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Published on April 2nd, 2012 | by Rita

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SXSW 2012: Interactive and Then Some

It’s near­ly im­pos­si­ble to fol­low new mu­sic or new soft­ware de­vel­op­ments in this coun­try and not be aware of South By South­west, the mas­sive two-week long con­fer­ence held in Austin, Texas ev­ery March. Thou­sands of com­put­er geeks, film buffs and mu­si­cians (al­most all mas­querad­ing as hip­sters) de­scend on Austin, all hun­gry for the lat­est and great­est in gam­ing, pro­gram­ming, mu­sic and film. SXSW 2012 didn’t dis­ap­point, ei­ther, and cer­tain­ly not when it came to va­ri­ety.

This year, in­stead of weigh­ing badge-hold­ers down with pa­per me­dia in their swag bag, a smart­phone app was de­vel­oped that was up­dat­ed dai­ly. SX­So­cial al­so launched, as a place to keep track of your cal­en­dar, know where the par­ties are, and when it was all go­ing down. It was a good con­cept, and rea­son­ably well ex­e­cut­ed, save for a few bugs in the app that made sav­ing your cal­en­dar pref­er­ences a bit dif­fi­cult. An up­date for the app was re­leased al­most im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter the con­fer­ence be­gan and the bug was no­ticed. It was im­pres­sive thatWomz­it the cre­ator of the app, was able to get it rolled out so fast.

The sched­ule is over­whelm­ing, to say the least. My SXSW ex­pe­ri­ence ac­tu­al­ly start­ed months be­fore the event got un­der­way. Hours went in­to read­ing through the dif­fer­ent talks, and try­ing to fig­ure out how best to see ev­ery­thing I want­ed to see, in a way that didn’t have us try­ing to be in three dif­fer­ent places at once.

In­ter­ac­tive at SXSW is be­com­ing one of the pre­em­i­nent con­fer­ences for the gam­ing and tech in­dus­tries. At­ten­dance this year was well in­to the thou­sands, giv­ing the Mu­sic part of SXSW a run for it’s mon­ey. I’m cer­tain al­most ev­ery­one read­ing this has ben­e­fit­ed from an in­no­va­tion stem­ming from the event at one point or an­oth­er, as Word­Press is just one ex­am­ple of a suc­cess­ful “off­spring”.

If you were lucky (more on this in a mo­ment), you had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to hear all kinds of speak­ers, from keynote ad­dress­es from peo­ple like Baratunde Thurston, of The Onion, Joss Whe­don, or Kevin Smith. An­tho­ny Bour­dain was al­so among the eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able names on the speak­er list, along with sev­er­al oth­ers from The Food Net­work. The talks were or­ga­nized by type, theme and lev­el. There were hands-on work­shops, meet-ups specif­i­cal­ly for net­work­ing, job talks and in­spi­ra­tional talks. With so many speak­ers, at­ten­dees have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to be choosy about who they hear. But if you don’t like what you’re get­ting, there are 100 oth­er talks go­ing on at the same time, you have your pick.

It seemed a bit as if the or­ga­niz­ers of SXSW were some­what un­pre­pared for the num­ber of peo­ple with badges, and pos­si­bly with the weath­er in March. Forty de­gree temps and rain (some­what un­char­ac­ter­is­tic for spring in Austin) were the or­der of busi­ness for near­ly the en­tire In­ter­ac­tive por­tion of the fes­ti­val. This meant that near­ly ev­ery con­fer­ence at­tendee found them­selves packed in­to the con­ven­tion cen­ter, in­stead of com­fort­ably be­ing able to move in and out of the build­ings and ho­tels. The trade show floor, which didn’t open un­til the fourth day of the con­fer­ence and al­so oc­cu­pies the bulk of the space at the con­ven­tion cen­ter, was closed off to be set up. We were left with cramped quar­ters, packed with thou­sands of at­ten­dees. It was near­ly im­pos­si­ble to tell where the lines to get in­to talks start­ed or stopped.

