroupMe and its rivals are now competing to see who can add the most features and snag the most users, with GroupMe adding location and photo sharing just before SXSW. With several competitors on the horizon, it promises to be an…interesting race.
The “ambient exploration” game GLiD won the main prize at the Independent Propeller Awards for independent games. The former finalist at the 2011 Independent Games Festival won a $50,000 prize and an opportunity to be published by Zoo Publishing, meaning “GLiD” will soon be available to play on several platforms, and we’ll be able to find out what, precisely, an “ambient exploration” game really is.
Absolutely nothing advanced in the argument between consumers and the RIAA at SXSWi, but at least the panel on online music distribution was intensely interesting. The term “grey” comes up a lot because while piracy is undeniably stealing, it’s controversial whether it’s an issue of morals or simply an issue of cost.
And, yet again, the RIAA was called out for essentially making numbers up out of whole cloth. Oh, RIAA, will you never learn?
No update is complete without mentioning Apple came along and clowned everybody, yet again, by opening a pop-up store selling iPads five blocks from SXSWi, and that was very nearly the biggest event of the conference.
It’s got to chafe a lot of people that Apple, with virtually no promotion, found an empty storefront, put up some butcher paper, and simply made sure the pop-up Apple Store pushing out their latest, hottest product was a badly kept secret, and with that stole the thunder of companies planning their SXSW visits for months. It’s yet another demonstration that Apple knows how to sell, no matter how much that infuriates the people who hate them.
Did we miss something? Was there a talk you think we should have featured? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know.