To sum up our literally 52-hour experience at SXSWi this year, we decided to just break down a couple of things that came to mind in terms of notes, what stood out and what was learned. Well, first of all, yours truly literally flew in Saturday afternoon, dropped stuff off at the Embassy Suites on South Congress, got the press badge, and then met up with a certain partner-in-crime of mine here named Bob Marshall.
-Let’s start with the obvious. You’ve may have already read Bob’s post on BBH Labs’ “Homeless Hotspots” from Saturday the 10th, an effort from the agency unit that was quickly thrust into the national media spotlight thanks to the backlash that ensued. From firsthand experience, and I’m sure like most years, SXSWi attendees are clamoring for power strips, WiFi connection and the like, but is this really the right way to capitalize? To make matters worse, according to some sites, there are talks about bringing “Homeless Hotspots” to NYC. Being connected doesn’t mean you have to be sacrifice being conscientious in the process. One tipster had this idea: “I like the idea of helping the homeless, in light of the backlash, why not set up vendors, hotdog stands, only employ the homeless to run it?”
-Anyways, I’ll get off my high horse and just complain about how hard it was to get actually inside the damn CNN Grill. Even though we were given press list thumbs-up months ago, it didn’t matter as we were even turned away from the CNNMoney party on Sunday (though plenty of folks were outside anyways). At least they did have an outdoor patio area where we met some nice Time Warner-related folks (example here), got some free beer in the process amd evem caught a screening of the HBO film, Game Change. Beer, outdoor, schmoozing, Austin. Can’t complain, except for the fact that the gatekeepers were treating this place as if it were Studio 54 in the ’70s.
-Panels, etc. are becoming increasingly harder to get a good seat for and you’ll eventually get frustrated standing in line forever and go on to something else (did you know Mark Wahlberg showed up at Seth McFarlane’s overbooked Film Q+A? Yeah, me neither).
-Why did they not open the trade show until Monday, the 12th?
-The highlight, or sorry, at least one of the most-hyped things at this year’s SXSW Interactive was the free iPhone app Highlight, which I actually never saw anyone using but it was all the chatter (then again, how could you tell amongst the throngs when they’re actually using it?).
Consider this app, which allows you to bring up profiles of fellow Highlight users standing near you and then bring up their profiles, etc., this year’s GroupMe, the latter of which had its own “Grill” in Austin this year. But how much have you heard about GroupMe since last year? Highlight has been considered by many to be 2012’s “breakout” star, but will it follow the same path? We shall see.
-Our personal favorite WiFi hangout to actually get some work done was on the third level at the Beacon Lounge, where not only are you supporting causes, but getting well-fed, even more beer and trying to be productive at the same time.
So, what did we learn? That SXSW Interactive is becoming more agency-loaded (Digitas, we think, sent like 70-something people), and is becoming more crowded, thus earning its title yet again of a clusterfuck, which is aided of course by the Film overlap. The panels are becoming more redundant (save for perhaps the +FuelBand/Fallon and a couple of others), plus agency parties always seem so far away from the Austin Convention Center. So, like everyone and their mother tells you, dress light and wear some comfy shoes (or just sit and wait for the free Cruze rides or those rickshaws).
Whether we go next year is another story (does anyone else hear that sound of a bubble about to burst?), but lesson learned: Get to CNN Grill early, try your best to convince them that you’re Ali Velshi, and perhaps spring for an AmEx card so you can wait in line for hours to see someone like Jay-Z tear it up.
And now, a random image to remember our weekend. Bob and I decided to wander over to the Google Village, which actually shut down by the time we got there and was shifting locations to prepare for the Music portion. Still, for some reason, we just couldn’t resist snapping pics of Google-branded crates: