Why the SXSW curse? Apps launched in fantasyland seldom survive real life

Why the SXSW curse

You hear that? Listen just a little harder. Yeah, that. That’s the sound of a million apps getting ready to launch. Friday marks the beginning of SXSW Interactive Week, the social and tech-focused portion of the Austin, Texas festival.

Yes, SXSW is full of the weird and the wonderful – but for all its unpredictable qualities, there is one thing about the event you can count on: An overhyped new social something.

sxsw foodspottingIt’s almost a tradition, at least over the past few years. Arguably, the last really big social product to take SXSW by storm – and then find legitimacy afterward – was Foursquare. Back in 2009, the check-in app officially released itself into the wild, igniting the location-aware trend that is still in full swing today. Foursquare might have new challenges, but it’s a healthy product nonetheless, and has survived the death grip that is SXSW hype. And to be fair, Foodspotting, which launched at SXSW in 2010, did well enough to be recently acquired by Opentable for a sweet $10 million.

But overshadowing these success are the launches of the past few years. A quick trip down SXSW memory lane turns up no shortage of failures. GroupMe was announced the “winner” of the festival in 2011, and has gone on to enjoy a very average amount of success. Hipster tried to leverage its SXSW cred into long-standing use, only to shut down this year. And last year, the conference just happened to fall during the frenzied height of SoLoMo (it still pains me to type that phrase), and a handful of location-reading, battery-draining, friend-finding apps hit the show – and none of them have been able to capitalize on the hype.

Take a quick look at these “best of” launch lists from the past few SXSWs. Not recognizing many? Which do you actually use? None of them? Yeah, exactly.

This isn’t to say that the SXSW top dogs of yesterday are doomed, but have we found ourselves another Twitter? Another Foursquare? Hardly. That’s because SXSW is cursed. Not in the making a voodoo doll of your ex (which I seriously have never done, I swear) way, but more in the “consequences of circumstance” way.

SXSW is a magical, scary, awesome place – but it’s not real. The people there aren’t your average people, the events are anything but normal, and there is no semblance of typical day-to-day life. You are surrounded by a throbbing mob of Instagram-addicted, check-in obsessed users; the kind of people who wait in line for the latest iPhone and update their OS the second it’s pushed out. And they’re running to events like the Haus of Hipstamatic brunch, or the Pandora Discovery Den. The whole thing is topped off by digitally relevant, hashtagging happy hours and after parties.

But we are witnessing an evolution in the types of startups and technology that are getting some spotlight, which could help. This year, hardware will get more attention as both Leap’s motion-control accessory and Lytro’s light-field camera experience quite a bit of hype, along with newcomers like Memoto (an automatic life-blogging camera) and PAR Works (which is unveiling a mobile augmented-reality system). We’re moving beyond the “app of the moment” model into more sophisticated, more interactive products – and also ones that have been building beyond a SXSW launch, not simply pushing a first iteration to make the show.

Still, even with hardware, venders need to remember that SXSW is not the real world. It’s more like Burning Man.

Speaking with Highlight co-founder and CEO Paul Davison at SXSW last year, I asked him what he thought about the heavy use of his app at the show. He said that while he was excited, he was also worried about the saturation, about what he called “a false sense of ubiquity” being created. All these people wanted to be part of a massive alpha test … and then we would go home and forget about it.

It’s the problem that plagues SXSW launches – vacation love. You fall in love with a place, a person, a thing – hell, an app – while you’re on vacation, where everything is more fun and nothing is normal. And then you go home, back to your routine, your schedule, your real life. And you log back into Facebook, into Twitter, into Instagram. It’s hard to be a disrupter in tech and social networking, and harder yet when you’re diving into a demographic that will never be anyone’s average target audience.

Product Review

Want to see how powerful the Snapdragon 855 chip is? Just rev up the Xiaomi Mi 9

How fast do you want to go? If the answer to this is “as fast as possible,” then take a long look at the Xiaomi Mi 9. It’s one of the highest performance smartphones you can buy. It’s a real monster, and we’ve been using it.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (February 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

From folding phones to 5G -- here's everything we saw at Galaxy Unpacked

Samsung's Galaxy Unpacked event treated us to a real parade of technological excellence, from folding phones to new fitness wearables. Here's everything we saw at Galaxy Unpacked on February 20.

Don't take your provider's word for it. Here's how to test your internet speed

If you're worried that you aren't getting the most from your internet package, speed tests are a great way to find out what your real connection is capable of. Here are the best internet speed tests available today.
Social Media

Periscope tool adds guests to feeds so streamers can become talk show hosts

Periscope users can now invite viewers to chime into the conversation with more than just the comment tool. By enabling the option to add guests, livestreamers can add guests to the conversation, in audio format only.

Crouching, climbing, and creeping, the perfect Instagram shot knows no bounds

Just how far will you go for the perfect Instagram? A recent survey shows just how willing Instagram users -- and Instagram husbands -- are to climb, lie down, embarrass themselves or let their food go cold for the perfect shot.
Social Media

Facebook’s long-promised ‘unsend’ feature arrives. Here’s how to use it

Send a message to the wrong person? Messenger now gives you 10 minutes to take it back. After an update beginning to roll out today, users can now retract messages if they act within the first 10 minutes after sending the message.
Social Media

YouTube boss admits even her own kids gave the ‘Rewind’ video a thumbs down

YouTube's 2018 Rewind video went down like a lead balloon at the end of last year, becoming the most disliked video in its history. And now YouTube's CEO has admitted that even her own kids thought it was pretty darn awful.
Social Media

Snapchat finally recovers from its redesign — so here comes an Android update

Snapchat's drop in users after launching a controversial redesign has finally stagnated. During the fourth quarter and 2018 earnings report, Snapchat shared that the company is rolling out an Android update designed to increase performance.
Social Media

Skype’s new ‘blur background’ feature could help keep you from blushing

Skype's latest feature for desktop lets you blur your background during video calls. The idea is that it keeps you as the focus instead of distracting others with whatever embarrassing things you might have on show behind you.
Social Media

Twitter users are declining but more people are seeing ads every day

Twitter's end-of-the-year report for 2018 is a mix of good and bad news. The good news is that more users are seeing adds daily, the metric the company will focus on moving forward. But the bad news is that monthly active users are…

Switch up your Reddit routine with these interesting, inspiring, and zany subs

So you've just joined the wonderful world of Reddit and want to explore it. With so many subreddits, however, navigating the "front page of the internet" can be daunting. Here are some of the best subreddits to get you started.

YouTube beats Apple, Netflix as the most trusted brand by millennials

The popular video sharing website YouTube climbed up in an annual Mblm study, moving up from third place in 2018 and coming ahead of both Apple and Netflix in final 2019 rankings. 
Social Media

LinkedIn finally gets around to launching its own live video tool

Live video is coming to LinkedIn for businesses and individuals on the site. The livestreaming feature is launching in beta in the U.S. before rolling out to the entire community.