Hot, New Technologies Converge at SXSW
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As they have for the past few years, technology start-ups are battling it out to become the next big thing in Austin, Texas this week, at the city's infamous South by Southwest conference. Emerging as early favorites: group texting apps.
Several of these texting apps, which make it easier for multiple people to chat and connect in real-time via text message, debuted or launched big updates just before the conference, a gathering of music, film and technology insiders.
While tech giants like Apple(AAPL) and Google(GOOG) maintain a presence at South by Southwest -- the iPad maker opened a pop-up store in downtown Austin to coincide with the event, while Google VPs and engineers are speaking at various sessions during the week -- the festival is better known as a launch pad for fledgling companies like Foursquare and Twitter.
And like these two well-known social networking services, group texting companies hope to capitalize on the popularity of mobile applications while putting a new spin on an old technology.
Group texting apps are designed for a wide user base, for folks setting up small gatherings like study sessions to people meeting up at larger events like concerts and music festivals.
GroupMe, a New York City upstart, is considered the darling among group texting apps. Earlier this month, the app launched several new social features that let users upload photos and disclose their location.
The group texting space has become popular as people look for ways to share private information with select groups of friends, rather than broadcasting their conversations on a public platform like Facebook, said GroupMe co-founder Jared Hecht.
"People want to feel comfortable sharing things with groups of people in their lives and expressing themselves freely," he said.
GroupMe is not the only player in the group texting space. Dozens of competitors have launched, including Fast Society , Kik Messenger , PingChat and Beluga.
"The group messaging space is like being in high school when a pretty girl comes along and everyone wants to talk to her," said Fast Society co-founder Matthew Rosenberg, in explaining the flood of companies that have developed in the sector.
At South by Southwest, group messaging apps are hoping to rise above the noise and attract users and media with flashy marketing tactics.
Fast Society offered free shuttle rides to downtown from Austin's airport and also sponsored a Patron tequila-fueled house party Sunday night. GroupMe gave away grilled cheese sandwiches with the company's logo branded onto the bread.
While group texting apps hope their services will soon become mainstream, investors are already keen on their technology. In January, GroupMe closed a $10.6 million venture round from investors like General Catalyst Partners, First Round Capital and Lerer Ventures.