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'South-by' Shoot-Out

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Three-and-a-half weeks before South by Southwest Interactive, Hashable, a real-time
digital Rolodex service and entrant in this season’s social networking sweepstakes, is
gearing up for the attack.

“Basically, this is our formal launch,” chief marketing officer Emily Hickey, a seasoned tech promoter, explained in a meeting at the company’s New York offices. “Our goal is to come out of the show as one of the top two or three stories of the event.”

The stakes are high. The tech industry’s March 11-15 networking party and panel-fest in Austin, Texas, catapulted Twitter to stardom in 2007 and did the same for Foursquare in 2009. If Hashable can’t catch on among SXSW’s captive audience, it may have a hard time catching on at all.

Hickey was speaking to the “Hash Evangelists,” 15 dedicated Hashable users that the company is sending down on an all-expenses-paid trip to Austin to promote the product.

“That’s why you guys are all here,” she told them. “Our intention is very much to flood the zone, and to make no mistake that we’re on the scene. We want to come out as one of the top three stories of the show.”

Every year, techies swarm Austin to pass judgment on the latest applications. They come to an unofficial consensus about which ones are the coolest, then go home and spread the gospel. In addition to Hashable, this year’s “competitive crucible,” as Hickey puts it, belongs to GroupMe and Beluga, two group-messaging applications that have generated a lot of pre-festival buzz.

In a way, GroupMe has gotten out in front precisely because it is so unremarkable. Remember the private chat room? Now it’s on your phone, only with pictures. Beluga provides more or less the same thing, only with a few more features, such as the ability to share your location. In a contest where dumb simplicity is the key selling proposition, GroupMe proudly distinguishes itself by out-dumbing the competition, stressing what one co-founder referred to as “ the lowest common denominator experience.”

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