The lines! Prob­a­bly the sin­gle largest com­plaint with the In­ter­ac­tive por­tion of the fes­ti­val, was an com­plete lack of any sys­tem to tell how many peo­ple might be at­tend­ing a talk. There was no RSVP sys­tem in place, and of­ten talks for very pop­u­lar speak­ers were held in baf­fling­ly small rooms. For in­stance, Joss Whe­don gave a talk in a con­fer­ence room that could ac­com­mo­date a cou­ple hun­dred peo­ple, at best. Once the room was full, any­one who stood in line for the talk was sim­ply turned away, and if you want­ed even a chance of hear­ing the talk, you had to get in line ear­ly. There were times when you could spend far too much time in line, fore­go­ing oth­er talks- on­ly to be turned away at the door.

That be­ing said, the talks we did at­tend were al­ways in­ter­est­ing or en­ter­tain­ing. My fa­vorite was prob­a­bly hear­ing Frank Abag­nale, of Catch Me If You Can fame, tell his sto­ry. By the end, there was bare­ly a dry eye in the room.

We vis­it­ed the Screen­burn Ar­cade, where the lat­est and great­est in video games were be­ing show­cased. The trade show had booths from Canon and Nikon, Life­Proof, Word­Press, Me­dia Tem­ple, and some fun start-ups like Ci­net­ics, and Life­Dots who would love to give Face­book a run for their mon­ey. We even man­aged to squeeze in a Third Eye Blind con­cert at ACL Live in the Moody The­ater. We took a bike ride over to see theGoogle Vil­lage , and passed one or two of the now-fa­mous con­tro­ver­sial home­less per­son hotspots.

Lat­er in the week, once the hus­tle and bus­tle of In­ter­ac­tive was over we al­so took ad­van­tage of some of the free shows of­fered dur­ing the mu­sic part of the week. We saw Count­ing Crows at Au­di­to­ri­um Shores, heard count­less bands in dif­fer­ent bars and just walk­ing and bik­ing through down­town. Prob­a­bly my fa­vorite part of the week was get­ting to see the screen­ing of Big Easy Ex­press, fol­lowed by an out­stand­ing con­cert with Old Crow Medicine Show, Ed­ward Sharpe and the Mag­net­ic Ze­roes, and Mum­ford and Sons. Ev­ery show we saw fea­tured new mu­sic from each of the bands, which is well worth look­ing for­ward to!

A word to the wise, for any of you hop­ing to at­tend next year’s SXSW, we strong­ly rec­om­mend book­ing your ho­tel rooms now. Many at­ten­dees book for the next year while they are stay­ing there. It can not be stressed enough how quick­ly rooms get booked up. We stayed with the fine folks at The Bra­va House and The Adams House, and we al­so skipped the car rental in fa­vor of bike rentals from Mel­low John­ny’s. As an ex­treme­ly bike­able city, we can’t rec­om­mend this par­tic­u­lar strat­e­gy enough. Traf­fic, both per­son­al and cab, can be grid­locked for hours. Skip it and get some ex­er­cise in the pro­cess. Pub­lic trans­porta­tion is al­so an op­tion, though we found that on the days when it was too wet to ride safe­ly or com­fort­ably, we could walk just as fast as the bus could get us there.

Get­ting to at­tend a con­fer­ence like this is def­i­nite­ly an hon­or. Even if it wasn’t car­ried off with­out a hitch, it’s worth ev­ery bit of the cost of ad­mis­sion. Go, have a great time, then come back and tell us about it! We’ll see you next year at SXSW 2013!

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About the Author

Professionally in healthcare, and semi-professionally a photographer, former student at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, and full-time student of human nature, Rita has been writing for Truly Net for many years. Born and raised in the Midwest, she spent years on Oahu, and has formed some very strong opinions about all things knitting, pie, and the best places to climb. She really enjoys good food, music and friends, and is perfectly willing to write about, and photograph any or all of those things.



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