While I’m a frequent traveler to Austin, TX, for music events and family, this was my first time at South By Southwest Interactive (#SXSWi). SXSW is divided into Interactive, Film, and Music festivals, each world-renowned for the quality of talent, content, and fun.
SXSWi is the height of Tech geekery, mostly focused around Web and mobile apps related to social media, such as Foursquare or Twitter. This is my crowd, for sure, and our social media guru Rachel Yeomans was even more plugged in than me due to her incessant and productive use of Twitter.
I dusted off my Twitter account just for the occasion. While I was one of the first people on it three years ago, I’ve found it difficult to keep up, which is a common issue for our clients to which I can relate! I’m glad I brought it out, though, as much of SXSW takes place on Twitter. This isn’t a surprise considering that Twitter essentially launched at SXSW years ago, but what did surprise me was the advanced and consistent use of hash tags to create interactive audience feedback for every session. Moderators would monitor the Twitter traffic for that session and involve the audience as they could.
Most of the big tech brands were present, as were most of the geek celebrities. A highlight for me was getting to meet a childhood geek hero, Guy Kawasaki, who was there supporting his new book, Enchantment. I fondly remember reading Guy’s column in MacUser magazine in the early 90s. As Chief Evangelist for the Mac when it was first released in 1984, he was there right at the beginning. Now he turns much of his attention to helping entrepreneurs, writing, speaking, and VC’ing. I got to meet him at his book signing, pictured below!
The learning, networking, funning, eating, and yes… drinking, all made for a dense and highly worthwhile experience, starting with legos. When we first arrived at the conference center, I found three huge tables full of legos, which immediately put me in a five-year-old state of mind. Perfect! No, we didn’t spend the whole time there, but it was a good way to get the juices flowing.
Me and my amazing creation…
And our friend Miguel Cano, from JSH&A, working on his own…
Presenter highlights included Chicago friend Jenni Prokopy (ChronicBabe) talking about building better health communities. An interview with publisher Tim O’Reilly gave us a glimpse into the future of digital. I learned about everything from social media metrics to text donations for nonprofits to web typography to mobile optimization to user experience process and more. I did make it one film event — a panel with Rainn Wilson for his new movie, Super. And somewhere in there we even made it to a couple of parties!
The food trucks are a highlight of Austin, particularly in the downtown area. Rachel, Miguel, and I walked until we found one with a short line — Turf N’ Surf Poboys. Yum…
Major sponsor and Foursquare competitor Gowalla was heavily represented, though I stuck to Foursquare personally. And vowel-challenged startup SCVNGR had everyone running around finding things for various types of rewards. All this served as real world preview of what is being largely hailed as the “next big thing” — the gamification of pretty much everything. What’s that? Well, it basically means that technologies with built-in game mechanics are more successful at getting people to actually use the technology. The best app in the world is useless if nobody uses it.
Foursquare, in my opinion, is the most successful example of merging game motivation with real-world advertising. While I’ve been using the mobile app for nearly two years, I’ve never seen such an intense concentration as I did at SXSW. People were checking in to everything, everywhere. Every room, event, party, and sometimes cars. I hit a new week record of 403 points! They released a big update to the app for SXSW, so it now tells you lots of good tidbits related to your own data, such as how long it’s been since you were at that location. This intrigues me since I purposefully choose not to broadcast my location to very many people.
The Foursquare people were everywhere as well. Forty of them came to SXSW, including co-founder Dennis Crowley, who I saw interviewed by Mashable SEO Pete Cashmore. In a particularly humbling moment for Dennis, an enormous print of his GAP ad was brought on stage and offered up to the audience member with the best question.
Dennis spoke about the future of Foursquare, and his vision to help you remember and find that coffee shop your friends were telling you to visit when you go to San Francisco, for instance. I also had a nice chat with Foursquare General Manager Evan Cohen after a smaller discussion he led with Lisa Bradner of Geomentum about the future of geo-related marketing and advertising.
Saving one of the most amazing moments for last, Rachel suggested we check out a live recording of The Nerdist with Chris Hardwick podcast at Esther’s Follies, a really fun local venue with lots of history. Fifteen minutes into the recording, Chris said it was time to bring out their special guest, who was none other than John Oliver from The Daily Show! Rach and I just about fell out of our chairs, as we’re both HUGE fans. We were treated to more than an hour of John hamming it up with the guys.
We’re looking forward to next year! Hope to see you there, too.
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