SXSW: Apps are the New Pop Hits

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Three years ago during a balmy spring weekend in Texas, every tech fan-boy’s fantasy (not involving Megan Fox) came true: a breathtakingly simple yet utterly disruptive technology – a technology that they themselves had discovered nine months prior – became the coolest, most talked about app at the coolest, most talked about interactive conference in the hippest town in Texas…nay, all of the American Southwest. Yes, we’re talking about Twitter and its veritable coronation at the SXSW Interactive conference in Spring, 2007.

We all know what happened next – Twitter became a household name, the AP added the correct usage and capitalization of Twitter and tweeting to its guidebook, and Andy Rooney took to griping about the limitations of 140 characters in expressing his discontent with just about everything. In short, Twitter achieved the start-up dream – mass adoption, glorified ingenuity, and a whole lot of funding. This success, coupled with the popular launch of Foursquare, cemented SXSW as the premiere platform for app launches and ushered in what we know now as the “app economy.”

Today, apps are the new pop hits. They're priced like pop hits ($0.99), they get word of mouth like pop hits and they rise and fall on the charts like pop hits. People now pay as much attention to the App store leaderboard as they do to the Billboard pop charts. The music business thought ring tones would be their mobile cash cow, but when smartphones burst onto the scene, consumers shifted their mobile spending from ringtones to apps – fueling the creation of even more apps and the desire to emulate the success of Twitter and Foursquare at SXSW

The apps launching this week in Austin should be wary -- it's going to be incredibly noisy (and not just in the bars on 6th Street), and breaking through to become a pop hit will take more than a catchy blog post and integrating Facebook Connect. It's about having a great product, the right mix of social tools to spread the word, and predictable distribution. It’s also about tapping a select group of influencers and trend-spreaders to create excitement and cultural credibility. And if all else fails, put a bird in it.