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What Was SxSWi 2009’s Twitter?

Obviously, in 2006 Twitter made their bones by being generally awesome amongst the early adopter crowd at South by Southwest. It catapulted them into the mainstream of early adopters, which continued to evangelize the product and generally compulsively blog about it at major publications until Britney Spears and Shaquille O’Neal got an account.

What is the next compulsively addictive app to come out of Austin’s festival, though? This year, there wasn’t a clear winner I was told I must have, although there were certainly a number of startups and apps that were making a splash.

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On the technical side, there were a lot of interesting updates, like that it is able to extrapolate context and meaning from bookmarked pages through the use of their new ontology authoring utility. More interesting to the mainstream watchers from the sidelines is the graph he published alongside the article showing Twine’s impending pathway intersection with Delicious.

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MoonToast: The Return of your Braintrust
Although the buzz on the floor for this service probably wasn’t as palpable as the buzz for Twitter a few years ago, MoonToast is the clear winner of the crowd choice award, at least by my judgement. Just about everyone I spoke to had a chance to look at it, understood it, and thought that it was both marketed and put together correctly.

If you haven’t had a chance to check it out as of yet, it’s pretty much Google Answers on steroids. If you’ve never used Google Answers, it was a marketplace where you could put bounties on hard to answer questions from specific niches, and receive a qualified answer. Whenever you felt the question had been answered properly, the bounty was paid, and you were given the opportunity to tip.

The marketplace operates very similarly, except it affords the user other channels of communication, whether it be direct chat, audio files, image files or video.

Beyond any programmatic and presentational improvements Moontoast has made on the project, they’ve also a commitment to growing the community of answerers personally. If pressing questions are being posed and no one in the community is qualified to answer them, the company goes out to seek the expert so that the need can be satisfied.

I sat down with just about the entire Moontoast team to talk about their approach and their project, and was even further impressed with their idea.

Financial Services: Going (far) Beyond Mint and Quicken
I was approached by more than a few Web 2.0 style financial services companies at SxSW – they’re definitely the hot new startup type. They don’t typically rely on ads for their monetization model, although high traffic sites can add to their revenue by slapping some on. They also have the added benefit of having very intimate access to your financial data, which is pretty helpful for behaviorally targeting offers to the user.

The first company I spoke to was one by the name of Rudder. I met them in the press room at SxSW, though they were also exhibiting on the main convention floor.

Rather than tackling it from a “here are some pretty charts and graphs” perspective, they act as automated financial planners. They work to work out a budget based upon the automated discovery of your debt, your income and your expenses.

JustThrive attempts the same task, but with the goal of gearing this information to a younger demographic. Rather than present information in the raw and often confusing dollar amounts and projection graphs, they convert the data to units of commonly used goods and services.

For instance, rather than presenting the information like: “You have $100 after bills to spend on whatever you choose,” they’ll instead say “you have four visits to your favorite restaurant, or twenty visits to the coffee shop available.”

It’s a unique take, and one that will likely resonate with users.

The most common question I’ve recieved during and after the festival was “What was this year’s Twitter?” It’s hard to call these the year’s Twitter, because frankly they don’t have the same viral and social aspects Twitter does. Nothing really took off at the conference like Twitter did at 2006 (although Fourquare certainly tried).

I certainly do believe we’ll be talking about these four companies long after this year’s festival, and they’ve all made major splashes during SxSW.

Mark Rizzn Hopkins writes at Rizzn.com and Silicon Angle.