SXSW Interactive 2013 Festival Review

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Crowd at Southwest 2013

It’s March 2013 and yet another South By Southwest Interactive Festival has come and gone in the flash of an eye (like the click of a mouse). And yet again they pull off one of, if not, the best interactive festivals in the industry.

In 2012 there were 24,569 conference participants from 72 foreign countries attending 1,033 sessions with 2,591 speakers. By all counts, 2013’s participant stats are even higher. They say everything is bigger and better in Texas.

Getting my Learn on at SXSW Interactive

This wasn’t my first rodeo, but it was my first time attending as, well, a conference attendee. Having lived and worked in Austin for nearly 10 years, I had been a volunteer and a bystander, but was fortunate enough this year to be one of those techies who gets to geek out over sessions and panels and wear an awesome bright orange lanyards around my neck for an extended weekend. And yes, I soaked up every second of it and was that girl who sat in the front row – with all my gadgets, taking notes on my macbook, vining and instagraming from my iPhone all while tweeting from multiple accounts and taking photos on my SLR – like a good student. Ever since team We Rock Your Web attended the New Media Expo (NMX) in Las Vegas this January, we have recharged with new energy and ideas and I’ve been dying to get back into the “classroom” again. South By Southwest offered this opportunity again and it just so happened to be in my backyard, so I hopped right on board.

History of SXSW Interactive

Although you might think it’s relatively new, SXSW Interactive festival has been around for nearly 20 years. The “Multimedia Conference” (its original name) began back in 1994 and in 1999 it officially became “SXSW Interactive”. Hard to imagine what they were talking about two decades ago, right? And attending the trade show this year full of hundreds of Apps, I was so curious what that room was like in its infancy. I suppose instead of Apps it was hardware or software developers trying to push their latest Floppy Disk down your throat.

But like any conference, or good festival, there were those special moments that I’ll remember for years to come (much like I am sure the early year attendees experienced too). So, for those of you who couldn’t make it, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly (well, mostly just the good).

SXSW Interactive 2013 Trends, Tips and Takeaways

cats are HOT

A hot trend at NMX as well, Cats are having more than their 15 minutes of fame in 2013. I think it’s safe to say, this fad is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Mashable CEO, Pete Cashmore said during their variety show featuring Nyan Cat creator, Christopher Torres, “who doesn’t love cat?” It’s true, those furry feline friends have a way about them that makes people gravitate towards them. Grumpy Cat made an appearance at the festival and was probably the biggest and most highly sought after celebrity at the conference with lines wrapped around the corner to have your photo taken with her. I didn’t feel like standing out in the rain for hours to get my photo taken with a pseudo-famous internet meme, however I did take advantage of the create your own meme photo booth in the Mashable tent, probably one of the most clever ideas ever. Speaking of photos, another big trend of 2013 has been and continues to be the use of images in general. As the old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So true.

The Fall of Facebook?

Several speakers made it very apparent they were “over Facebook” having either shut down their account years ago, or recently jumped ship. Either way, this is a telling sign of things to come as the biggest influencers in the social media space are making it clear they are clearly “over it.” But why? Maybe it’s because of Al Gore’s theory that we now live in a “Stalker Society.” He said “knowledge is power and too much knowledge is bad – but there is a difference between scary and creepy: scary is pre-fear.” Meaning, we are now in the creepy phase and that we fear too much information is bad. And, for many of us, the novelty has worn off and we are itching for the next big thing. Or, there are too many new things (Instagram, Vine, Snapchat) to keep up with that Facebook has gone off our radar and grown tiresome. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next year as Facebook tries desperately to hang on to its user base and avoid becoming the next Myspace.

Telecommuting & the landscape of the work Environment

Riding the coattails of Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to revoke the work from home policy, the topic of telecommuting was a big one this year. In an industry that lends itself well to remote working, the tech world in particular has been heated in this debate. Ann Marie Slaughter, who wrote a popular article in The Atlantic in August 2012 “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All“, was asked about her take on the matter. Her response was that Miller has a job to do as the CEO of a company – her job is to turn Yahoo around and if she doesn’t do that, there will be no job to work from home – you’ll just be home permanently. Touché.

