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SXSW: Crowds got you down? Avoid Humans is here to help

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With denizens of the film, tech and music worlds converging on Austin, Texas, for SXSW, the town can feel a uniquely crushing level of crowded. The streets are jammed, the bars overflow, the line at Franklin's BBQ rivals those for the big movie premieres. What you could really use is some peace and quiet. Enter Avoid Humans.

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Developed by Austin-based tech agency GSD&M specifically for this year's SXSW, Avoid Humans is a new location-based app that collects social media data from sources like FourSquare, Facebook and Twitter to determine which local spots are just a little too hot at the moment. It takes geotagging location sharing and flips it on its head, utilizing social media to actually be less social — or at least to make sure you get a table faster.

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The idea for the app came about as a response to the increasing popularity of the annual film, music and interactive conference, according to GSD&M Group Creative Director Ryan Carroll. "Everywhere year, just kind of being the local agency in town, we try to do something for SXSW. In the early years, when the festival was a lot smaller, we'd create tools that were kind of the 'inside guide to Austin,'" Carroll says. "But as the festival grew and more people kept coming back, they were no longer secrets. There's been an American Express commercial featuring Franklin BBQ.

"As the festival gets bigger and bigger, it gets more and more crowded here, so we thought up the idea of instead of telling people about the cool little places to go, here's a tool where we can show them where all the people aren't," he explains. "If you want to take a break from some of the crowds of SXSW or you want to go grab coffee with someone you just met, is there a way that we can tell you the places where there's basically no people at? Instead of telling you where everybody is, let's just use that data to tell you where people aren't."

While Carroll hasn't had a chance to review exact figures on the service's popularity — SXSW is still in full swing, after all — anecdotal evidence suggests it's a big hit. "We literally had this idea and built it in 10 days and launched it right before South-By. The response has been amazing. The local response has been amazing, and then the South-By response has been as well," he says.

"Initially it was, 'Let's do these little South-By initiatives and create these tools that kind of go away,' but I think this one has struck a chord. Our goal now is to go back and work on ways that we can make it more accurate, if there's more data that we could use, whether it's check-ins or if people use hashtags at restaurants, to compute that data and then roll it out as a yearlong thing. The great thing about Austin is there's always something going on."

 
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