South by Southwest

In case you weren’t aware, Austin is in gridlock. Not just cars, but people. Each year flocks of various culture vultures descend upon the city in waves – first come the gamers and Silicon Valley dolls, then the filmauteurs, followed by the warblers and tuneful tons of steel.

I can’t stay away. I love the wild-eyed keynote speakers, and always meet new friends for life (or at least to help find the way back to hotels at closing time). I’ve been five times; three to recruit musicians for venues, and the last two years just the Interactive conference. I posted my top impressions on Pinterest, in honor of CEO Ben Silbermann, whose conversation was inspirational because he epitomized an artist who just wanted to make something beautiful. He was such a refreshing contrast to many of the bandwagon jumpers who rushed around the conference and Startup Village at the Hilton to win the hearts and pocketbooks of VC’s (vulture capitalists) at the Accelerator. I shouldn’t be so cynical – the quest for the next great app or game-changing hard/software will undoubtedly produce some great new toys. I’m sure there’s a market for all the new geo-based apps, but frankly, I’m just getting used to Foursquare.

The festival spans the city, and organizers of the Interactive portion provide an interesting way to sort out the geek species: the VCs and their prey hung out in the Hilton, gamers had their ScreenBurn, academics sorted out sentiment analysis at the AT&T Conference Center, marketers got crushed into the Intercontinental, and web designers overran everywhere. There are times when all the species gather, like during the 1-2 hour wait in line at registration which snaked around the convention center, or keynote speeches. The Baratunde Thurston and Al Gore/Sean Parker conversation were packed.

This year was different than past years for two main reasons. First, it poured for the first two days, which was terrific for those of us living in the parched Southwest, but it unhappily soaked everybody and changed the fragrance of the small, crowded meeting rooms significantly (especially when people took off their shoes). As for the buzz/top conversations, I’d have to vote for Big Data, coupled with the need for human mind-melding. I’m not so comfortable (read:frightened) with where the human brain/machine union is headed, but I also didn’t hear how to put on the brakes.

There is no way to cover everything that happened, and more importantly, the smells and flavors of the sxsw scenes, so if you’re on twitter, try #sxswi, or here’s a sample of web links:

The geeks have now departed, hopefully with their quest for the next great app fulfilled. The music festival is just beginning, and so the Austin tempo shifts. Morning sessions are sparsely attended, and while the sun goes down, gradually the whole city once more is crowd-clogged. No bar goes inactive, and no song unsung. I hear the drumbeats getting louder and the quest for the next great tune begins.

Suz Korbel

Susan Korbel

Graduating in '71 from Cornell gave me a few unencumbered years of protesting, followed by 4 happy hipster grad student/worker years at U of Michigan, completing a Ph.D. in public administration. Followed a comedian to San Francisco, then my heart to Austin Texas to learn the TV business, dabbled in hot&heavy politics in DC, and returned to Austin & San Antonio, Texas to hone my political/media skills. I make my money conducting consumer and political opinion studies.