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SXSW to Get (More) Social With the Help of iBeacons

A clever new way to goose those spontaneous connections.


For more than two decades, South By Southwest has attracted people eager to sample the latest in culture and technology — and connect with like-minded folks.

But as the Austin festival grew larger (it now sprawls across 110 stages and 265 venues), such casual collisions got harder. So SXSW will use a mobile app that takes advantage of location-aware Apple iBeacon technology to bring people together.

The newly launched app, 2015 SXSW Go, will allow festival attendees to check in to venues, learn who is nearby and get relevant information, such as which of the 2,000 acts scheduled to appear this year is performing onstage.

“This feature … gives us the ability to create this extra level of intelligence, so you can see who’s around you, see their profiles and decide whether they’re someone who you want to connect with right there,” said SXSW CTO Scott Wilcox.

The use of iBeacons during such an event, which begins on March 13 and stretches out over 10 days, illustrates the possibilities for a technology many people think of as limited to shopping. Beacon technology has been used to deliver discounts, new-product promotions and other alerts to the smartphones of shoppers as they stroll past stores and restaurants.

A number of retailers have been experimenting with beacon technology, from jeweler Alex & Ani, to Macy’s department stores in New York and San Francisco, to Safeway grocery stores. There was even a highly publicized deployment on the mile-long Regent Street, a tourist shopping destination in London.

But beacon technology also is finding application in museums such as the Guggenheim museum, at sports venues like Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center, and in airports including the Virgin Atlantic terminal in London.

SXSW dabbled with the technology last year, through technology partner Eventbase. This year represents a more ambitious undertaking — calling for the deployment of 1,000 iBeacons that use Bluetooth wireless technology to deliver location information through the festival’s mobile app. Attendees can decide whether they want to opt-in to these features.

“A lot of people go to South By Southwest because it’s so forward-thinking when it comes to technology. They’re never shy about pushing the boundaries,” said Jeff Sinclair, co-founder of Eventbase. “This is taking it to a completely new level.”

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