The New York Times

The New York Times descends on Austin for the 2013 South by Southwest Interactive festival.
Tagged: SXSW

Each year, thousands of tech enthusiasts flock to South by Southwest, the technology, music and film conference here, hoping to be among the first to find the next big thing in social networking and mobile apps. But this year, it might be a piece of hardware that steals the show.

First dispatch from the ground: A Friday feature looking at the crush of hot hardware start-ups that are hoping to make a splash at SXSW.

Another year, another South By.
We started this Tumblr with the simple goal of supplementing our coverage of the conference in articles and on the blog, in the hope of bringing a fresh perspective to our work. We wanted to let our audience see SXSW much as we did, from the ground in Austin, giving them a ringside view of the circus of panels, performances, impromptu dance parties and run-ins with the interesting people who make the Internet tick.
In short, we had a ball. 
We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Thanks for braving the rodeo with us.
See you next year. We can’t hardly wait for Round 2.
Yours, 
Jenna, David, Brian, Lexi, Jeremy and Andrew.

Another year, another South By.

We started this Tumblr with the simple goal of supplementing our coverage of the conference in articles and on the blog, in the hope of bringing a fresh perspective to our work. We wanted to let our audience see SXSW much as we did, from the ground in Austin, giving them a ringside view of the circus of panels, performances, impromptu dance parties and run-ins with the interesting people who make the Internet tick.

In short, we had a ball. 

We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Thanks for braving the rodeo with us.

See you next year. We can’t hardly wait for Round 2.

Yours, 

Jenna, David, Brian, Lexi, Jeremy and Andrew.

Photo by Jenna Wortham

The only other time I’ve been to SXSW Interactive was in 2001. That was soon after the collapse of the first Internet boom. One panel was called “Internet Industry Trends 2001: Is Anyone Making Money?

I wasn’t there to find out the answer to that question. I was there because I had become fascinated with blogs and the other new forms of what we now call social media. It was not yet clear that this stuff would yield much in the way of money. But it was already clear that it was quite powerful, at least for the crew of early-adopter bloggers I met at the conference. Many were there just to meet one another, to peer shyly at others’ badges in hopes of putting faces to personal blog names, since posting lots of photos of yourself online had not yet become something everyone does. Then they would drink beer and talk about this weird thing they were helping to invent, just for the love of it.

The other night in Austin, at a party that a start-up had spent a lot of money on, I ran into Anil Dash, who was also there in 2001. He said comparing the conference then and now was like comparing the original McDonald’s restaurant to what the McDonald’s Corporation has become — they’re entirely different beasts. There’s some truth to that. A night out at the conference now involves parties thrown by brands and sponsored by other brands, where marketers for entirely different brands will approach you so they can tell you about their social media management solutions. And it is easy to get cynical about the social stuff now that we know it’s a great way to get people to cough up valuable demographic data.

But for me the fascination is still there, and I get the feeling that there are still plenty of people in tech who are excited about the weird things they are inventing, just for the love of it. If I go back to Austin next year,  I’m going to make it a point to spend more time with them. — David Gallagher

Photo by Jenna Wortham

For Everyone and for the Few

SXSW Interactive is, in a way, one big conflicted mishmash of openness and exclusivity.  In this context technology, both hardware and software, is about enabling communication for worldwide social networks and individuals alike. Share your location with 50 million others, but keep your password to yourself.

There are the panels about privacy and anonymity, and there are ones about transparency and universality. There are parties hosted by companies eager for attention, where you can drop in, uninvited and rolling 10 deep — and those other parties that you’re probably not getting into, no matter what the affiliation dangling from your neck may say. There are the BBQ joints within walking distance for any curious and hungry attendee, and there are those taco spots on the outskirts of Austin, inaccessible to anyone without a car and a local friend willing to share these secret  gems. As it turns out, there is pretty decent free Wi-Fi around the convention center that is open to all. But then there is that locked, much better Wi-Fi presumably available to whomever SXSW deems a VIP. At the end of the day, everybody is welcome to sit, stand, listen, eat and drink, talk or dance at least somewhere within the city limits. A small subset were able to do some or all of these things with a much more curated, if you will, pool of attendees. — Andrew Kueneman

What’s the story this year? The weather? Long-form journalism? Gamification? Jay-Z’s fonts? Who knows, but everyone shares at least one takeaway. As at past SXSW Interactive festivals, relentless person-to-person marketing is the ambient noise humming behind every panel, party and taco truck. We’ve seen the walking USB chargers and the bottomless free energy drinks available at so many downtown corners. Big brands with big marketing budgets live in these spaces - FedEx, Monster and Red Bull. During the weekend rains, agents dispatched by Kraft handed out umbrellas. The price? Allow them to use your phone to take a picture of you holding the umbrella. Then you upload that photo to Twitter with the hashtag #keepyournoodledry. But many smaller players have unleashed pairs of young mercenaries armed with matching loud T-shirts, stacks of flyers and a gimmick upon Austin. They roam the streets with coupons and bottle openers, or invitations to “be a beta tester.” This low-tech, face-to-face and possibly inefficient strategy is prevalent at an event celebrating the wondrous utopia of connected media. It’s slow going and often requires two foot soldiers to attract the momentary focus of just one individual target. If the overburdened network ever went down, though, these kids would be there to spread the message. — Andrew Kueneman

What’s the story this year? The weather? Long-form journalism? Gamification? Jay-Z’s fonts? Who knows, but everyone shares at least one takeaway. As at past SXSW Interactive festivals, relentless person-to-person marketing is the ambient noise humming behind every panel, party and taco truck. We’ve seen the walking USB chargers and the bottomless free energy drinks available at so many downtown corners. Big brands with big marketing budgets live in these spaces - FedEx, Monster and Red Bull. During the weekend rains, agents dispatched by Kraft handed out umbrellas. The price? Allow them to use your phone to take a picture of you holding the umbrella. Then you upload that photo to Twitter with the hashtag #keepyournoodledry. But many smaller players have unleashed pairs of young mercenaries armed with matching loud T-shirts, stacks of flyers and a gimmick upon Austin. They roam the streets with coupons and bottle openers, or invitations to “be a beta tester.” This low-tech, face-to-face and possibly inefficient strategy is prevalent at an event celebrating the wondrous utopia of connected media. It’s slow going and often requires two foot soldiers to attract the momentary focus of just one individual target. If the overburdened network ever went down, though, these kids would be there to spread the message. — Andrew Kueneman

“We saw it as a means to raise awareness by giving homeless people a way to engage with mainstream society and talk to people,” he said. “The hot spot is a way for them to tell their story.”

Saneel Radia, the director of innovation at BBH Labs who oversaw the Homeless Hotspots program, that hired homeless people to walk around carrying mobile Wi-Fi devices during SXSW, defends the project, which has set off a controversy around the Web. — Jenna Wortham