At SXSW, attendees confront Twitter saturation

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas–By now, the story of how Twitter exploded onto the scene at the 2007 South by Southwest festival is legend in technology circles.

But here at SXSW 2009, the notion of the perfect match among community, service, and event seems flipped on its head. Many people are discovering that a monumental oversaturation of tweets is reversing the value that Twitter offered at SXSW 2007 and SXSW 2008 for finding friends and great parties.

At SXSW, the standard is for everyone to include the tag “#sxsw” in their tweets. For example, on Friday, I was looking for sources for a different story and tweeted, “If you are launching an iPhone app at #sxsw, or know someone who is, please let me know. Thanks!”

That’s a great convention because it allows anyone wanting to know what’s going on to search Twitter for posts using any search term important to them. That has proven useful for people wanting to find out what’s going on after earthquakes, the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the Hudson River airplane crash, and many other events. At SXSW in 2007 and 2008, this was a big part of how people navigated their experiences.

At a conference with scores of panels and seemingly just as many parties, being able to determine what’s worthwhile is crucial for people trying to get the most out of their time here.

This year because of the conference’s impressive growth and Twitter’s broader mainstream appeal, it has become almost impossible to find the same value as in the past. I did a search for the “#sxsw” tag on Saturday afternoon and found that there had been 392 tweets with the term in just the previous 10 minutes. That number mushroomed to more than 1,500 in the previous hour.

There were nearly 400 tweets using the #sxsw tag in just 10 minutes during the SXSW conference on Saturday afternoon.

(Credit: Twitter)

While those numbers demonstrate that people here are without question using Twitter like never before, it also means that it’s never been harder to find what you’re looking for amid the flood of posts about the panels, barbecue, Web celebrity spottings, and deep thoughts about social media.

This has forced people accustomed to relying on simple Twitter searches to get creative to find the nuggets they need.

“I’ve been purposefully putting the (“#sxsw”) tag…to as many things as I can, even just going to my hotel,” said David Kadavy, a user-interface designer from Chicago. “I started looking (for the tag) at first. But there was just so much of it that I started just looking (for) the people I’m following and filtering for the (tag).”

That’s fine for people who are sitting at a computer, but many people using Twitter at SXSW do so on mobile phones. And being the cutting edge of the digerati set, the most common device in evidence here is the iPhone. But Kadavy said he hadn’t found a way to do the kind of filtered search he wanted, and as a result, seemed hard-pressed to accomplish what he’d need to while on the go.

Some at the conference have found themselves being aware of the oversaturation dynamic and have been trying to reduce the number of tagged tweets, hoping to cut down on the flow.

“I was definitely guilty yesterday,” said Andie Grace, a senior staffer with the Burning Man organization. “I grabbed my phone to tweet that I was grabbing my luggage (at the airport)….But I stopped myself from Twittering and I thought if everybody did this, it’s going to be useless. So I stopped myself because I would like to search and see what panels my friends are finding interesting and where they’re planning to be.”

To be sure, there are plenty of ways people can see what their friends are tweeting. But the never-ending flow of tweets with the “#sxsw” tag are forcing attendees to find alternatives.

That, of course, has presented opportunities to other services to gain the kind of passionate users that Twitter engendered during SXSW 2007 and SXSW 2008. In fact, some services are even incorporating Twitter, creating a way to get the best of both worlds.

“I just got (to SXSW) but have been watching from afar, and it did seem a little crowded,” said Mario Anima, the director of online community at “It seems like (a lot of) people are also using Brightkite and Foursquare to keep in touch.”

Anima said that Foursquare, a brand-new service from the team that created–and then sold to Google–Dodgeball, is particularly useful for navigating SXSW because it allows people to post updates about what they’re doing and where they’re going that are then incorporated into their Twitter feeds. That way, their Twitter followers can see what they’re doing without also being a Foursquare member.

Of course, SXSW 2009 may well prove to be where Foursquare itself explodes, a la Twitter in 2007. The service was under wraps until just a few days ago, and its iPhone application was added to Apple’s App Store just in time for the conference.

Using this method to see what your friends are up to at SXSW, Anima said, frees people to use Twitter for broader purposes. For example, he said, it means that instead of trying to find within the “#sxsw” search flood what friends are doing, users can look for trends, like what people are saying are good panels.

Even that method might be overly cumbersome, however, given the hundreds, or thousands, of tweets being sent each hour at the conference.

To Laura Roeder, a consultant from Venice Beach, Calif., there’s another solution altogether.

She said that she’s been following SXSW Baby, a blog and Twitter account where the best of SXSW is being aggregated, allowing followers to restrict the information overflow.

