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SXSW – Highs and Lows of Austin’s Hottest Festival

Editor’s note – Last week our intrepid explorers Tim and Nayani went to SXSW in Texas, so we’re sharing the best of the festival this week! First up – Tim’s blog!

So, for those who don’t know what SXSW is, here’s a very quick breakdown…

Twentysix digital account manager, Tim Rook's SXSW 2014 security pass

Austin’s big event attracts over 45,000 visitors and covers music, film and interactive. It generates half a Superbowl of revenue for the Texan city each year and is aimed at all industry folk working in these fields. SXSW – ‘South by South West ’– offers the opportunity to learn, network and party. It’s undoubtedly the coolest work event that you’ll ever hope to see!

twentysix’s journey started on the first day of Interactive Week in the Austin Conference Centre, where the size of ‘South By’ quickly became apparent. The number of workshops, seminars and keynotes is actually hard to comprehend and this year ranged from ‘Cat Cash: The Economy of Internet Cat Videos’ to ‘Relieving Frustration: Porn & User Experience’. It is fairly epic in size.

With events spread out across the whole city, you quickly learn that a level of planning is needed. It can be pretty frustrating after a 40 minute walk to find an event full, but luckily there’s so much going on you go can pop next door and there’ll be talks on Bitcoin, social tactics, future trends in digital and much more.

You can imagine how quickly the venues fill up when there are events on the schedule with names such as ‘Live Drone Demo – Tazering an Intern’!Twentysix employee's, Tim Rooke and Nayani stand outside of SXSW Film 2014

A big idea on every corner

The general buzz and bustle that goes on in the streets of Austin is almost reason enough to attend. Nearly everyone seems to have a bright red pass around their necks, and the whole town is pretty much involved in some way.  On every corner you can see new start-ups pitching their big idea. It’s hard to be polite when some of them are so bad – so mostly I wasn’t – but we did spot a few gems which proved well worthy of a mention here:

  • Suitabletech with a product called ‘Beam’ – they develop remote presence systems that let you travel instantly and have face-to-face communication, anytime, anywhere.
  • Piktochart – allows anyone to create highly visual / animated infographs from a huge suite of templates. Just add in your data.
  • Image Think – chosen to illustrate a lot of the keynotes at SXSW, this is a great way to capture important points from brainstorms. We’ll definitely be suggesting it for some of our clients.

Tim Rooke in a NASA space suit at SXSW 2014

From the sublime to the ridiculous

I’d really like to list some of the bad ideas, but perhaps that would be unfair. Knowing the industry at the moment, Google will probably buy them out for $20 billion anyhow.

I did feel there was a theme of exhibitors finding REALLY niche problems in social media and creating a solution that solved these. It was perhaps one of the less enjoyable sides to the event and something that detracted from discovering the real innovators.

“Hi there, you know when it’s someone’s birthday and you want to collect loads of videos from all your friends to post one video on Facebook”

Errrrr… NO!


Wear your heart on your sleeve

Another common topic this year was wearable tech. I’d estimate that 50% of the events in some way referenced how wearables will chance our digital space. And we’re now not just talking about tracking miles run / calories burnt. The future will consist of insulin level control, mood recognition based on tiny variables in the body and integration with your home on entry. (e.g. Nest). It’s an exciting time that I really hope twentysix can be involved in with its clients.

What I did find rather amusing is that during the very exclusive Edward Snowden talk (Live from a bunker in Russia) he was talking to a massively supportive crowd about importance of privacy with personal data. I’m positive that the majority of the crowd will be in some way involved in capturing, storing and/or selling that data, but maybe that was lost on some people.

Just go with it

Overall SXSW offers some fantastic keynotes, insightful tech and kick-ass parties. If you’re planning on gracing Austin next year my only advice is to give into the fact that you won’t be able to see everything. Pick a few key seminars each day, get there with plenty of time to spare and fill in the gaps networking at the various branded events. It’s a very fun city with loads of like-minded individuals desperate to talk shop. So much to enjoy!

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