Gadgets and Technology
The biggest reason everyone comes to CES is to play with toys -- which, increasingly, have social components.
Panasonic, for example, announced a deal with Skype that lets you run video conferencing on its new TVs. If you can't get home h to visit mom, you can at least see her face in high definition. Maybe soon you'll get to see her in 3D. For some reason, I suspect that tagline won't make it into their collateral.
For another approach, consider PlayOn.TV. The company released software that lets you connect your PC to your TV through your gaming console. I tried it out using my Wii at home and it didn't quite work as planned (scroll down here for the full story), but I could almost watch my YouTube videos that way, and in theory I could have caught Hulu. It's designed more for premium content, but user-generated can work just as well.
Then there's the Pogoplug, which connects to any external hard drive and becomes a media server, so you can share your hard drives' photos and videos online and then publish them to social networks. Expect to see many more technologies emerge to provide persistent, universal access to all your digital content. While that's not inherently social, one of the big motivators for having constant access to content is being able to share it.
What if you could combine gaming, augmented reality, iPhone apps, and social networks... for remote-control helicopters? That's basically what you get with Parrot.com's AR.Drone quadricopter, a remote-control vehicle controlled by an iPhone or iPod. The "toy," if you can call it that, includes mounted cameras that both allow for augmented reality games and also allow vehicles to recognize each other. You can see Robert Scoble filming it in action, and most who caught it live would have bought it on the spot if they could.
One of the biggest reasons I keep going back to CES is to join the social media-centric events, including the nightly Social Media Club bashes and the annual It Won't Stay in Vegas geekfest for bloggers. If you want to meet all the social media icons you know and love -- Chris Heuer, Brian Soils, Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble, Scott Monty, and too many others to name (sorry for icons I'm omitting here) -- there are great opportunities for meeting them here. At these events, you can get a pulse on new technologies too, such as when I ran into Dom Sagolla , who gave me a live demo of the Square payment platform spearheaded by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
The Good Word
There's one last social element: the propensity of gadgets to get people talking. And these aren't just any people -- these are the wired and wireless, attending because they have some reason for selling, buying, marketing, or ogling cutting-edge electronics (okay, and iPhone cases). Word of mouth also becomes amazingly efficient in a place like this, directing individuals to swarm in the areas that are of the most interest.
I'm sure I saw far less than 10% of the exhibitors there, but I managed to see most of what I was interested in. Similarly, I talked to less than 1% of the 130,000 attendees but seemed to catch most of the people I knew who were there and met quite a few others who I will stay in touch with. Very little of that was planned, but it's one more reminder that with social media, digital or in person, you have to know what you're looking for, actively listen, be nimble enough to respond -- and you can create a memorable experience.