“Last night, they re-tweeted a Gary (Vaynerchuk) party,” Roeder said, speaking of what have become famous impromptu wine parties at SXSW, “so I knew about that.”

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At SXSW, attendees confront Twitter saturation

‘Line Rider’ iPhone game sleds on

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Line Rider(Credit: in Xile Entertainment)

Even in the Web 2.0 universe, a literally two-dimensional concept can give way to a cult classic, provided it contains a compelling kernel of originality and ways to brand the finished product as your own. The sledding game “Line Rider” humbly began as an online Flash game in which a boy sledded down a track of your design, but it quickly garnered fans who created fantastically creative tracks across which the rider dramatically tumbles and swoops.

It’s only fitting that “Line Rider” make the leap onto the iPhone. “Line Rider iRide” ($2.99) lets your fingers draw the track, pinching and pulling the iPhone screen to zoom in and out for a closer look. The basic controls to draw freehand, lay down a straight line, and erase lines are there. So are buttons to undo lines, move around the screen, leave a placeholder, and flag the rider’s current position. If you have a account, you can make a name for yourself by sharing your sledding course, or download someone else’s track to admire.

Although you can give your courses limitless scenery and outlandish jumps, the ride itself will be staunchly guided by Newtonian physics. Make your pawn fly too high, fall too far, or loop at unnatural angles, and he’ll skid, thud, or somersault to his demise. Keeping him going right-side up is addictive–and harder than you might imagine. Just consider that the next time you hurtle down those snow-covered slopes.

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‘Line Rider’ iPhone game sleds on

Brownbook global business directory lets you get in on the action

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Brownbook, a global business directory that allows users to edit information about companies, launched recently for visitors all over the world.

According to the company, Brownbook aims at combining the power of wikis, peer-production, and social networking to change the way business directories are presented online. Instead of providing a directory for users, Brownbook allows users to edit and update business listings, provide reviews with video and photos, and receive rewards by commenting on businesses.

The premise sounds simple enough and some may think it’s interesting, but after using it for a while, I’m not quite sold on its usefulness. I perused the site, looked for different companies, read reviews scattered across the service, and found myself asking the same question each time: “what value does this site really provide?”

It’s not that a business directory isn’t nice, but there are a slew of them across the Web, like and Yahoo’s business directory, that present pertinent information in a much nicer package.

Brownbook claims that over 27 million businesses have already been indexed. But when I searched for a major firm like Walmart, the site returned a results page that listed Canadian stores and their phone numbers, but little else. That may be fine for Canadian customers who want to know a particular store’s phone number, but the rest of the world is left out. And after viewing incomplete information about each store, I quickly realized that it’s much easier to use Walmart’s store locator to find important information instead of Brownbook.

Being able to add a business and comment on that business is the real draw of Brownbook. But after searching through the site for quite some time without finding any useful review, I can’t help but wonder if people are willing to review a major accounting firm or Ford dealership like they review hotels on TripAdvisor or restaurants on Yelp. I doubt it.

That said, adding a review was made simple by clicking the “Add a review” link and changing or adding information about a particular company is as easy as filling out a form and confirming the changes. That simplicity was welcome and could help the company grow as more people learn about the site.

But at its core, Brownbook is a directory site and so far, I just don’t see any reason to use it as such. The idea of having a place to find important information about a particular company or franchise like mailing address, phone number, and location is fine, but with other services across the Web that present that information in a much cleaner way, I don’t see a reason to use the site. And considering Brownbook is inherently subject to angry customers and bias, I’m not convinced the site can become a trusted source of important business information.

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Brownbook global business directory lets you get in on the action

Confirmed: The blogosphere is mainstream

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

With nearly 1,000,000 posts a day, the blogosphere is overflowing with content and now fully established as a mainstream rather than fringe phenomenon. Traditional media have adopted blogs as a complementary form of content to the traditional news and feature stories. According to Techhnorati’s latest report on the state of the blogosphere, many bloggers are making money. Technorati surveyed a sample of about 1,000 bloggers and found that the mean annual revenue for advertising is $6,000, but sites with 100,000 or more unique visitors are generating more than $75,000 in revenue.

(Credit: Technorati)

None of these results is surprising. Blogs started as a means of personal expression, and now offer more than a billion people the tools to self-publish. Traditional publishers and an armada of new, innovative publishers, as well as millions of readers, have embraced the blog format and ethos. Marketers, readers, publishers, politicians, and most people on the planet with access to the Internet understand the diversity of voices, as well as the cacophony, that blogs allow. The more savvy bloggers are getting sophisticated about search engine optimization, developing a niche, and making money. Technorati will dribble out more results from its survey this week, illuminating the what, why, and how of blogging.

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Confirmed: The blogosphere is mainstream