SXSW Interactive Awards: Groupon Proves Itself the People’s App

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The winners of the 14th Annual SXSW Interactive Awards were unveiled Tuesday night in Austin, and it will surely come as no surprise that Groupon cleaned up the People’s Choice award (voting had been open since February, after the festival’s finalists were first revealed). I’ll be writing a whole lot more about Groupon’s presence at this year’s sxsw in the coming days, but let me say this: Almost everyone cited the website in conversations with me. As we talked about user experience, game mechanics, demographic info, community challenges, every single observer and designer cited Groupon as a game changer.

For a site to rise this quickly, get this big, and move this efficiently, clearly Groupon struck gold. And it walked away from Austin a champ.

Almost two dozen categories were decided Tuesday night, with awards going out to an array of projects that either launched in 2010, or were fully redesigned in 2010. You can see the full roster of winners, and find links to the winning URLs, right here. Here’s our take on the five most meaningful wins of the night:

- The Tiziano Project | 360° Kurdistan won the award for activism. The project empowers Iraqi citizens living in the Kurdish north to document, report and webcast their own ground-level experiences, all the while being mentored by professional multimedia journalists. This is citizen journalism made simple and profound, connecting the average Iraqi citizen with an instant, global audience.

-Isle of Tune won the award for experimental experiences. I had never heard of it prior to last night, but let me tell you, it’s addictive from minute one. Think of it as SimCity meets Garage Band meets Second Life. You build roads that cars drive down at a predefined speed, and then line those roads with houses and trees that can serve as instruments. The effect is hypnotic: You’re creating spatial music. And even better: Your map can be viewed and ranked by others. Behold one of the highest-ranked maps right here, and then spend the next hour trying to reconstruct the artistry.

- TeamCoco.com won the award for social media. I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has written about the evolving late-night experience, now emerging as an all-day affair, it’s been fascinating to watch the new Conan program build both a new site and brand from the ground up. And the ease with which you can watch the show, share clips, virtually interact with the crew, follow Conan’s twitter feed, parse the archives and even interact – remixing the theme song, which was made publicly available, competing in Conan’s car giveaway, etc. – now means that fans can sit on the website all day, turning a nightly broadcast into a daily marathon.

- The Wilderness Downtown won the awards for both music and Best of Show. And honestly, wasn’t this a foregone conclusion? A great song, a great concept for a music video – in which Google Streetview images sets you in the middle of the story – and a great experiment of using browser windows and a computer interface to heighten and layer a music video experience, The Wilderness Downtown was an entirely new category of art. Kudos where kudos is due.

- Collapsus: The Energy Risk Conspiracy won the award for film/TV. It’s an ambitious transmedia project that packages a documentary with an array of interactive online multimedia. At the official website, the computer screen is divided into thirds, with a fictional narrative bumping up against documentary material – all pertaining to the real-life mounting global energy crisis – and culminating in an interactive interface where you can make energy decisions for the future. It might sound cheesy but it’s kind of bad ass, with an animated conspiracy thriller playing out alongside real science and a choose-your-own-adventure motif. Within seconds of arriving, you realize it’s the kind of site where you want to stay for a while and explore. And I could most certainly see movie studios or major networks use this approach to boost interest and engagement around one of their properties. Check out the demo: