At SXSW, marketing may drown out the next Twitter

Here's a look at what to expect from the tech portion of this year's SXSW

This year's South by Southwest Interactive will play host to tech trends in areas as diverse as gaming, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and social networking, but whether the next Twitter will emerge at the conference is harder to say.

Part of the issue is that the show, which opens Friday, has become more of a marketing, schmoozing and fundraising extravaganza than a spotlighted launchpad for new technologies, said Allen Weiner, an analyst with Gartner.

"The signal-to-noise ratio has become incomprehensible," Weiner said, so even if something innovative does launch it could still get lost in the mix.

"It would have to be something really special to break through the noise," he added.

Even Shaquille O'Neal wants a piece of the action. The retired NBA basketball player is calling on startups to send him 15-second elevator pitches via the Tout video mobile app, which apparently hired him for its marketing.

Still, new technologies and trends in 3D printing and gaming should attract attention in their own right -- even without Shaq's help, said Hilding Anderson, senior manager of marketing strategy and analysis at SapientNitro.

Companies outside the gaming market are thinking about how they can incorporate certain gaming principles into their products, Anderson said, such as by creating personalized, virtual worlds or more immersive environments within their mobile apps. The Walt Disney Company's mobile apps are a prime example, he said.

3D printing may also generate some heated debate at SXSW, especially given the recent controversy surrounding Defense Distributed, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit that has been manufacturing gun parts using 3D printers and posting the blueprints online for anyone to download.

The extent to which 3D printing should be regulated by the government, therefore, will probably generate some good discussion at the show, Anderson said.

Other topics of interest include the monetization of social media, the growth of smartphones in emerging markets such as China, and how to balance privacy concerns against the benefits of personalized content. The marketing implications of Facebook's Graph Search social search engine, for example, is the subject of a panel discussion on Friday.

Former Vice President Al Gore and Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will also deliver keynote addresses at the conference.

SXSW Interactive evolved out of SXSW's Multimedia conference, first held in 1994. The festival has exploded in popularity since Twitter gained traction during the 2007 festival and the launch of Foursquare during the 2009 conference. Close to 40,000 people are said to have registered for this year's event.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

IDG News Service
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