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SXSW Interactive 2012

If ever there is a place at which you can be made to feel not geeky enough, it's Austin during SXSWi.

Tuesday morning in a session called The Right Tool for the Job: Native or Mobile Web? a panel of developers staged a geek street fight about a bunch of initials and  words that only a developer could love (PHP, Objective-C, WebDNA, CSS, PhoneGap - an HTML5 app platform). You get the idea. What made it fun was the heated exchanges between the five panelists (Tom Dale, senior software engineer, Ember.js, Buzz Anderse, director of mobile, Tumblr, Jacob Bijani, product engineer, Tumblr, Matthew Delaney, WebKit engineer and Majd Taby, software engineer, Facebook).

I can't really tell you what they were arguing about. Instead here are a few highlights from the sessions I attended which I did understand (and for a more detailed summary go to the H+K Strategies website, which covers some of these points):

  • There was no evident break out app although Highlight drew a lot of slightly breathless media attention. A "social discovery" app it lets you know if someone close by - who also has the app -   shares your interests. Because it is 'always-on', you only need to pay attention when it lets you know a prospect is near. The question is whether by having the app you are stamping yourself 'available' if you see what I mean. I'm not dismissing it, just cautioning that interest may be reserved for one gender.

  • Integrating real-time analytics into Facebook Insights is eagerly anticipated. Combined with the featured posts functionality on Facebook pages for companies, it means you will be able to assess reaction to a post in real-time, adjust the content or determine the best timing for posts for example.
  • Opinion among social media experts is agreed that organic 'reach' for brands on Facebook is going to disappear in favour of a paid model, at some point in the near future.
  • One of the biggest mistakes companies make in social is driving people to their social assets then offering them nothing when they get there. This does more harm than good: Without a rich content experience on the site, people's attitudes toward the company will likely move from neutral to annoyed.
  • Data visualization is hot. Infographics are only the ground floor, with dynamic graphics and imaging being the next stage. But graphics need to be framed within the context of a cohesive narrative.  Good magazine (and its website as a whole) is a model for this type of story orchestration. The main lessons for effective data visualization are be smart about the color impact, choose data based on the end goal of the visualization, and keep the graphic message simple.
  • In conversation with serial entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki, Vic Gundotra, senior  vice president, engineering at Google, talked about the current state and vision for Google+. Their analytics suggest that once-a-month users of Google's relatively new social platform number about 100 million, with once-a-day users coming in at about 50 million. He suggested there are a number of announcements coming about further changes to make the Google experience "seamless". Talking about ads, Gundotra said they will be serving ads into Google+ but at the moment in search when there is what he calls 'commercial intent'. He also stressed that they don't intend to inject ads into G+ photo albums. One thing that isn't immediately on the horizon, to the disappointment of developers, is opening up the API for Google+ because Gundotra "doesn't want to pollute the stream".
  • The digital access wall set up by The New York Times seems to be working. Jill Abramson, New York Times' executive editor, said in panel session hosted by Evan Smith, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, that digital has become a significant revenue stream for the paper without having cannibalized daily circulation. She also made the point that NYT journalists themselves are recommending and finding visual and graphic content to support and enrich their stories . To a question posed by Mother Jones' editor, Clara Jeffery, Abramson said that the paper intends to include link-outs in more of their stories in the future.

This is about a third of what I took away from the conference. My conclusion . . . I'll be back next year without question.

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