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This year's 20th South by Southwest music, film, and tech festival just ended this past Sunday. The Austin Texas based festival—in particular SXSW Interactive, the technology component of the fest— has been essentially the beginning of some very big startups, namely the big two arisen in years past from the event- Twitter and Foursquare. I spoke just a day after with a few of the attendees fresh from the fest. By the time I'd spoken with them, I felt like my head was spinning trying to take it all in, then I tried to imagine how they had felt. The collective feel for the fest this year is that it is becoming increasingly overwhelming, even for what it is, and perhaps too big?

What was hot this year? sxsw

David Burrows, VP of marketing for Cinsay tells me, "This year, the biggest topics of buzz I heard that would benefit all those sectors [film, music, and technology] were: 3-D printing, smaller and cheaper video technology, and mobile apps that actually blend existing technologies and platforms". 3-D printing-which I wrote about recently for Techopedia-was mentioned by nearly everyone I spoke with. The usual players like MakerBot were well on display. Futurist and book author who spoke at the fest, Byron Reese shared with me on the topic, "with the broad applications of the technology, it could really shake things up. Picture a day where mundane things we need, like perhaps a knob for the radio in your car, are printed right-off instead of mass produced." Reese—who is the author of Infinite Progress and who is one well aware of the potential for bettering of the world through the democratization of information—wowed me the most when he spoke of the 3D printing of prosthetics for children and adults, an application I was unaware of. "...The beauty of it is that a 3D scanner could record a person's arm, and get a very good fit for their missing limb's replica" he said.

Will Mitchell of Startup Bros. had this to say "This year, the big thing was the integration of mobile and reality. Everybody was talking about Uber and Sidecar the entire time, especially during Interactive. These are apps that allow you to request a taxi service from your phone very simply. Another thing I saw huge growth in was mobile payments and NFC. Everybody was using square or a competitor, and Samsung killed the iPhone by giving away free stuff via NFC." He goes on: "It's clear to me that this year is about making physical life more simple through digital. With the absolute information overload that took place in 2010-2012, 2013 was all about creating a more efficient life experience through the integration of our physical and digital realities."

Wendy Bryant-Beswick, VP of Marketing for Generations Federal Credit Union explained to me along with Reese that hardware seemed to be huge this year. This didn't surprise me per my belief that the current hot trend for all things digital marketing has become about tying the Internet into the real world, and well you can't do that without hardware.

Bryant-Beswick added "Amongst all the hardware, a software that stuck out this year was that of TreeSwing." TreeSwing, which seems to have the pixels still drying on its website, is a Kansas City based moble app bringing investing to the masses with incremental investing, allowing traders access to select mutual funds for as little a $1 investment.

Other interesting mentions include personal wine app WinePoynt, and $99 tv gaming console Ouya.

Vine as the break out app?

This year it seems Vine was used by countless to share videos of the festivities. The six second videos (a 'Vine' of the music portion of SXSW, is embedded below) are showing up all over Twitter— who recently purchased the app. Austin local Sadie Cornelius of tells me how "video is the new photo" as she put it, and that "Between Vine and Snapchat, people are using Video more than ever to share what they're experiencing. It is a great way to capture a more comprehensive memory (so you don't have to) beyond just the visual since it also brings sound, movement and even emotion into play to add more senses to the experience you are sharing... I was no exception as I shared SXSW via Vine the whole time." A nice compilation,of her Vine videos can be seen here, and it serves as a nice video wrap-up of the event.

Less innovation, served up with a side of noise?

With the kind of innovation we have seen bore from SXSW in the past, it was perhaps inevitable that the festival would become a haven for companies trying to be the next big social network, and littered with people there too, in search of those companies. A common theme this year seems to have been of the festival being more "corporate", less innovative and all around 'noisy.' Bryant-Beswick said, "two years ago when I attended everything was much more spread out...everything seemed to be about social media, where that was no longer the case this year."

Roberto Rondero de Mosier, an attorney who attended, opined:

"I feel the startups are forcing their way into the festival and we are seeing alot of noise for mediocre products that are not meeting any unmet needs..." He continues:

"..I did not get a sense of innovation, but rather, attempts to capitalize on existing products that frankly are not needing much more help. I saw a trade room floor full of companies that were launching at SXSW (no prior release or marketing) and somehow they thought that was a magic bullet. All that money spent on a booth and they probably did not even hit a target market..."

How and why the fest has changed.

Why this has happened is likely at least in part due to the effect of any annual festival gaining notoriety over time,

"There has been a new context established..."

filled with hunger and eagerness in the first years, they can go on to become somewhat bloated. Rondero de Moiser theorized, "...the fees are far too high, so it is that innovation is only rewarded if you had enough money to show up. That does not foster innovation and reward innovation, it rewards money and copycats." And I would add to it, that almost everyone I spoke with described a peculiar kind of paradigm shift, typically mentioning Twitter and Foursquare in the same sentence. That shift, as it was collectively explained to me, is that there has been a new context established—namely social media and web apps—when the festival peaked a few years back, and everything now albeit it something new, would still be a derivative of the larger innovation that has already happened. SXSW can never top itself at this point, as the new 'killer apps' are going to long be under the same umbrella already created.

"There will never be another breakout app again", as Reese put it. Many did speak to me, related, about how bloated SXSW had become, and in a bad way.

Bryant-Beswick lamented on that note, and suggested a bifurcation of the Interactive portion: "There seemed to be kind of a lack of focus, so much innovation in hardware, but then an under appreciation of the same in software this year for some personal thought on it is that, maybe, Interactive ought to actually be split into 'hardware' and 'software' in the future."

'Hook Ups' (Getting busy as it were)

"Hookups have always been big at the Festival", founder of Ramin Bastani tells me. Quite appropriate to comment on it, Bastani with is trying to revolutionize how people exchange sexual health information- he has spearheaded an app for checking people's STD report card if you will- "we help people make better decisions before they have sex" he says enthusiastically. The ambitious founder who talked briefly at Mobile Unmentionables, on behalf of, naturally, would love his startup to play a part in what apparently happens at SXSW each year behind closed doors. Bastani explains to me "hookups are just a natural phenomenon at SXSW where there's lots of people, fun stuff going on, and drinking."

"As some often put it, the event is kind of like spring break for Techies"

Clearly happening each year anyway, hookups were also even more common this year largely due to the presence of controversial startup app Bang With Friends. Pretty much what it sounds like, do read more about the controversy of BWF at Fast Company's article on SXSW's reaction to them.

Grumpy Cat & Shaq steal the show

Rounding out the festivities, was Tardar Sauce, aka Grumpy Cat, perhaps the talk of SXSW. If you don't grumpy catrecognize Grumpy Cat, than you probably don't use the Internet. But the seemingly miserable cat [shown right if you couldn't figure it out] was spotted frequently and on everyone's tongue, as was the 7 foot tall tech lover Shaquille O'neal (I think he used to play basketball or something?) But anyway the former hoops player was hard to miss, seen frequenting countless events, many were pleasantly surprised to seem him, except maybe for Tardar Sauce that is.

SXSW this year had rumors, really just rumors, in certain circles, that it could be moved to Las Vegas next year—a first—and maybe that would perk up Mr. Grumpy Cat—also a first—although no one is holding their breath that either will happen.

For more on Marketing advice, and SXSW, I love and highly recommend the books 'Duct Tape Marketing', 'Likeable Social Media', and 'SXSW Scrapbook, people and things that went before'.
duct tape marketing   likeable social media   sxsw book

Brad Hines photo picture image

About the writer: Brad Hines is the president of, and the founder of He is a digital marketing and social media strategist. A writer as well, he typically writes about internet, business, and science trends. He can be followed on Twitter:


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