SXSW Interactive Wraps, or Does It?

SXSWi, the Interactive iteration of the burgeoning SX (“South-By”) empire, ended officially last Tuesday, we’re told, but it was hard to tell when it ended exactly. SXSWi is certainly not about the rather unimpressive trade show floor that ran for three days (it was better last year as this time there were a lot of brands here just to hand out swag or sell iPhone accessories). Is it more about the conference sessions? Considering there were thousands of presenters on the docket, certainly all those 800 panels sessions could not have wrapped– they must still be going on right? (After all, SXSW Film started the same day as Interactive–last Saturday– and Film is still going on today).

Yes, all those sessions have wrapped. I’d need the help of a team (army) of anthropologists to recap those sessions– and won’t even try.

If you’re in an industry that purports to be on the cutting edge of “interactive” technologies (what industry doesn’t?) you might be puzzled by the goings-on in Austin. SXSWi is famous for have been the debuting show/conference for Twitter a few years ago (2007). And for FourSquare. Zuckerman keynoted in 2008. The event has just grown and grown, and while official attendance numbers for 2013 have not been released, it will certainly top the 25,000 attendance record it set last year. CMO’s attend SXSWi en masse– fearful they’ll miss out on the next big thing in Apps or social. Ditto agencies. For example, the advertising agency JWT, a WPP Group subsidiary flew in more than sixty ad execs from its offices around the world this time.

Many of the hundreds of sessions and panels at SXSWi are thinly disguised product pitches from marketing execs. Many of them have nothing to do with technology, interactive or otherwise. Of course, with 800 sessions, there are great ones in there. Ones that would indeed make you put down your “AV” or digital signage or DOOH Kool-Aid and get a glimpse of the what the rest of the world (especially anyone under 30) consider interactive technology and the extent to which Mobile apps are driving so much advertising money, marketing, and platform R&D– in all industries.

This year, I saw a shift from buzz about App-based behavior toward more interest in devices. There was no Twitter-like debut this year. Many commented that SXSXi is taking on a CES quality. There’s some truth to that– a kind of CES for Apps. Hence the buzz about 3D printing. And Gesture-based Apps.

There are critics who think SXi has jumped the shark. But we’ve been hearing that for five years, even as the event grows each year, and even as SX finds even more ways to leverage the compelling cross-over from its other events– Film, EDU, Music– to do what no other trade event organizer has ever done: create a must-go destination for emerging talent, and emerging technology. Nothing succeeds like success. Talk of SX having jumped the shark, has, well, jumped the shark.

Here’s a snapshot from social media, from the event, that tells something of what was hot, and also something of how the event is being mined by non-technology brands as it continues to ride the buzz:

Total 2013 SXSWi social media conversations (during event): 1,193,591

Keynote-driven social media stats:

• Elon Musk (CEO of SpaceX), 16,085 conversations during SXSWi

• All others, less than 5,000 each: Julie Uhrman, Joshua Topolsky, Tina Roght Eisenberg, Matthew Inman

Start-Ups with most social buzz:

• Leap Motion … by far the most social

Others, in order of most activity:

• Memoto

• Shopcade

• Hater

• Yappem

• Mr. Arlo

• Bloomfire

• Phone2Action

• Koozoo

• Click With Me

SXSWi Speakers driving most social:

• Al Gore… by far the most

• Shaquille O’Neal

• Cory Booker

• Bre Pettis

• John Cena

• Dennis Crowley

• Amit Singhal

• Rachel Madow

• Andy Cohen

• Nate Silver

SXSWi corporate sponsors with most social:

• American Airlines

• Yahoo!


• Chevrolet

• Doritos

• Oreo

• Austin Chronicle

• AT&T


• Monster Energy

David Keene is a publishing executive and editorial leader with extensive business development and content marketing experience for top industry players on all sides of the media divide: publishers, brands, and service providers. Keene is the former content director of Digital Signage Magazine.