Well it's my last day at this year's SXSW. There has been some amazing stuff to consume and participate in (great talks by Google UX folk, the RIG extended family, the GE Garage and the amazing TED salon) but what has struck me is how it felt like there was little innovation here. I worry that perhaps the success of SXSW interactive will be its undoing; that big brands are crowding out the smaller, nimbler innovators. And perhaps that's a reflection on the noise here of the big boys and a culture that is now less reliant on the big visible firework launch at SXSW for a startup.
Perhaps the greatest debate (well it seems outside Austin) has been around BBH Labs' experiment to innovate in new ways for the homeless to generate money. There have been some nasty (and I think in many cases unfounded) attacks (see this one for example) which seem to be a case of a reaction to something new. The idea was to empower homeless people in Austin to 'manage' their own wifi hotspots; an attempt to update and innovate the old street paper model. Perhaps the execution and the handle of the idea (homeless hotspots) had some issues but the idea (at least to me) feels a worth experiment. It's about letting homeless people manage and sell a valuable and useful good. It's just that wifi in Austin is more valuable than selling a paper in NYC for your commute.
In many this reaction is the dark edge on innovation. I remember a similar reaction when back in the UK the Big Issue was first born. But I think we should judge this idea on what the people who will benefit from it think and their seeming keenness to get involved.
Hopefully the reaction to the new will die down (as it seems from this article in The Atlantic) and people will begin to respect this for what it is - an experiment to create a more relevant way for the homeless to generate money rather than either something that is 'morally offensive' or something that will not be the magical cure to the far more difficult and fundamental issues that create homelessness in the first place
(NB I should disclose I know many of the folk at BBH Labs.)