From March 8-12, thought leaders, designers and developers, innovators, scientists, social media, marketing and web gurus and even astronauts converged in Austin, TX for the SXSW Interactive Festival. The amazing event featured five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders, the SXSW Trade Show and an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new digital works, video games and innovative ideas the international community has to offer. It has been known to be one of the most energetic, inspiring and creative events of the year, and we were there!

As Freed Maxick’s interactive strategist, I had the chance to attend the conference and really dive in head first to learn what’s new in emerging media, digital and the web, all in hopes of bringing back what I learned to help our Firm connect better with our publics (employees, clients, industries and the community), and utilize technology to stay ahead of the curve.

Austin is an amazingly vibrant, hip, “weird” city, and really brought the best out of everyone who was in attendance. There were so many amazing ideas and concepts floating around that it was hard to keep track, but I have scaled it down to a few bite sized chunks, so you can see what some of the key themes and discussions were all about this year.

The keynote address of the festival featured Elon Musk, the CEO and Product Architect of Tesla Motors and the CEO / CTO of SpaceX. Musk was interviewed by Chris Anderson. Check out this helpful and interesting recap here.

What was so amazing about this year’s festival, was all the talk about space, technology and interplanetary exploration. Space travel is slowly becoming privatized, and therefore there is more chance for collaboration and discovery.

NASA also hosted a one-day event for 20 of its social media followers as part of the week-long festival. Participants got special one-day access to NASA’s SXSW interactive panels and heard from and met NASA scientists, engineers, astronauts, managers and the folks behind the agency’s social media efforts. They even brought a telescope along with them for event goers to check out!

Digital Meets the Physical
Social media, digital and other web platforms can be a part of what’s happening to bridge the gap between the digital space and what can become tangible and real. For instance, look at the growing number of 3D printers in development (read more about them here). At the festival there were were also many examples of motion interphase and leap motion, which are becoming a big part of gaming culture and ways to communicate.

Check out this cool interactive lead motion pool table display: VIDEO: Pool table coolness!

In addition, art was everywhere! From artists on the streets, to the SXSW Film Festival movie posters, to graffiti tags and stickers, art was all around Austin. Check out how information and data can become interactive works of art. This display seen below and others were featured at Austin Museum of Art- Arthouse during a party held by Twitter. The installations were super cool and interactive, making digital information become tangible in art form.

SXSW Interactive Festival


Big Data
Data is important in many different industries. We obviously use data each and every day here at Freed Maxick, and mining for data and keeping track of what you have found can lead to new ideas, problem solving and incredible breakthroughs. SXSW showed attendees that data can be used to encourage innovation, and better access to data can help drive incredible change (just look at the Arab Spring movement). Data can be used to find success… from new programs to the way data is managed, all can be helpful to drive exciting new advances throughout the world.

From startups to the newest app or idea, the value of entrepreneurial culture was an important theme at this year’s SXSW. From crafters on Etsy, to unique artisans, service providers and tradespeople, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, and the web and social media only help that spirit grow. From hyper-local main street businesses to those who are collaborating and selling to others across the globe, programs like Kickstarter and online venture capital groups are helping those with specialized skills, trades and ideas find the funding necessary to to move forward with their ideas, products and innovations.

While we are on the subject, don’t forget to take a look at our “10 Best Practice” for High Tech Companies whitepaper for insight into how to get into growth mode!

While there was much more to share from my visit to SXSW this year, those themes listed above were just a few of the highlights and takeaways of my experience there.

More fun and silly, and probably most buzzworthy of the festival, would be the special guest appearance of the internet’s famed “Grumpy Cat,” whose handlers allowed visitors the chance to pose for photos with him in the Mashable House, a temporary lounge run by the tech-news site. I was VERY disappointed to have missed him and have my photo taken, but glad that he made his way to Austin to say hello to some of his millions of fans around the world!