My first SXSW report: how are Highlight and Glancee working and other entrepreneurial thoughts

I'm sitting in the front row of +Eric Ries lean startup bootcamp at SXSW. It's standing room only right now, after lunch.

My experience this week has been just total emersion with geeks and entrepreneurs.

On Tuesday I hopped on one of the 10 Startup Busses (mine left from San Francisco, others came from Mexico, Florida, New York, Las Vegas, Boston, etc). You can see what happened when those 300 entrepreneurs rolled into +Rackspace Hosting's headquarters. Now you know that Rackers (Rackspace employees) will wake up at 6 a.m. and be crazy all to get a free T-shirt.

Yesterday I was on stage interviewing +Alan Cooper famous software designer. He's always interesting to talk with (hopefully a video will be up soon of that). He talked about designing Visual Basic back in 1988 and how much has changed in software design and what's still holding it back. Industrial thinking in management styles was one that stuck with me. Managing creative people isn't the same as managing a factory worker, yet our management systems are the same.

SXSW is a crazy place where you meet so many interesting geeks. This morning I met +Anil Dash and while chatting with him +Pete Stringfellow, country music star (you've probably heard or seen his work on Target ads) joined us. Then +Lance Ulanoff walked by, while +Ed Baig of USA Today interviewed me. This was just 10 minutes of SXSW and nearly every experience is just like that.

Which brings me to Highlight.

Right now, on my Highlight screen are (which means they are within 50 yards or so of me):

Jonathan David Coffman, Global Online Product Manager of Dell.
Eric Fisher, FOunder at TownSquared, Inc.
Joseph Beyer, Director of Digital Initiatives at Sundance Institute
Contessa Gibson, proprietor at On Point Beauty Marketing
David Geertz, cofounder at
Marcus Nelson, Director of Social Media at Salesforce.
Sherry Huss, Maker-in-Chief of O'Reilly Media.
Virginia DeBolt, Tech section editor for BlogHer.
Kevin Corti, CEO at SoshiGames.
Mohamed Nanabhay, Head of Online at Al Jazeera English
and about 200 more people.

This brings me to the topic of the hour. How useful are these new apps, like Highlight, Glancee, Sonar, Banjo, Kismet, and Who's Here?

Well, for networkers like me, it's invaluable. For instance, I didn't know I ever could meet Mohamed Nanabhay, head of online at Al Jazeera. But now I can message him because he's within 50 yards of me and we can meet up.

At conferences this is hugely cool. It doesn't matter that only about 5% of the SXSW audience is on Highlight. What matters is WHO IS.

If you are using the app (sorry, only available for iPhone users) you can see I've already collected 300 different people and you can message them too. This is lots of fun, but is a new kind of social graph. One that will be valuable later.

A counter trend, though, that I am seeing here, is that some percentage of its users aren't getting value out of it. "It seems noisy," Etsy's CEO, Chad Dickerson just told me. He's still running it but several people have told me they don't see the value in this yet. That's actually a good trend. It's the SAME thing I'm hearing about Google+. And it's the same thing I heard about Twitter, back in 2007. Heck, back then we couldn't even really use Twitter at SXSW (because AT&T was always down back then). That didn't stop the business from finding a good group.

I'm noticing something else. When I show people who actually is on the service then they download it. The PRESSURE to be part of this social network is very high. That matches what I saw back at that party in December: the virality of this thing is off the hook, which is confirmed by my phone's notifications of how many people are joining these two apps. Glancee is not as nice as Highlight, but it has one major advantage: it's on Android and while I'd estimate that only about 30% of the folks here at SXSW are on Android, that's still many thousands of people. It means I'm forced to use Glancee too.

Anyway, I wish I had more time to talk with you about what is going on here, but there's plenty of that coming from others. Just search Google+ or Twitter for "SXSW" and you'll see plenty of info.

Including writeups of +Vic Gundotra interview by +Guy Kawasaki here yesterday:

I'll have a lot more to say about that soon, but Vic saying that Google can't protect us from feed noise is absolutely correct. It shows just how inadequate Google+'s filters and machine learning are and how big a lead Facebook has in those two areas. That said, I hope Google catches up.
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