This year’s South by Southwest Interactive, SXSWI, kicked off in Austin, Texas, on Friday. Not familiar with SXSWI? Imagine being inside a real-world Twitter feed for five days and 10,000 of the people you are following decided to launch their emerging technology startup over it. Welcome to SXSWI.

SXSWI Focus on Emerging Technology

SXWSI, occurring from March 11 to March 15 at multiple locations in downtown Austin, is filled with startup accelerators, panels, vendors, awards, interesting people and, most important, parties filled with free drinks.

This year, conference topics include content on web and interface design, wireless innovation and business operations to more ephemeral dialogues about online marketing, social networks and relationships with emerging technologies. The conference is focused heavily on social media and similar new media themes, but, surprisingly there a number of panels featuring discussion on the semantic web, privacy, information management and big data.

What Has Our Attention

Data in the Cloud

Infochimps, a database-as-a-service platform or, as the founders refer to it, the "Amazon of data," launched its website and discussed the new data available on the platform. Infochimps’ goal is to make it easy to find, sell and share data. Currently, the company has two offerings: Downloadable datasets and a recently updated data API, which allows users to retrieve data that is updated and hosted by Infochimps. The API is impressive, allowing users to query terabyte-sized data streams without investing in database architecture. The breadth of data is also notable; topics range from demographics to social media to market research.

Many of the company’s 13,000 downloadable datasets are free; however, others require payment, specific usage or attribution. The API is a subscription-based service, but the first 100,000 data API calls are free.

Digital Self and Online Privacy

I sat in the “Demystifying Online Privacy and Empowering the Digital Self” with Marc Davis from Microsoft, Nick Goggans from Umbel and Paul Krasinski from Arbitron.

As more organizations more thoroughly embrace web 2.0, 3.0 and customer engagement management, data-rich personas of personal details are being created. In an effort to better understand and build rich relationships with consumers, enterprises are working to develop holistic views of their audience across all interaction channels. For consumers, this means personal data is in the cloud, on mobile devices and of course PCs; this allows for more personalized and effective marketing based on deep knowledge of individual behavior.



Personal data is increasingly growing in value for enterprises

Although this sounds beneficial, panelists noted that the average consumer does not understand the volume or implications of the personal data being shared. Who is collecting this data? How long does it live? What are the legal and regulatory obligations for enterprise?

Davis, of Microsoft, recommends that a partnership be created between government and industry that clarifies private data ownership. Davis strongly believe that people should be put in control of their own information and how it’s aggregated.

Krasinki of Arbitron Inc., a media and marketing research firm serving the media, including radio, broadcast and cable television and advertising agencies, agrees:

I would argue consumers don’t have control, or know they have control, over giving this data to build this relationship. We’re in an era of digital illiteracy. Not many people understand the data-driven world we live in, so they certainly don’t know how to take action or take control. It’s chaos.”

Savvy leaders should add a “privacy” to-do in their content and engagement strategy development. Thought leaders can to ensure their organization behaves responsibly and avoids a potential consumer backlash as the public becomes more informed and engaged with how their personal data is being is being managed.

SXSW is loud, overwhelming and lots of fun but most important, it’s an opportunity for technologists and leaders to interact and share thoughts about emerging technology trends. Every elevator conversation is a potential to be exposed to a new thought or idea that could reshape the way your organization operates.