Tech Innovations At SXSW

South by Southwest Interactive, the tech portion of the music and media conference in Austin, Texas, finished up earlier this week. Omar Gallaga of the Austin America-Statesman, shares the highlights.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The music part of the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference is in full swing today in Austin, Texas. Earlier in the week, the tech portion of the festival came to a close. It's called South by Southwest Interactive. Our tech guru and Austin resident Omar Gallaga attended various panels and parties, and he joins us now for some post-festival analysis. Hi, Omar.

OMAR GALLAGA: Hi, Robert, good to be here.

SIEGEL: And I gather that Twitter, which was almost synonymous with South by Southwest not too long ago, is now just so 2007 at this year's meetings.

GALLAGA: I don't know if I'd go that far. I think Twitter is still very, very popular, and it's so integrated into the experience, people don't even talk about it anymore, and the CEO of Twitter was the keynote on Monday.

But really, every year now since 2007, when Twitter kind of had its coming-out party at the festival party, people are asking, you know, what's the next Twitter? What's the next big startup that's going to capture everyone's imagination at South by Southwest Interactive and spread into the mainstream?

SIEGEL: And who are the candidates for that honor this year?

GALLAGA: Well, this year the two companies that everyone was talking about at the festival were Foursquare and Austin-based Gowalla, and they do something very similar. These are location-aware applications that allow you to check in at locations and let people know where you are with, say, a GPS-enabled phone.

Obviously, there are some privacy concerns with that. And not everybody is going to be comfortable with letting everyone know where they are at a given time, but at a festival like South by Southwest Interactive, you want everybody to know what party you're attending or what panel you're sitting in.

And both companies had rival parties going on at the same night. The Foursquare party attracted Ashton Kutcher, but Gowalla kind of had the home-team advantage. A lot of people here are definitely rooting for them.

Both applications make it into sort of a game. You earn badges with Foursquare, you can be declared the mayor of a location. So everyone at the festival was having a lot of fun with these. Now the question is, will it go into the mainstream the way Twitter did in 2007 and 2008? Is this something that will go beyond all the tech geeks that are here in town and that everyone else in the rest of the country will want to adopt and use and check into wherever they're going?

SIEGEL: Are these applications that you can turn off, so if you don't want people knowing where you are, you can have privacy?

GALLAGA: You only check in when you want to check in at a location. I spoke to some women at the festival who had some safety concerns about it, and they told me that many of them check in on their way out of a location so that people, you know, can't track them down if they've already left.

But you can also broadcast what you do on Gowalla or Foursquare to Twitter or Facebook, or you can disable that. So there's a lot of options for only checking in when you want to and only letting people in certain groups know where you are.

CONAN: Now, the music portion of South by Southwest has overshadowed the interactive part of the conference for years now, but you've been writing about how that may be changing.

GALLAGA: Yes, I've been covering the festival for a very long time, and for me, the big news this year is that for the first time, paid interactive registration has surpassed music. We're looking at a growth rate of about 40 percent over last year's festival and about 12,000 to 13,000 paid attendees at Interactive. Companies like Microsoft, Digg, YouTube, Twitter, they're all choosing South by Southwest Interactive as the place to launch news or to launch new products and to tell people about them.

SIEGEL: And some news from Google's YouTube yesterday about independent musicians and their videos. What are they offering?

GALLAGA: Well, they have rolled out a service called Musicians Wanted, and what this will be is aimed at indie musicians to upload their videos to YouTube and get a cut not only of the ad revenue but also a cut whenever that video is embedded on a Web site.

So if, say, a popular music blog picks up a video from an indie musician, they would get a pretty good cut of that ad money, and that would completely cut out the labels, as well. So it would be a big win for musicians.

Now, this seems to cut right at the heart of MySpace and Facebook and other social media networks that are trying to make a move into music. So we'll be seeing what happens with that, but obviously if they're going to get a bigger cut, people are going to want to direct their fans to the YouTube video, as opposed to, say, MySpace or Facebook or somewhere else where maybe they're not going to get as much revenue from each page view.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Omar.

GALLAGA: Thanks for having me. We will have links to a lot of the South by Southwest coverage on the All Tech Considered blog at npr.org/alltech.

SIEGEL: Omar Gallaga is the technology culture reporter for the Austin America-Statesman, and he joins us most Mondays for All Tech Considered.

We asked independent musicians, managers and label owners at the South by Southwest Music Festival for their thoughts on YouTube's new revenue-sharing idea, and here's what they had to say.

Mr. IAN IMHOF (Northern Alliance Management): My name is Ian Imhof. I am a artist manager with Northern Alliance Management. Revenue-sharing, that's great. I mean, that'll definitely open up a new place for bands to be able to get cash flow from, and it's so hard out there right now for independent bands.

Mr. DIMITER YORDANOV (Bassist, Idiot Pilot): My name is Dimiter Yordanov. I'm playing bass for Idiot Pilot. We're from Bellingham, Washington. I'm not sure exactly how it would help with promotion, since it's already available to us. There's a new site, Justin.tv, that's kind of a live thing that we have fans going to. So I'm not sure if it would help much more.

Mr. MARK LATTA (Standard Recording Company): I'm Mark Latta. I own Standard Recording Company, based in Indianapolis. Well, it's going to make us probably focus more on multimedia aspects of the music. I mean, if we can generate revenue from video, then we'll be more likely to support videos and, you know, encouraging bands to make videos.

SIEGEL: Music industry professionals at South by Southwest, talking about YouTube's new Musicians Wanted announcement. The new service will share advertising revenue with independent artists.

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