2012 SXSWi Recap…

SXSWi has grown a lot since I started going.  In 2006 it felt like a bunch of fledgling, techy nerds trying to build relationships over just a few jam-packed days of panels, networking events and concerts.  Actually, it is still exactly that but x100.  And with more hipster mustaches.  In all seriousness, this conference is really where technology and marketing converge and brands, partners and consumers want to be at that party.  Hence the x100 thing.

There is such a massive amount of amazing panels, events and shows happening simultaneously that you really have to pick your battles.  Here are just a few highlights of my South By trip in 4 different categories (Technology, Music, Brands and Inspiration).

Social awareness apps are making a big stride right now.  Sonar, Highlight and more were being used and talked about a lot. Highlight is kind of interesting. It uses Facebook connect to send you push notifications about your FB friends that are around you as well as others that it thinks you might like (based on friends of friends, interests, etc). While this sounds good in theory as you can keep in touch (via proximity) with your friends, it also makes recommendations on who you might like that is around you.  A bit creepy and big brother to me but I’ll keep playing with it.  FYI, the logo will give you double vision.

Other ambient awareness apps that were noteworthy:




Re: mobile, to no one’s surprise, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook were among the most ubiquitous apps used to promote everyone’s individual experience.  The new kid on the block, Pinterest, got a lot of chatter going as well.  Oh Path and Pinterest both launched their API’s for SXSW. Good timing.  TED has an API now as well.  It will be interesting to see what people will do with all of their content.

I love these things.  I was lucky enough to see the founder, Ayah Bdeir, give a TED talk about LittleBits.  Basically, these are legos on steroids.  In short, they are intuitive little magnetic blocks that snap together to create interesting prototypes.  Each bit has a simple and unique function (light, sound, etc) and they snap together to make larger circuits.  This is all meant to demystify technology by putting the power of engineers in anyone’s hands.  I’ve already ordered the “Starter Kit” for myself.  Anyone is welcome to check it out when it comes in next week.

While there are several nice tablet-based comic book apps out there (including Marvel), nothing replaces the experience of reading an actual comic book. Marvel knows this simple truth and is capitalizing on it by finding new ways to make their printed pages interactive. For SXSW, Marvel debuted their partnership with Aurasma to bring marker less AR experiences to your Marvel app.  No AR markers. Just pure image based recognition that culminates in DVD-esque extras like flying 3D Marvel characters, videos, animations, etc.  I’ll take it.

Micro Tiles:
I saw some micro tiles on the trade show floor. While these aren’t entirely new, these are scalable building blocks for interactive installations.  Sure, they can employ motion tracking to showcase their interactivity but they are also now gesture sensitive.  High performance and durable, they can be configured into practically any shape.

The Marching Teeth:
The Marching Teeth is a Brooklyn based Metal band reminiscent of Clutch, Orange Goblin and Kyuss.  If you don’t know any of those bands, don’t worry, they’re good.  I saw The Marching Teeth play a blistering set in a portable, open trailer in a dirt parking lot at JMueller BBQ as part of the “Heavy Metal BBQ” that Transistor Studios put on.  When you combine a hot, muggy day, cheap, cold beer, brisket sandwiches the size of a loaf of bread and 6 hairy, loud metal bands, well, that my friends, is is a clear recipe for awesomeness.  Interesting fact – Damon Meena from Transistor Studios is the lead singer and bass player of The Marching Teeth.  If you like metal, you will like this.

Galaxy Express:
I caught these guys at the Trophy Room on 6th St. while I watched an old colleague take a spin on the ol’ mechanical bull there. I’m not sure which was more impressive.  Galaxy Express is apparently the biggest band to come from Hongdae, North Korea.  They’re a 3-piece, self-described psychedelic rock band in the vein of Led Zeppelin and The Black Angels. They actually did a cover of Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song that made created quite a crowd in the bar and on the street.  I will say this, when Galaxy Express started playing, no one was watching the girls riding the bull anymore.

Fidlar is a punk band from SoCal.  They’re all pretty young but have a great pedigree, which is to say that the guitarist and drummers father is Greg Kuehn, keyboardist  from famed Long Beack, CA punk band TSOL.  “Wait for the Man” is a personal favorite.  They’re already signed and will be huge in the punk rock scene.  Interesting side note, Greg also owns a music production company and would love to work with us.  Check them out here – http://www.peligromusic.com/.

