Among the thousands who made the mecca to SXSW this year, so too did the grad students from Boulder Digital Works. Here's how they felt when they returned.
SXSW has turned into a marketing shit show — full of distractions and gimmicks to get you to use, try, or buy a product enough so they can claim to be the “breakout success” of SX. Well, I didn’t see any of those this time around. To me the emerging phenomenon is a cultural one — our steady shift into the Sharing Economy, a place where access trumps ownership.
I had the fortune of a front row seat in a panel titled “The AirBnB of Everything: The Growth of P2P Markets,” which went quickly from introductions to a full break down of how to build a P2P marketplace. That’s because the always-energetic ‘Start Up’ crowd had packed the room and we were eager to get a hold of any and all insight into what makes P2P markets click. This market is poised for success because it empowers the consumer, merges seamlessly with your online social presence, and helps build community. It’s not changing what you consume, it’s changing how you consume, and that’s pretty powerful.
-Erik Dreyer, @erikatlarge
What I took away from my sophomore SXSW:
1. Three free pairs of sunglasses
2. Respect for two rooted brands stealing spotlights (i.e. American Express + Nike)
3. Pleasant reminders that industry idols are occasionally humble humans
4. Newfound fondness for David Carr
5. General panel disenchantment
6. Tempered FOMO
What it demanded in return:
1. My non-free sunglasses
2. My American Express
-Steve Dolan, @stvdln
Every choir enjoys a good preaching to, and for this digital advocate, Robbie Whiting’s session ‘We Made This, and It’s Not an Ad’ was a forceful affirmation of the need for a smarter, geekier approach to advertising.
Whiting’s presentation showcased exciting examples of what occurs at the crossroads of advertising and product development – when ad agencies become production houses. Perhaps most enlightening, however, was not the work from some of the most progressive agencies around, but rather, the enthusiastic responses and interesting questions from audience members not previously in the “choir.”
-James Quon, @jumboinc
SXSW was an incredible experience: the panels and speakers were interesting and inspiring, the mixers and parties were jovial and exciting, and the food was delicious and addicting.
The city of Austin, TX was awesome, especially once the weather cleared up, and those Texans showed me great hospitality, kindness, and warmth. THANK YOU!
-Kit Hennessey, @kithennessey
In Austin, I was spit out of an airplane expecting the unexpected. As I tumbled down the rabbit hole, soaking wet at the beginning (it rained a lot), I was bombarded with introductions to the "new" trends, all suffixed with "ify" and "ly."
If I wasn't witnessing Kobiachi break the world record in eating grilled cheese, I was stumbling into conversations with some of my favorite people in the industry, or admiring the homeless who were swimming in the flood of free food and clothes. My SXSW takeaway was learning more about the numerous players in the tech game, despite their poor presentation skills.
-Benton Rochester, @im_Benton
There have been few times in my life where I have been surrounded with consistently excellent content provided by equally excellent speakers. However, there have been even fewer times in my life that I have been defeated by bars. SXSW provided me with those opportunities not just a few times, but everyday, and unfortunately for my liver, every night.
At SXSW Interactive there were too many open discussions, too many open bars, and too many networking opportunities. But hey, those are my favorite kind of problems.
Regarding next year’s SXSW, I must quote a greater man and simply say, "I'll be back."
-Kevin Zengel, @kevinzengel
With everyone vying for attention, your idea has to be truly unique, original and practical for it to stand a chance. No matter who you are or how loud you speak, only the great ideas stand a chance once SXSW is over.
-Dan Nelson, @danimalnelson
As a first timer this year at SXSW I am 110% positive I’ll be back next year. Never before have I been to a place where so many people were eager and open to talking about who they are and what kind of work they’re doing. I didn’t attend a single panel, but instead, traveled around the city going to coffee shops, lunches, and parties interacting and making connections.
Some of the individuals I had the opportunity of meeting work at Modus Operandi, B-Reel, TAXI, Bitorrent, Short List, W+K, and AKQA. Having the advantage of personally knowing the people you’re sending your resume to when your looking for a career can go a long way.
-Matt O'Donnell, @odog
I arrived in Austin, Texas not knowing what to expect. Having spoken to many SXSW veterans I was prepared for a week of mingling, drinking, and panels, and that's exactly what I got. Overall, the experience was like non-other. I met with people in all strata of the digital world and ate and drank like a king.
I would describe the event as a congruence of people interested in many of the same things, looking to the future of media, and out to have a good time. 2012 will definitely not be my last visit to SXSW.
-Lee Riley, @leerileydesigns
As a result of my love for all things involving both digital and physical realms, I absolutely loved the Frog kickoff party. They were using Arduino and Flash to connect two Lightcycles to screens for each player and a larger screen for the audience to view. While that was my favorite event, they also had life-size robot boxing powered by Xbox Kinect.
Being an avid gamer and never having the opportunity to enjoy any sort of conference or convention, ScreenBurn was a lot of fun for me. I was able to check out around 10 video games - give or take - that have not yet been released. I was also able to demo a $7,000 PC gaming setup with 3 monitors covering my entire peripheral. I even picked up some killer art.
-Micheal Ladt, @MichaelLadt
The sound bite from my six-day stay came as I nestled into my seat in the middle row on my flight home. I glanced out the window, then to the woman’s computer perched on the tray table beside me. On the screen was a quote: Stop trying to create the next Twitter and start becoming the first you.
As a SXSW first-timer, I was wowed by the incredible amount of brainpower camping out around Austin. New apps like Highlight, Vibop 2.0, and Maaii mean smart peeps somewhere are putting their heads together to build useful platforms.
The icing on the cake, though, was the Jane McGonigals, whose creation SuperBetter uses science and gamification to help folks heal from a variety of psychological and physiological ailments. Or, the Al Gores and Sean Parkers, encouraging crowds to employ technology to “OccupyDemocracy.” Or, the Amber Cases, working to ensure technology becomes invisible and serves humanity (and not the other way around).
Ultimately, smart people don’t just make apps. They make a difference.
-Dave Laskarzewski, @70percentcool
Baratunde Thurston, Director of Digital for The Onion, hilariously discussed the role of technology and satire in transforming the world around us. Programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – though they appear playful on the surface – effectively use comedy to cut directly to the emotional core of very non-comedic issues. And it’s not just in the U.S. that people are using satire to address political and social issues. Thanks to the growing accessibility of technology around the globe, independent political satire programs in highly censored countries such as China, Nigeria and Venezuela have become increasingly popular online. In the end, Thurston said, “change is constant.” So, when government institutions and corporations fail to lead sensibly, it’s these “sacred clowns” that remain.
-Nathan Igdaloff, @igdaloff
Despite Pinterest taking the award for "Breakout Digital Trend," it kept a relatively low profile at this year's SXSWi. No Pinterest flash mob. No Pinterest shot girls. No free grilled cheese sandwiches with the Pinterest logo emblazoned upon the bread. The one widely publicized Pinterest event — an interview with co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann — was actually a late edition to the jam-packed schedule of speakers and events.
Since our startup is chomping at the bit for Pinterest to release their much-awaited API, you can bet I was first in line. Not literally — I barely got a seat. Of all the talks I sat (sometimes slept) through, this one was by far the most attended. And I knew I was sitting amongst eager ears — entrepreneurs like myself waiting to capitalize on this new social phenomenon.
-Lindsey Jones, @lindseyejones
A perfect example of the random wonderfulness that is SXSW occurred on an overcast afternoon in the GroupMe tent across from the convention center. By downloading the GroupMe app in person or showing that you had it downloaded on your phone, one was allowed access to free grilled cheese and beer until supplies ran out. Fantastic.
The afternoon took a turn for the incredible when we were informed that Takeru Kobayashi, an international competitive eating champion, would be attempting a grilled cheese challenge no less than 5 feet from where we were standing. Moments later we stood cheering in disbelief as 13 grilled cheese sandwiches disappeared in 60 seconds and a new world record was set. Photos and videos from the event could not be shared fast enough via text, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and whatever else we could think of.
Was the event inspirational? Possibly for some. Life-changing? No. Adrenaline-pumping? Surely. Memorable? Absolutely.
-Michael Lanning, @mrlanning
I wonder if I've missed the boat on SXSW. Don't get me wrong, it’s a blast, but the parasites of tech are starting to swarm. This alcohol-fueled party felt more like a swag fest than progressive endeavor.
The panels were interesting, but I couldn't help but feel I'd gain more by checking my Google Reader, so I could actually have a chance to reflect on perspectives rather than being immediately distracted by free gear.
-Davis Godbout, @dmgodbout
I may have a slight obsession with food, travel, and the show The Layover. But that isn't the reason why Anthony Bourdain's talk got me going. Tony and his TV crew spoke about how they utilize Twitter, Facebook and blogs to communicate to their followers. The message I took away was that not everything needs to be so sensored. They swear and put up drunk tweets - nothing is really off limits when it comes to social media. And even if your company is a little more reserved, you can still have fun with it, just keep in mind who your audience is. The more exciting you are, the more response you will get from your followers, which builds a stronger loyalty around your brand.
-Kiley Story, @kileystory