This was my first year to truly embrace the Interactive portion of Austin's annual South By Southwest Film, Music and Interactive Festival. It was quite a change for me as the past 7 years I've attended the music portion only, while venturing into a couple Interactive panels last year and participating in the Film portion for our work with SENNA Movie's two screenings in 2011.
For some reason I thought Interactive would be, well, easier - afterall, how much energy would it require to sit in conference rooms all day listening to the game changers of technology and innovation? WRONG! Four straight days of 9AM - 6PM conferences is appealing at first glance, but the work that goes alongside it is what got me: perusing the 112-page "Pocket" Guide to plan (and revise; and revise again) my schedule, coordinating with prospective contacts, Tweeting, fielding emails, scheduling outside meetings, networking, status updating, re-charging (mind, body and devices), and most importantly, transporting, with only 15 minutes between sessions (if you want to insure you have a seat in that session) took it's toll on me. Throw in three straight days of rain and voila - you have SXSW 2012. It was all worth it for the content and connections.
What I really enjoy the most about SXSW is how our city transforms to welcome the world. I extended my evening runs down Congress Avenue and into the heart of the Warehouse and Convention Center districts to see the transformations taking place. On Tuesday night, Nokia was transforming a vacant parking lot across from The Cedar Door into a 3 part inflatable igloo - aka "Nokia Lab." The winter wonderland housed a mix of gadgets, games, good music and fun in the middle of a 70' "Austin winter" day (the rain helped).
Last year, GE built a solar-powered carousel, aka "Carousolar," in the vacant lot across from SIX Lounge. This year, Nike took over the space and hosted a "hackathon" tied into their newest product, the Nike Fuel Band, by changing our iconic Frost Bank Tower into a larger-than-life Nike Fuel Band display, changing it from it's normal blue and white tones into hyperactive red, orange and green tones.
While we realize it may take a few years for our Formula 1 race to transform the downtown Austin area on this scale, these are perfect examples of how Austin embraces social and technological change and showcases it so well in our city.
Back in February, Leadership Austin put on a panel entitled "Festival Fever," featuring Geoff Moore of COTA, Hugh Forrest of SXSW Interactive, Jon Roberts of TIP STrategies and Lisa Hickey of C3 Presents. It was neat to hear different perspectives from these community business leaders and their thoughts on how large-scale events impact Austin. More importantly, their comments on planning for future expansion did not fall on a deaf ear. You can read more about the event recap here.
One final note on the success of SXSW: the transportaion logistics utilized during the Interactive portion made it possible to navigate between 14 different campuses in a grid-locked downtown Austin. The shuttle was provided free of charge to Interactive registrants and ran every 5-10 minutes at each stop on the route. There were four different routes and the shuttle drivers were friendly, courteous, and provided clean and classy shuttle service. Hats off to SXSW on pulling this off. Another logistic they have completely nailed down and we hope, for your sake, will be emulated during F1 week in November.