Friday, March 25, 2011
A statistical look at the things SXSW carries

Over the course of four days during South by Southwest, CNN iReport welcomed attendees to take part in a crowd-sourced adaptation of the much talked about Persona photo series by Atlanta, Georgia, photog Jason Travis. By juxtaposing images of the things people carry with portraits of the carriers, Persona captures a unique and enlightening glimpse into their lives.


With Jason's help we collected more than 700 photographs at SXSW, each as fascinating as the event itself, as well as demographic data and other information that each participant shared with us. Moreover, we looked at every photo and created a huge database for listing and categorizing every single item that people displayed.


It was a huge project, but the end result was well worth it. We've analyzed and discussed data for a few days now, and we'd like to share with you the trends that strike us the most.


By way of a disclaimer, we'd like to point out that this was more a fun project for us than a serious one and although mining and analyzing 745 photographs was quite a feat, our numbers and methods fall well outside any sort of scientific standard.


The gender breakdown was 55 percent male and 45 percent female. The age distribution dropped off for ages greater than 50 but was quite balanced otherwise, something we were a little surprised about considering the gravity-like pull that SXSW has on the under-25 crowd.



Once we grouped items into measurable categories such as "electronic gadgets" and "beauty and health products", we were able to better compare what SXSW goers consider "essential". As we expected, "phones" was the most popular category, although we did not foresee it being such a stand-alone leader. We expected wallets and keys to fall right behind phones but the numbers for those categories fell well below what we imagined, particularly keys which were displayed by only 21 percent of participants. We suspect many folks weren't carrying keys at the event, but more remarkably, it seems many just didn't consider them essential.


So, what was essential for people at SXSW? Sunglasses and lip balm. Thirty-two percent of people displayed sunglasses and 17 percent displayed lip balm. Moreover, when asked "What is one item you can't live without?", lip balm/chapstick was the second most popular answer behind phones.



Another very popular category was mints and mint-flavored chewing gum at 7 and 10 percent respectively. We figured it could be fun to add these percentages together to come up with a "Kissability Index" -- the aggregate of percentages for lip balm, mints and chewing gum -- and compare those across cities of origin.



Turns out Atlantans and Angelinos are the most considerate kissers -- smooth and fresh! We also asked folks to tell us one reason they attended SWSX Interactive. To "Learn about new ideas" was the most popular answer with 336 mentions and to "Have fun" came in second with 167 mentions.


So what did we learn about the things people carry at SXSW? Overall people seemed to favor electronics, things like phones and cameras, but beauty and health care products didn't trail far behind. We suspect people at SXSW Interactive wanted to learn about new and cool ideas; while looking good... but then they also wanted to party, and tweet about it all.


Thanks to everyone who was part of this fun and fascinating project! Be sure to meet the inspiration behind it all and see the photos from the booth.

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