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March 25, 2009

Nokia at SXSW 09 – Twitter, BBQ, iPhones and conversation

Austin, USA – South by Southwest Interactive is one of three parts to the SXSW 09 conference (the other two being Music and Film). It attracts an interesting mix of designers, web developers, performers, artists, and just an all-round compelling crowd of people. While many Nokia designers have attended in the past, SXSW is not the usual sort of conference Nokia would attend. But Molly Schonthal (from the same team as Nokia Conversations) made the case that the people who attend SXSW are certainly the ones who would use Nokia phones, such as the Nseries devices. She said it would be a perfect crowd for us to introduce Nokia to.

What then did Nokia end up doing and learning at SXSW 09? Was it worth it? Will we do it again? Read on to learn the answer to these questions and more.

Twitter and the never-ending tweet-up
Two years after its phenomenal coming-out at SXSW, Twitter has faded into the background. But in a good way. Much like one no longer needs to ask someone if they have a mobile phone, for the attendees at SXSW, one never had to ask if they had a Twitter account. Twitter names flew around like so much confetti – people even had stickers of birds upon which they wrote their Twitter names. What was interesting to me was that a Twitter name has become as essential to share as a phone number (business cards were exchanged with equal abandon) or a website address.

As you are probably aware, Nokia Conversations is using Twitter to stream our post links, bookmarks, new videos, and the occasional chatter (we’re @nokconv). Molly and all of us were tweeting our activities throughout the event, such as meet-ups (tweet-ups), cocktails, and so forth. And clearly folks were listening, as the tweet-ups were well attended.

While all of the attendees at SXSW 09 are hardcore online types living and communicating through all sorts of digital means, it was clear that everyone saw the value in gathering face-to-face in an atmosphere that promoted discussion, learning, and sharing. SXSW has a great string of lectures, panels, and conversations on all sorts of topics, ranging from game mechanics in online services to social networking in health care to environmentalism. And in the evening there were screenings of new films, bands playing, and plenty of bar parties. The amount of BBQ consumed was criminal. It was one big schmooze-fest.

We met with a ton of folks we knew and met even more people who are leaders and influencers among the SXSW crowd. While some might think all we wanted to do was pander to these people and make them love us, we really wanted to enter in a conversation. Sure, we wanted everyone to know about what we do, our products, our company, but that came out in the back and forth of conversation as we introduced ourselves, asked questions, shared insights, and learned together. To us, this was a big step into a new crowd and we didn’t want to be that shrill corporation that will do anything to get attention. We’re smarter than that and tried to be humble and respectful, while at the same time proud of our products and achievements. Much like anyone else there.

What was missing and what was very clear
Discussing with others who were there, we noted that there was no big thing, no next “next” that everyone was excited about (like Twitter two years ago). Nor did I see much discussion of the many trends we think will be big in the next 18 months. Yes, the topics at the conference were wide ranging, but they were grounded in the Now.

Of note, attendance was up 20% from last year. So much for an economic crisis. Yet, I think the main reason for the increased attendance, and possibly explaining why people were focused on the immediate future, is that many of the SXSW Interactive attendees are entrepreneurs, start-ups, or small-businesses. Everyone realizes the critical importance to meet folks, share ideas, and collaborate. Something tells me that the conference outside the seminar halls was rich in interaction that will have a more far-ranging impact than the seminars alone might indicate.

I’m looking forward to all the stuff that will come out of this particular event.

And then there’s the iPhone
I would be foolish to not highlight one very clear and relevant aspect of the conference. It seemed like everyone had an iPhone (so many that the AT&T network could not keep up) it says what kind of people are attending, that they are serious users of smartphones (the other common phone was the Blackberry) that Nokia does have something that might be of value to them, this is the right audience to introduce our latest and greatest Nokia devices.

Our phones, such as the Nokia E71, Nokia E75, and Nokia N97 are ideal devices for this crowd. And devices, such as the Nokia N86 8MP, even more so for those who create videos and photos on the go. Molly was right, we need to mingle and introduce ourselves to this crowd. Not only can we introduce them to products that might be useful to them, but we could learn a thing or two about what we need to do to serve them better.

And we’re going back next year.

What do you think?