Photo credit: AP
Every year I hear people, friends and coworkers talk about all the great experiences and connections they made during their SXSW attendance in Austin. A microcosm of creativity and entertainment, SXSW Interactive has earned the reputation of being the place to preview cutting-edge technologies, hear innovative ideas from the community, and participate in hands-on workshops and exciting networking parties. So, this year I made it a point to go.
One of the main escalators inside the Austin Convention Center. Photo credit: Violet Blue
Honestly, I was anxious – like it was the first day of school all over again. I had no idea what to expect. My expectations where limited and shaky because they were built from what I read in the SXSW emails or what other SXSW veterans told me. Then, Friday morning rolled around. I headed to the Austin Convention center at 8:00 A.M., so I could find good parking, and pick up my badge. There was already a line! And people. Massive amounts of people. Every hour, every day that passed more and more people showed up. Not a bad thing for networking, but it’s a different story when you want to get to an event. On the second day of the festival I got to a talk three minutes late and it was already packed. They didn’t let anyone else in and I had to fill this now empty slot in my schedule. That’s when I realized I should be prompt, flexible and always have a plan B.
Snapshots from inside the Austin Convention Center rooms. The pictures with drawn boards are live notes taken from some key lectures and panels.
Some quick people sketches I drew during SXSWi. In between presentations you may find yourself waiting, so bring something to keep you busy.
By the fourth day, and half a sketchbook full of notes, I got the impression that this year it was all about mobile and social apps. Many start-ups were talking about products that allowed users to connect and interact with others by either location, pictures, or common interests. But why are company’s popping up and building their core foundation on this idea of socialization and community? Especially since our predecessors had no problems chatting up strangers and building long lasting friendships? Well, for one (and maybe most importantly) it’s in the numbers. Twitter and Foursquare were both announced in previous SXSW festivals and are now household names rolling in a big pile of cash. Companies have to be successful and if giving the consumer what they want, or think they need, brings in profit then yes that’s the direction our industry will take. Secondly, we no longer rely on a strong sense of community. We can survive, and dare I say succeed, as an individual. Many of us have reverted back into our shells and lost that skill to network with others. And I don’t mean the fake b.s. networking people tell you to do to get a job. I mean that sincere and fruitful human connection that leads to a truly supportive system. It is what we all want (whether we admit it or not): some way to connect with others, and all these start-ups presenting and attending at SXSW have taken notice. No matter what form their product takes the only thing that matters is that it solves the need to establish and feed a community with common interests. I wouldn’t be surprised if another major social networking application (like Highlight) becomes a part of some of our lives by the end of this year.
Pepsico lounge area. Photo credit: Violet Blue
Every pillar is covered with self promotion designed to get attention. Photo credit: Violet Blue
Now, I’d like to give a little advice to any newbies thinking about going to SXSWi 2013.
1. Prepare for anything. This year SXSW experienced a nasty cold front for the first two days, and then went back to it’s usual warm and sunny weather. So now not only do you have to consider transportation, commuting time, and sleeping accommodations, but what clothes you need to bring to withstand Mother Nature’s mood swings.
Photo credit: Violet Blue
2. Plan your schedule at least a day in advance. Do your research and look over what panels, lectures, workshops or events you want to attend. There is so much going on for those five days it can be overwhelming.
3. Enjoy! This is SXSW. Knowing how to party isn’t a prerequisite, but when free food, drink and swag are involved you’ll definitely have a little peep in your step. (Just get to bed early enough to get to the 9am panels.)