SXSW Interactive: Where High Tech Becomes High Touch
As someone who attends a lot of conventions and conferences it is only natural to have some annual favorites, and two of mine are the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas each January, and South By Southwest (SXSW) held in Austin, Texas each March. Both shows share some overlap in the high levels of attendance by an active community of geeks, bloggers, and the so-called “Twitterati” as well as an overlap of some exhibiting companies, from car manufacturers like GM to consumer electronics giants such as Samsung. Both shows feel very crowded, pushing the limits of the capacity of their respective convention center venues, and spilling over into nearby hotels, pushing attendees to pound the pavement or line up for cabs. Each show is also heavily influenced by the culture and flavor of the hosting cities, both adult playgrounds in their own unique ways.
Keep Sin City Sinful and Austin Weird
I am not sure if everything that happens in Vegas still stays in Vegas, but I am fairly certain that virtually everything that happens at SXSW ends up on the Internet. Everywhere you turn during SXSWi, the Interactive portion of the three part conference (Interactive, Film, Music), you see someone using a connected device. Smartphones, iPads, MacBook Airs, and even regular laptops and netbooks prevail as the uber connected continuously connect. Rigorously “checking in” is de rigueur as location based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Whrrl experience some of their busiest days of the year as well as a plethora of new competition from big, established sites like Google’s Latitude, Facebook Places, and the “original” darling of SXSWi, Twitter. Newcomers try desperately to climb above the clutter and gain traction, from Groupon to Groupme, from Hashable to Yobongo, with everyone vying for the undivided attention of a predominantly ADD crowd.
Brands Then Bands
In the midst of Austin’s very own March Madness there was also a demonstrable battle of the brands as seemingly everywhere you turned Pepsi was trying to quench your thirst and Chevy wanted to give you a ride. Of course food and drink flowed as frequently as people unlocked the Super Duper Swarm badge on Foursquare. There were overlapping perpetual parties all day and night long, creating a non-stop smorgasbord of schmoozing. And then some of the brands move out and the bands move in when Interactive ends and the Music portion begins, dramatically changing the culture and vibe from geek chic to grunge, and the common bond among attendees moves from “checking in” on Foursquare to “checking out” one of hundreds of performing bands.
CES vs. SXSW: Gawking vs. Geeking out…
When I look at the conventions of my two favorite conventions it is clear that both feature lots of gadget goodness and opportunities for networking, but there are also some distinct differences. At CES, high tech takes center stage as the prime appeal is seeing all the tech toys on dazzling display. Walking the well lit aisles of the Las Vegas Convention Center is often akin to a traipse through New York’s Times Square, with bright, flashing lights and massive electronic signage. Some of the booth’s themselves are like small cities. While there are many great people to connect with in attendance, CES is so spread out, and so massive in size and scope, that it is often hard to find people and thus the primary activity seems to be gawking at the high tech goodies being presented. SXSW, in contrast, is perhaps more about using devices than looking at them. With the action highly concentrated around the Austin Convention Center and the countless hotels, bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity, at SXSW the people clearly take precedence over the products. You are likely to see far more gadgets in use at SXSW than on display. In Austin, high tech clearly goes high touch, as from party to party attendees’ swagger becomes more of a stagger, and no matter which party, bar or venue you enter, it is just like entering CHEERS, where everybody knows your (Twitter) name!
If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend both CES and SXSW as events to add to your trade show bucket list! If you have attended one or both of these shows, what do you think? Which do you prefer and why?
Jeff Sass is the proud dad of ZEO (Zach, 22, Ethan, 20 and Olivia, 19). He is also a seasoned entertainment and technology exec and active social media enthusiast. You can see more of Jeff’s writing at Dadomatic, Sassholes! and Social Networking Rehab and you can listen to Jeff on the Cast of Dads podcast.
DISCLOSURE:I am part of the “Intel Advisor” program and am compensated and/or receive other value from Intel to attend events on their behalf.