Paula Kerger SXSW InteractivePaula Kerger, the CEO of PBS, was probably my highlight of my festival panels-wise. She had so much brilliant insight into the public broadcasting space and has been at the forefront of helping keep a dying breed alive with cutting edge digital marketing and innovative programming. She said when they brought on the digital team to PBS they put them as far apart from the programming team as possible so they could think outside their usual way of thinking and they weren’t persuaded by the traditional way of doing things. Although it’s not telecommuting per say, it does make a point that a change of environment can be a good thing.

The Future of the Internet, Memory Loss and a Multitasking Generation

Guy Kawasaki at SXSW Interactive 2013One of the creators of the Android, Andy Rubin, sat down for a conversation with Apple Evangelist Guy Kawasaki to talk about the future of the internet. I think Rubin summed it up best when he said “I believe that search will be to the web, what calculators were to math – you don’t have to remember anything anymore.”

Douglas Rushkoff also spoke about ‘Present Shock’: When Everything Happens Now and how the characteristics of the digital age and how technology gives us choice. Every minute is another choice and each activity, each unit of time becomes another potential division in our day. He made a good point that many of us book more than one appointments at the same time because we feel there are multiple instances of ourselves (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) so we have a false sense that we can do more than one thing at a time. He also talked about the collapse of movements and how change used to take place over time and now we live in a society of impatience. We want things now but we also want choice. With caller ID and DVR we have the ability to choose constantly. Further, the most popular video games aren’t the ones when you live or die, they’re the ones where you have options. With choice, people today feel more in control.

Surround yourself With Good People, Do the Right Thing, Chase Your Passions and Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

This was the most refreshing and reoccurring theme that carried throughout the conference. Whether it was start-ups, journalists, reality TV stars, or NBA championship basketball players, they all had one thing in common: they followed their dream and stuck to their gut, worked hard, ignored the naysayers and trusted their instincts. There will be tough times, but as Andy Cohen explained “How to win? Study your failures – as you look at your failures you further understand your brand.” And Kerger, CEO of PBS said “Our digital team members are encouraged to fail. In fact, failure is one of the performance metrics we use to evaluate the team – because if you aren’t failing, you aren’t stretching.” The co-founder of Airbnb had a lot of struggles early on but ultimately came out successful in the end. “I don’t want to do what I think will make me win, I want to do what makes me feel good. Because at least then I’ll want to get up everyday,” he said. I ended the conference with a big bang, Shaquille O’Neal. He’s not only social media savvy, he’s hilarious and an incredibly smart business person. He said when thinking about investing in a company “I ask (1) is it going to make money, (2) is it going to inspire people & (3) is it going to change the world?”

Video Is the Next Photo

Between Vine and Snapchat, people are using Video more than ever to share what they’re experiencing. It is a great way to capture a more comprehensive memory (so you don’t have to) beyond just the visual since it also brings sound, movement and even emotion into play to add more senses to the experience you are sharing. And I was no exception as I shared SXSW via Vine the whole time. Here’s a compilation of my Vine videos for your viewing pleasure:

Can’t wait for SXSW 2014?

SXSW EcoSXSW and Austin also host an Eco festival that takes place October 7-9, 2013. In its third year, it has become a place for professionals to come together to solve complex challenges facing civil society, the economy and the natural world. And this year SXSW launched the first ever V2V festival, a sister conference that taking place August 11-14, 2013 in Las Vegas. The four-day event aims to bring together venture capital communities with innovators and entrepreneurs from across all industries: technology, music, film, fashion, health, education, sustainability, and more. The same tips probably apply, and since it’s Vegas, you know it will be a good time.

Share your SXSW experience

Have you attended South By Southwest either this year or in the past? What do you like most or least about it? Leave a comment below and share your tips, tricks and learnings to help others get even more out of SXSW in the future!

Sadie has acted as the email marketing coordinator and web designer for one of the world's largest travel companies and managed social media for dozens of major brands. She has a breadth and depth of web and marketing knowledge that reaches far and wide. She loves all things Mac and keeping up with all the latest web trends.

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