The New York Times

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

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.

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

Tonight at the Jay-Z concert, sponsored by American Express, the audience was exuberant, particularly during the performance of “Empire State of Mind.” In an apparent nod to the media industry-heavy crowd, the logos of the New Yorker, the New York Post, New York magazine and The New York Times, above, flashed on the screens.
The show was live-streamed on YouTube and by 10 p.m. had nearly 16 million video views. The made-for-Twitter audience was encouraged to tweet throughout the performance using song title hashtags, but the overwhelmed mobile network inside the Austin City Limits theater made that all but impossible to do. Instead, people took pictures and enjoyed some offline time. — Lexi Mainland

Tonight at the Jay-Z concert, sponsored by American Express, the audience was exuberant, particularly during the performance of “Empire State of Mind.” In an apparent nod to the media industry-heavy crowd, the logos of the New Yorker, the New York Post, New York magazine and The New York Times, above, flashed on the screens.

The show was live-streamed on YouTube and by 10 p.m. had nearly 16 million video views. The made-for-Twitter audience was encouraged to tweet throughout the performance using song title hashtags, but the overwhelmed mobile network inside the Austin City Limits theater made that all but impossible to do. Instead, people took pictures and enjoyed some offline time. — Lexi Mainland

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At a panel on the ethics and pitfalls of facial recognition, the organizers showed this marketing video, which makes facial recognition seem like an awful lot of fun and not creepy at all. But they also pointed out that this is an entirely unregulated area, and as companies like Face.com bring facial recognition tools to the masses, it’s time to think about whether this is a good thing from a privacy perspective.

I also learned a new word, renonymize, which David Eisenberg defines this way:

To discover, using data from an “anonymized” data set (a data set from which the explicit identifying data has been removed) which specific individuals generated the data.

This was what happened with AOL’s search data disaster in 2006, and in several cases since. — David Gallagher

The folks behind the Austin-based start-up Mifft didn’t feel like shelling out thousands of dollars for a mere table in the South by Southwest exhibit hall. So they spent $3,000 on an ancient schoolbus and turned it into a mobile briefing room and taxi service. (The bus’s previous owner fixed it up with some help from his father and drove it across the country, which explains the inscription on the ceiling: “Don’t die. Love, Dad.”) If you tweet at Mifft they will pick you up and give you a ride while telling you about Mifft, which offers a private feedback channel for businesses. Or you can get lucky as I did and flag them down on the street, sparing yourself a long walk to the convention center. It was a very Austin-style pitch — I had to ask them what the company did. — David Gallagher

The folks behind the Austin-based start-up Mifft didn’t feel like shelling out thousands of dollars for a mere table in the South by Southwest exhibit hall. So they spent $3,000 on an ancient schoolbus and turned it into a mobile briefing room and taxi service. (The bus’s previous owner fixed it up with some help from his father and drove it across the country, which explains the inscription on the ceiling: “Don’t die. Love, Dad.”) If you tweet at Mifft they will pick you up and give you a ride while telling you about Mifft, which offers a private feedback channel for businesses. Or you can get lucky as I did and flag them down on the street, sparing yourself a long walk to the convention center. It was a very Austin-style pitch — I had to ask them what the company did. — David Gallagher