Austin’s SXSW is never about just one thing, it’s about one more thing. Brands look to outdo each other, startups look to outshine each other and parties look to be more epic than the last. Starting today with the interactive portion of the festival, Austin is a case study in the social media phenomenon of “fear of missing out,” or FOMO.
Festivalgoers will wonder if they have downloaded the best app to launch here. They will wonder if they chose wisely when deciding to wait on line for two hours. Was there a better event?
We chatted with SXSW officials, startups, tech companies and ad agencies who helped put the sprawling Austin tech event. Here are some of the trends and events to know:
Key SXSW trends
Hugh Forrest, the director of SXSW Interactive (the first leg of the tech, music and film festival that runs until Tuesday) said there are five key themes this year: 3D printing, online surveillance and privacy, wearable computing, futuristic tech straight out of Star Trek (one panel is called “Start Trek UX/UI Rules for Phones, Tablets and TVs”) and Do It Yourself culture.
Besides the keynote speakers with famous names like former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, a few stars are here for the interactive portion of the event. Here is a sampling of the boldface names expected at sessions and events this year: Nicolas Cage, Mindy Kaling, Tilda Swinton, Fred Armisen, Jason Bateman, Bill Cosby, Zac Efron and too many more to name right now.
There is always talk that SXSW is too commercial (it’s not what it used to be, man). For brands, that’s a good thing—they want to market. This year, snacking is a big theme, as Oreo is 3-D printing cookies and New York pastry chef and father of the cronut Dominique Ansel is mixing milk and cookies into one treat for Allison+Partners.
Sports and video games
SXSW is focusing more than ever on these two areas. Saturday night will see the event’s inaugural gaming awards. As for sports, the L.A.-based creative shop Zambezi created an app called SXsports Playbook that curates all the sports-related activities at SXSW.
Lean in or sit back?
Of course, the tech startups have some of the most pressure to stand out at SXSW Interactive. The event has launched the likes of Twitter, but it’s gotten to the point where past darlings are rethinking how much they want to do in Austin—for example, Foursquare and GroupMe won’t have a major presence this year. That doesn’t mean that startups and big tech companies aren’t looking to stand out. Ben Lerer, CEO of Thrillist, said that this year his company is taking a laid-back approach. “Every year, there are brands that sit back and brands that lean in,” he said. “It fluctuates.” Tumblr is throwing a big party for the second year in a row.
So you’re afraid you’re missing out
There’s only one way to avoid constantly wondering if something more fun, more better, more awesome is just next door. Forrest, the director of SXSW Interactive, said simply: Remember that the best party or event going on is the one you’re at right now.