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A Thousand Beacons Will Help SXSW Attendees Connect

The Bluetooth devices will allow users at the music and film festival to see who is on stage or which film is showing at their location, while enabling them to link up with people of interest within their vicinity.
By Claire Swedberg

SXSW trialed the 40 Gimbal Series 21 beacons in 2014, Wilcox says, in order to determine whether the technology could be used to push data to show participants at the times when they would need it most, and whether that pushed information served a purpose to recipients. At the registration area, for instance, attendees had to queue up to receive their badges and be admitted into the show. To do this, they must present registration personnel with a Quickcode number that they received when purchasing a badge online. They can then present the number that they either printed at home, or received in the form of an e-mail on their smartphone. However, those with the GO app running on an iPhone with Bluetooth functionality activated (in 2014, the beacon functionality was only available in the iOS version of the app) could receive a push notification asking if they would like to view their Quickcode number, which they could then simply show to the registration staff.

In several sessions rooms, arriving guests who had Bluetooth turned on and the app downloaded received an invitation to join that session's online chat room, in which participants could share their responses or thoughts about the topic in real time. They could also review a list of other attendees in the room at that time.

This year, when an individual arrives at the venue, the SXSW GO app running on that person's phone receives the unique ID transmitted by each beacon, which then links the attendee to that location and pushes relevant content to his or her phone.
The beacon trial was successful, Wilcox says—participants indicated that they liked receiving the push notifications—and, based on that response, SXSW and Eventbase are implementing a solution this year involving 1,000 beacons. The new beacon-based version of the app was released today, and is available at the iTunes and Google Play websites.

"South By Southwest has always been about discovery: new bands, new technologies and also discovering new people," Wilcox states. The focus, he notes, is networking, so that those in attendance will leave with new connections made at the event.

The beacon system provides several features. The primary one, known as Around Me, is intended to take networking one step further than the previous app—which simply invited people to connect via the app electronically—did. Upon installing the app on his smartphone, an individual will have the opportunity to input personal information that he would like to share with other attendees. This could include his hobbies, music interests or profession. The guest could also indicate what kinds of people are of interest to him, view a list of all other individuals who had purchased badges and downloaded the app, and select anyone on the list that he would like to meet. He could then mark those people of interest as "favorites."

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