“Telepathy,” I blurted. I was being cheeky, of course. But I wasn’t far off, as she now reminds me. The last decade has been a race to make person-to-person communication magically instant and effortless.
When I started at my first job in 1994, the idea of email was overkill to most people. (“I already have a phone, a fax and a mailbox. Why do I need yet another way to communicate?”) Now we’ve embraced not just email, but SMS text messaging, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and an unholy number of other social sites, each purportedly offering a more efficient way to connect with each other.
Now comes the next big thing in personal communication: group messaging. And the battle for who is going to own that space is likely to unfold at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) conference in Austin, which begins on Friday.
Typically, SXSW represents a winner-take-all tilt to see which newly-launched app or service will be the talk of startupland. Twitter broke out at SXSW in 2007, and Foursquare in 2008. It goes without saying that it’s a certain kind of app–a particularly social one, and of course free–that has any chance of emerging as King of SXSW.
To be blunt, SXSW app success ultimately comes down to helping people get to the best party in a sea of parties. Now that the event is massive and sponsored by the world’s biggest brands, Twitter and Foursquare are too wide open to be useful. (Nobody wants to reveal where the unexpectedly hot event is—things are crowded enough without encouraging a pile-on.) Thus small group messaging has the potential to usher in a new era of useful intimacy. Or just help you find the best bash.
Herewith, the leading contenders for this year’s SXSW crown.