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As any event organizer knows, getting people to communicate and interact at your event can be crucial to its success. And for attendees, Twitter has become a great resource for locating and sharing real-time data. But for everyone else, Twitter updates surrounding one topic can quickly turn into noise. 

It's a problem that is especially heightened at SxSW, when techies flood the zone of Austin and their friends back home are inundated with information about it. While it could potentially be solved by better filtering on Twitter, two companies are trying to stake their claim in the space this week.

When Twitter hit critical mass last year, stalwart defenders of the service argued that people overwhelmed by useless information weren't using it correctly. As musician and blogger Steve Lawson wrote on his blog:

"If it’s full of trivial rubbish, it just means you’re following the wrong people, or are yourself failing to inspire anyone to write anything meaningful."

But anyone who's ever looked in on Twitter during an event that they've opted out of (or during a show like the Oscars) can tell you that even friends start to grate when they're Twitter bombing something you don't care about. 

Many people uses services like TweetDeck and TweetMeme to filter their streams. And those aren't the only ones. Companies from Evri to Guzzle.it, Lazyfeed and popurls are trying to help consumers get a handle on the flood of real-time information.

But two services are making a big push in SxSW to dominate real-time event sharing.

Event-based startup Hot Potato is one. As founder Justin Shaffer told Econsultancy:

"At scale, conversation tends to break down, and while it can be a decent repository for links and commentary, they require quite a bit of human filtering to get the good parts out. We use your friends, your location, and how you've checked-in as indicators of the type of content you'll be interested in, and then filter for you to give you messages from your friends, and from other popular contributors in the audience, especially as events get larger."

They also have a leg up with a newly launched app that includes Foursquare integration. That means that many of the early adopters who were using Foursquare last year are already out testing the service.

Hot Potato relies on existing relationships — digital or otherwise — to create conversations about events. But LoKast, another event service that is launching this week, lets users share content with anyone else using the app within a 300-foot radius. LoKast hopes to be a "disposable social network" and will be testing out its product with several musical performances at SxSW (it hasn't launched a website yet). 

Content will be shared over Bluetooth for iPhone users, and "encourages interaction among random people nearby — you can share media in a live setting and perhaps never see the person again."

While "random" interactions may not sound appealing to many digital users (unless we're talking ChatRoulette), with events, hearing from strangers could be the best way to stay on top of news and information. But it also runs the risk of adding to the noise that people are trying to avoid elsewhere.

For businesses, conquering real-time filtering is important for aggregating and encouraging brand interactions. Shaffer puts it like this:

"As a brand, I'd likely be excited about Hot Potato as it will not only allow me to get real audiences together and participating in my events... it will also allow my audience to help me grow interest on my behalf, by bringing in their friends, and sharing their individual perspectives and experiences."

As social interaction continues to grow and develop, the next phase of development is likely to center around aggregation and filtering. Twitter itself is likely to get into the game. Several third party developers were concerned recently that new geolocation features released from the microblogging company could render them obsolete.

That's a possibility with Twitter filtering, but as is becoming more and more clear, going niche and doing one thing well is increasingly working for startups. With real-time event filtering — as with many social services — it's just still unclear who will get this right. 

Images: top and middle, HotPotato; bottom, LoKast

Meghan Keane

Published 12 March, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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