Howler played the JWT party.  They’re indie rock a la The Strokes, The Hives and bands like that.  They’re just younger and better looking.  Great sound and style though.  I was drooling over their vintage gear and syrupy-thick, reverb-ed out sound.  Tasty stuff.

Rob Garza/Thievery Corporation:
Rob Garza from Thievery Corporation threw down an amazing set at Kingdom.  This was a joint party thrown by Chnl http://chnl.it/.  Chnl is another site that aggregates your social interests online.  It hasn’t quite launched yet, so it will be interesting to see how this differentiates itself from Pinterest, FB and so on.  Regardless, the event was great and Rob put on amazing set.  See him and/or Thievery live if you get a chance.

Nike recently released the FuelBand.  It’s a bit like Fitbit but a bit more stylish.  It is your basic pedometer and calorie counter but adds in a clock and accumulates “Fuel” points for you. They had an entire outdoor experience devoted to the FuelBand as well as a pop up store which was one of 3 places in the world that you could purchase it. Those who purchased FuelBands at SXSW also got priority access to Nike’s private events all week.  This was an interesting and effective way to push the already incredible sales of the FuelBand.

American Express:
Amex put on an (apparently) amazing show with Jay Z at Austin City Limits.  While this sounds PR worthy alone, the only way to get “tickets”was to sync your Amex card to Twitter.  They live streamed the whole event for those (like me) that couldn’t get a ticket in time.  Like Nike, giving priority access to their customer base via was extremely successful.

Google took four of the most iconic American ad campaigns from the 60’s and 70’s and re-imagined them today as digital display ads.  The brands featured were Alka-Seltzer, Avis, Coke and Volvo. Google even partnered with the original creative teams and had them work alongside them to re-imagine how these campaigns would live today.  Clive Bar hosted several presentations by Google in the pouring rain to debut a lot of this collaboration.  Inspired, moving and innovative.

Baratunde Thurston:
Baratunde is a self-described politically-active, technology-loving comedian from the future.  He recently published a book called “How to be Black” and he currently serves as Director of Digital for The Onion.  Yes, The Onion.  So, yeah, he’s a pretty funny dude.  His keynote was a thoughtful and funny rant on technology’s evolving role on furthering satire around the globe.  HuffPo had a nice wrap up of it.

Ray Kurzwell:
Ray Kurzweill is an American inventor, author and scientist.  Moreover, he’s a mad genius.  He is largely responsible for everything from inventing Watson, the Jeopardy-playing computer to creating the first musical synthesizers that accurately duplicated the sound of real instruments to properly forecasting future advances in technology. There is a quick wrap up of the main points from his keynote above.

Ayah Bdeir:
As I mentioned before, Ayah is the creator of LittleBits (http://littlebits.cc/).  Here is a nice video that explains what LittleBits are – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ITIng-ksQg.  In essence, they are an open source kit of pre-assambled circuits that easily snap together with tiny magnets. Pretty impressive way to prototype electronics. Ayah is now a TED fellow and gives inspired speeches  around the globe on demystifying technology via simple prototyping.

DJ Spooky:
Yes, DJ Spooky is a well-known DJ.  He’s also known as Paul D. Miller, a conceptual artist, writer and composer. He has had work featured in the Whitney in NYC and the Warhol museum in PA, among others.  He was at TED mostly talking about his new book The Book of Ice, a contemplative look at the only uninhabited continent on the planet that belongs to no single country and has no government. He peppered this with stories of his career in music and his unique approach to composing/programming music for his albums.  He capped it off with a live demonstration of his DJ Spooky iTunes music app featuring a live performance from one of the Austin symphony’s own violinists. Technical difficulties withstanding, it was pretty cool.

One final thing I that was immediately apparent is how far and wide the GSP family really extends. I’m sure there were many other alumni in attendance (and certainly some I’m forgetting to mention here) but I was lucky enough to catch up and spend a bit of time with –

Margaret McLaughlin
Larry Corwin
Bryan Houlette
Franny Rhodes
Danielle Thornton
Sosia Bert
Peter Albrycht
Derek Richmond
Mike Geiger
Jeff Benjamin
Peter Scanlon
Ricardo Landim
Kelsie Van Deman
Hartley Rusen
Tanya LaSieur
Christine O’Donnell
Sharman Ordoyne
Brittany Hawkins

It is really special to be able to see these people and how they’ve grown in new and interesting ways. The value in preserving your relationships with old coworkers and friends cannot be underscored enough.

So, that’s the most I could brain dump. I hope you get to attend next year.  There is so much to see, hear and do.  It really is a special event to be a part of.



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