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Virtual learning at South by Southwest - imagine what it'd be like for real

Posted on 23 Mar 2011 at 08:43 am by Corinne Wan

With breakthroughs in technology, I can do almost anything from the comfort of my study - conduct interviews, shop, do my banking and catch up with friends living in foreign lands. 

It was thus from my chair and, sometimes, from my bed that I participated in the educational and fun-filled South by Southwest®  (SXSW®) Conferences & Festivals in Austin, Texas, a collection of events that spanned a week (March 11-20) comprising a conference and interactive, film and music components.

I became acquainted with Pete Cashmore, CEO and founder of Mashable, one of the world's most visited social media blogs. Although I am an avid follower of Mashable, I have to admit that I didn’t know its founder until I chanced upon some interviews with him at SXSW®.

I am pretty impressed by this rather good-looking 26-year-old who founded Mashable at the age of 19 in Aberdeen, Scotland, and was named by the World Economic Forum as its one of its Young Global Leader honorees of 2011 at its annual gathering in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland in January. A film has been made of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, so I wonder if some producers will also see it fit to do one on Cashmore?

Cashmore (pictured left) was much sought after at SXSW®. A “trend predictor”, as some members of the media called him, he was asked often to make one forecast or another. One was his forecasts on the next big tech trend.

His pick? Location sharing services like Gowalla and Foursquare. “Location on mobile phone - real time mobile and location are easy predictions for this year,” said Cashmore.

Foursquare was first introduced a year ago at the SXSW® conference and has since become very popular.

Twitter too had its beginnings at SXSW® five years back, and look where this popular service is today – proudly boasting 140 million tweets sent a day, with more than 460,000 new accounts added daily.

So it was no wonder that there were many start-ups in Austin, hoping that to get the break that would make them the next big thing in the tech world.

It was interesting to read of the face-off among a few group messaging services, which are rapidly replacing the traditional one text we are using now.

In the fray were a few start-ups that included GroupMe, Fast Society, Beluga and Kik. All four apps allow users to share photos, chat within the app without being charged for text messages, and three of the four enable location sharing.

There were other startups such as Yobongo that will connect you with strangers nearby for a chat, and HurricaneParty thatis a group chat centred around organising a party.

My mind boggled at all the goodies at the show that may soon come my way.

My favourite segment was SXSW® Interactive, where some of the brightest minds in the tech world made presentations, and I also viewed some of the best new digital works, video games and innovative ideas. Not to mention the music and some great groups in the music component of the show.

Fun aside. the SXSW® community also showed its human side, setting up a fund for victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan through the special SXSW4Japan website.

All in all, SXSW® was an elightening experience for me – I learnt lots of new things in the tech, interactive and music world without having to leaves home. But it also left me hankering for the real thing – if attending it virtually is such a kick, imagine what it would be live? 

And that is what great technology goes, I think. It builds in you a desire to experience the real deal.

• Photo of Pete Cashmore courtesy of Mashable

Tags: South by Southwest® , SXSW® Interactive , SXSW4Japan , Mashable , Twitter , Fourquare , GroupMe , Fast Society , Beluga , Kik , Yobongo , HurricaneParty , Pete Cashmore , Austin , Texas