Last year’s SXSW Interactive only had around 4,000 attendees, making the conference a small portion of SXSW. This year was another story with 11,000 – 14,000+ attendees, Interactive had outgrown the convention center. This first became clear to me when trying to navigate the halls of the convention center to avoid the rain and grab a few pictures of the mayhem. With lines wrapped into a serpentine coil, I began to realize just how big SXSW had become. With registrants filling every inhabitable space it was obvious that something had changed.
The conference, which launched Twitter, had become the place to be for any 2012 start-up and people were ready to sell! If this doesn’t say something about the ever-growing specs of the tech community, then I don’t know what does. The net is alive and well and people are once again ready to harness that power for capital gain. I spoke with a wide variety of people at this year’s conference, all with a different story to tell and a different idea to sell.
For me it was the people and their stories that brought me in. Running into a group of college grads amped up on energy drinks that drove down from Detroit in a Winnebago will always grab my attention. They were all ready for a new path and each one had a new start-up, most involving social media. While there were a few ideas that left the social realm, most were attacking the popularity of Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare.
This year for the first time SXSW interactive hosted a “Startup Village” on the 4th floor of the Hilton Hotel in Austin where all the caffeine-infused idea men could be found. The Accelerator competition had 650 entries, but it was BranditYourself.com, a do-it-yourself platform that makes it easy to take control of your own Google results that took home the big prize.
For most in the entertainment industry it was the presence of Jay-Z that had visitors foaming at the mouth. All it took to get into the show was a tweet and an Amex card. The event crumbled interactive parties of the past and left me only with memories of the Zynga arcade and a performance by Sleigh Bells in 2011.
It is hard not to mention the parties at this year’s SXSW. CNN returned with their grill and a few tech-oriented additions, my favorite being the iPad menus. The grill is always the best place to relax at SXSW and usually the only way you can keep up on the news around the world. While last year CNN made a longer stay their impact was still felt this time around. With news room interviews and riveting spotlights the CNN Grill still marks high on my list of places to be during Interactive.
Fast Company Grille wasn’t far behind giving attendees a place to hide from the rain, get some fantastic food, and hear about new startups. It seemed everyone was selling something and to me everything sounded revolutionary. One product that took me by surprise was lurking in a small corner of the restaurant. That surprise was in BioDigital, a system that can show a patient exactly what is going on in their own body by imputing their own health history, This HTML5-based system could potentially show cancer patients exactly what is growing inside their body. With this better understanding of their own disease a system like BioDigital could change the medical landscape.
While this year’s SXSW Interactive will be hard to top it won’t surprise me if it happens next year. The only problem being that it may get so big that thoughts of moving away from music and film may need to become a reality. It’s clear now that the tech hub of the world is in Austin TX and there is nothing more powerful than watching all those dreams come true every year.
Story and photos by Ryan Davis