I’ve been making the trek to Austin for South By Southwest Interactive almost as long as the weeks-long conference has been called “Interactive.” And while like many longtime attendees, I have mixed feelings about the event’s metastatic growth, I think there’s still something magical that happens when so many people with a common interest in finding the future of technology converge in one place.
So this year, I’m leading the largest team ReadWrite has sent to SXSW in years. Here’s what we’re up to and what we’re looking for.
Sorting Out My #siliconvalleyproblems
I’m speaking on Sunday, March 9, on the topic of “#siliconvalleyproblems”—the peculiar challenges faced by the tech industry as it morphs from outsidery geeks to insidery power players, and the history that’s shaped it.
If you won’t be in Austin, or just want a preview, I’m also doing an AMA, or “ask me anything,” interview on Reddit, the social news site, on Saturday morning. While I won’t give away details of my presentation, it’s a great chance to ask me questions before I go on stage.
See also: How To Survive SXSW
In between those appearances, I’m attending a number of panels and presentations on the topic of networked health and digital fitness to gather fodder for my ReadWriteBody series. I’m also doing two workouts with MapMyFitness, the maker of exercise-tracking apps. I’m really stoked to get my first look at Armour39, the fitness tracker made by MapMyFitness’s new parent company, Under Armour.
Going Mobile In Texas
Dan Rowinski, our mobile editor, tells me he’s less focused on the panels and more on the people—the developers, designers, and platform architects walking the streets of Austin. That means “registering for every party imaginable, just so I have options,” he says. That’s less about drinking and more about listening: When the liquor and music flow, so do technology’s secrets.
There are a few key talks he’s planning to cover, like Google Android chief Sundar Pichai’s conversation with John Battelle on Sunday. (I’d be there, too, except that it takes place at the same time as my talk. Don’t worry, Sundar—I’m not taking it personally.)
He also sees mobile spreading beyond the smartphone, which means tracking news about smart cars, smart wearables, and smart cities. And as in recent years, Austin during SXSW proves to be an ideal testbed for mobile technologies—a preview of what happens when we have large numbers of people using social, location-aware apps all in the same place: “Austin’s good at showing the trends before they happen.”
Getting In Social Time
Our social-media reporter, Selena Larson, is a first-timer at SXSW, full of the raw enthusiasm and passion I remember having my first time at the event. It’s a sign of South By’s enduring strength that it continues to attract newcomers who look at it with fresh eyes, and I’ve charged Larson with discovering what’s new this year.
What’s got her excited on the official schedule: “Eric Schmidt’s talk today about the new digital age, the panel on MOOCs and whether or not it’s just a fad, PRISM whistleblower Edward Snowden’s video appearance, and a panel on internet privacy.”
She adds: “Plus, all the lovely parties that I’ll meet people at.”
Sounds great, Selena. Just one request: Do not die.
Game Of Drones
Taylor Hatmaker, our lead contributor to ReadWritePlay and a SXSW veteran, is looking for the weird, quirky stuff that only happens in Austin. (ReadWrite witnessed a bro getting tased by a drone Friday morning, for example.)
Hopefully there won’t be anything as morally grotesque as 2012’s homeless hotspot marketing stunt, but the prolific growth of connected hardware promises to blur the lines between the digital and physical—and Hatmaker and her camera will be there to witness it for ReadWrite.
She’ll also be looking at cool developments in indie gaming (both games and hardware innovations like those from Oculus VR), hearing more about streaming-music competitors like Rdio and Beats, and mixing in some fun stuff about space exploration from NASA/JPL and private spaceflight companies. Beyond that, she want to soak up as much as possible around the issue of empowering women and people of color to diversify the tech industry.
While ReadWrite isn’t throwing its own party this year, our sister site xoJane is celebrating the “25 Most Shameless People on the Web” with its xoShameless party the evening of Monday, March 10. SXSW attendees can get in with their badges, and people shameless enough to crash SXSW without a badge are welcome to RSVP.
I just have one bone to pick with my colleague Jane Pratt: How on Earth did I not make the list?
A special thanks to Chaotic Moon Studios for providing coworking space to ReadWrite during SXSW.
Photo of drone-tasing victim Jackson Sheehan by Dan Rowinski