For a company which is known as the leader of social media, it’s incredible how little Facebook has been used by attendees of the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in order to socialize. Instead, group texting via Beluga and check-ins served as the primary communication utilities for this early adopter crowd.
For those attendees who were looking for a breakout performance of a single application, it appeared that most got drowned out in the noise of the event. As users turned toward the apps that they knew best, I found that Beluga quickly became one of the go to resources for communicating where friends were going. While statistics suggest that Facebook has become one of the primary communication channels for younger users, I don’t personally know anybody who was using Facebook as the tool to get in touch with one another.
As the number of attendees at SXSW Interactive has ballooned to over 15,000, most people looked to find the attendees they already knew by quickly organizing meeting spots. For me personally, Beluga became one of those central tools, next to direct SMS communication. Where are people, what are they doing, and should I join are probably the three most common questions attendees were looking to answer. Group texting was often a great way to accomplish that.
While I wouldn’t say that all my friends were using the app, it was clear that many people had one or two groups on Beluga that they were a member of. For SXSW veterans, finding small groups of friends to hang out with was much more effective than standing in line for massive parties, and Beluga definitely helped to organize those small groups. What many are left wondering though is how Facebook will integrate the service into their existing product. Will the company integrate Beluga into their not-yet-completely-released messaging system?
Will they simply add the service as a feature within Facebook’s mobile applications? The answer isn’t completely clear but with the usage of group communication at SXSW, it’s clear that Beluga has a bright future ahead. If Facebook is going to continue to reign as the king of social, features that help users to engage in social experiences (like Facebook Places and Beluga) will prove to be critical as usage shifts toward mobile. It’s a good thing that the Beluga team is now on board with the company.
What communication services have you used most to communicate with groups of friends?