Where’s SXSW’s Killer App?

Twitter and Foursquare blew up at SXSW in years past. That’s not happening this year. So where’s the killer app?

One of the reasons I came to SXSW — along with a bunch of other folks — was to find the killer app that normal people would mayyyybe be using in six months. Um, well, I haven’t found it. I don’t think anyone else has, either.

Perhaps the most-talked about app at SXSW is Highlight, a real-time location deal that’s designed to introduce you to interesting people around you. I feel pretty safe in thinking that no normal person will be using this in six months, even if the gulf between what early adopters/Silicon Valley pirates/the tech press and normal people consider not-creepy continually shrinks. (In other words, Facebook and Foursquare and Find My Friends were creepy — until they weren’t.) Creepiness isn’t even the issue with Highlight, it’s that it feels inorganic and forced. I can see why the Silicon Valley set and the press might think it’s neat — we’re always hunting down interesting people, and an app that would make that easier? Gold. But I don’t see my non-nerd friends using this, even as they’ve picked up Twitter and Foursquare with ease (after a little trepidation).

Clearly, real-time location is the thing that people are aching to crack, or at least that everybody is convinced will be a huge component of whatever the next everybody-is-using-it service is going to be. (Maybe we’re wrong. But anyway.) It’s been sort of tragicomic in the way that everybody who’s tried has failed so miserably. Google Buzz and Facebook Places are (or were) bad jokes. Which is kind of crushing! Because if anybody had the userbase to make location work, it was Facebook. (Or to put it another way, if Facebook Places didn’t suck so bad, it could’ve stomped Foursquare out like tiny, squishy bug.) Twitter’s current mobile app won’t even let you look at nearby tweets anymore. Foursquare is becoming Yelp. So we’re all convinced that location just requires some fresh thinking, a new startup coming at it from a different angle. Enter a million and a half apps at SXSW pivoting around real-time location. And nobody’s using them. (A question for another post: Why have all of the real-time location apps failed?)

So where’s the killer app this year? Twitter and Foursquare and GroupMe blew up at SXSW before becoming big things in the rest of the world. Perhaps we’re all simply thinking incorrectly about what the next big thing will be? Maybe. The thing that everybody in the real(ish) world has been talking about is Pinterest, a service that the tech press was seemingly shocked and bewildered to discover a few months ago — a service whose users are by and large women, not the usual early adopter geek set. It seems possible, if not likely, that our radar is just off, again.

There will be another killer app/service/site that launches this year. Maybe it won’t be the next Twitter or Facebook. It’ll be the next Pinterest — a service not for the usual crowd from the usual suspects in the usual places.

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