I'll Tell You Who Won SXSW this Year: Austin

Scott Francis
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Nobody “Won”…

PandoDaily columnist Erin Griffith’s post The Year Nobody “Won” SXSW is a good read.  Really good.  Just like all of her other work on daily recaps at SXSW(Tuesday’s recap included the CNN+Mashable rumor for example).  She’s right that Highlight and other apps didn’t really stand out as a breakout this year. Maybe that’s because the breakout successes are firmly embedded:  Twitter, Foursquare, and apps like Instagram. Maybe it is because the space for social-local-mobile apps is just too crowded as-is.

…Except for Austin

But actually someone did win SXSW this year.  It was the startup that is Austin.  Oh, like most startups, while Austin appears to be an overnight success, it is a story decades in the making. To my mind, the current incarnation of Austin started when Bob Inman located MCC here in Austin.  But there were several other key developments: Sematech, Dell, Trilogy, Tivoli, IBM, and others – each one brought talent, maturity, and breadth to the Austin tech scene.  A recent crop of companies have gone public, and there are a few more in the wings.  During SXSW, an article on the Trilogy effect came out, with pretty in-depth coverage of the alumni of Trilogy and their impact on local startups. A small example of the great coverage for Austin:   It seems to me that the positive press for Austin positively peaked this year at SXSW.  Maybe it can get better next year, but it is hard to imagine how.  Where else can you see Anthony Bourdain discuss his hole-in-the-wall visits, Kevin Smith discussing the business of being Kevin Smith, an in-depth conversation on SOPA, a whole series of startup talks by titans in the startup community (Bob Metcalfe, Steve Blank, Eric Ries, Dave McClure), web design talks, a session on LivingSocial’s business model, the “future of work” sessions, a few all-day development camps – all under one badge?  Not to mention there are also several hybrid interactive-film and interactive-music sessions.

But “the Panels Suck”

It has become cliche at SXSW to say that “the panels suck”.  Ironically this is usually said by someone who has, ahem, not seen any panels in the current year.  Second-most-often the person saying this didn’t plan their schedule in advance.  Third-most-often, they’re just saying that panels aren’t as effective as presentations or core discussions.  There are just too many sessions to rely on chance.  You have to plan ahead.  And though a few of the panels/sessions I went to were busts, in literally every time slot, someone I was following on twitter was in on a session I wished I was attending, but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts or sitting in on another great session.  Dean Kamen comes to mind as a session I wish I had attended. And yet, I was at that moment attending a packed session on drawing literacy – communicating ideas through pictures.

And Yet You Still Should Go:

What are others saying about SXSW?  Stacey Higginbotham’s article on GigaOM, “Why you should go to SXSW. No really!“:
If what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, then the exact opposite is true for South by Southwest Interactive, what happens here in Austin during those five days should carry the debate or ideas out to a wider population. Maybe it’s an interview with someone about creating new standards for 3-D and virtual reality, which Jay Iorio of the IEEE is attempting to do, or it’s a look at how our private lives are under threat because of big data. Discussion will happen here that have the potential to launch a new standard or a new social movement. […] So yes, you should go. Don’t go for the parties, to launch your startup or with an eye on finding the next hot app. Go, so you can hang out with a like-minded community of folks who believe technology can help make the world a better place and who are actively trying to do so. Go, to learn about an entirely new area of technology! Sure, you can avoid all that, but that’s what SXSW is about, even if you have to dig a little harder to find it, or bypass the temptation of the easy app story or the next alcohol-fueled blowout featuring JayZ.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.  What happens at SXSW definitely gets out – usually in a pithy tweet.  Missed the conference?  SXSW isn’t shy about sharing their sessions via YouTube – they almost share too much.  I need a decent index into these videos.  A few of these I plan to watch now that I’m back to the real world.  Starting with Dean Kamen.