Five trends observed at South by Southwest 2016

Now that the 2016 edition of the interactive festival is a thing of the past, here are the main ideas and trends that will shape both technology and the media in the coming years.

A paradox transcends the South by Southwest interactive festival. On the one hand, we are told that things evolve fast and that the future is already upon us; on the other hand, there are claims that this digital revolution is just barely beginning and that there is a lot more to come. What’s counts most may not be so much being able to differentiate sociology and foresight but instead to confront one’s own ideas and take in the ideas of others.

1. Multiplatform: speaking the user’s language

Multiplatform is one of the major trends that made a very prominent mark on this year’s festival. It’s a question of designing one’s content to suit each broadcasting platform instead of adapting one’s preformatted content to the platforms in question. Naturally, web-native media have being applying this for years now. Today, both practice and use support this position and a market has managed to consolidate itself in the process.

Attendees witnessed the launch of Buzzfeed Swarm, an in-house advertising network that will offer brands the possibility of taking advantage of 360-degree multiplatform campaigns. With 6 billion views each and every month, Buzzfeed will therefore offer its new clients the benefits of its advertising expertise and full access to all of its platforms.

For his part, Vox Media’s CEO, Jim Bankoff, explained that those media that benefit from a strong voice and brand are the ones that enjoy the most success in the digital era. They take fuller advantage of the horizontal and multiplatform development of content. Conversely, the multiplication of vertical content dilutes the brand according to Bankoff.

2. Social innovation: more technology in democracy

As with all media, democracy must also take the digital turn for society to be capable of social innovation. That’s the message delivered by this year’s keynote guest par excellence, the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Since he took office, President Obama has constantly tried to encourage the techno community to interest itself in citizenship issues. For example, he funded non-governmental organizations such as Code for America as well as programs that provide Wi-Fi coverage to rural areas and disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

In the United States, approximately 55% of electors do not vote at presidential elections. The President believes that the techno community needs to reflect on new civic participation systems. “It’s not normal that it’s easier to order a pizza than vote.” SXSW also proposed a host of conferences on social innovation and the challenges involved with improving the world in which we live.

3. Getting rids of trolls once and for all

The quality of Internet discussions is a recurring problem and many are attempting to find solutions. The Coral Project is one such organization that is trying to design better tools to improve Internet comments in both qualitative and quantitative terms. At SXSW it unveiled Trust, its new tool that calls upon Internet users to moderate their peers’ comments. One could be led to believe that the way discussions unfold on the Internet could change drastically.

Moreover, there is sharp increase in the number of private discussions compared to public discussions. This raises new challenges in terms of analyses and measurements. For Marc Jensen and Greg Swan (space150), it is rather normal that conversations are taking place increasingly through private rather than public channels.

This would be a normal reaction of Internet users in this era where everyone shares everything and anything in the public domain. The two speakers informed us for example that 77% of all of the content shared online that concerns rugby is shared through private channels. This trend should lead to the development of new businesses and enable other actors such as Snapchat, Facebook and Whatsapp among others to consolidate their respective positions.

4. Toward an experience-based internet

Not only did virtual reality steal the show in 2015 at SXSW, but also this new technology was largely discussed once again this year. The number of virtual reality producers has exploded and there was a lot more buzz this year about the uses and challenges of virtual reality production.

For Kevin Kelly, who writes for Wired Magazine, virtual reality should impact the transition from an information-based internet to an experience-based internet, i.e., an internet that can be shared, lived and sold… This passage is fundamental and will be accelerated by major players the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. For example, we may use Facebook in a totally immersive manner in the future.

The media is just as well served. During the festival, Vox presented an interview with Michelle Obama that had been recorded in virtual reality. And the New York Times widely spoke of its virtual reality strategy. “We adapt ourselves and create highly visual and immersive content as well as irresistible experiences,” related the paper’s CEO, Mark Thompson. Finally, the Knight Foundation took the opportunity to publish a report on virtual reality in journalism.

5. “Take X and add some artificial intelligence to it”

The next major digital revolution will be artificial intelligence according to Kevin Kelly.

Whether through robots, Internet, tracking or Google cars, artificial intelligence is no longer confined to the laboratory. To the contrary, it is becoming increasingly commonplace

For Kevin Kelly, the next 10,000 start-ups will use one form or another of artificial intelligence. Their slogan will change from “We are Uber X” to “Take X and add some artificial intelligence to it.” Artificial intelligence will thus become a commodity. One day, it may even be produced and distributed like electricity is today, i.e., in the form of an uninterrupted current.

However, according to Kevin Kelly, when it comes to artificial intelligence, seeing as we are at the very beginning, the good news is that no one is late to join the bandwagon.

Xavier Kronström Richard
Xavier Kronström Richard holds a master’s degree in scientific journalism from Denis-Diderot University (Paris) and is particularly interested in R&D, innovation and creativity processes in the media industry.
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