A tech tradeshow is usually just a tradeshow; that is unless you’re headed to SXSW.
The culmination of all things awesome, South by Southwest is more like a festival that squeezes technology, trends, booze, food, music, movies, and hipsters into two weeks of raging fun into the city with a small town feel: Austin, Texas.
A place rumored to feel more like Cambridge, Mass. than a town in Texas, I can’t help but feel hesitant as I travel to the mecca of cool.
Perhaps it’s because I’m from Boston, Massachusetts, a city that seems somewhat at odds with Texas as a whole.
We’re not particularly friendly, our affinity for fried foods leans more towards seafood than steak, and our state would probably never have a George H.W. Bush International Airport.
“But Austin is different,” says everyone. Well, we shall see.
Leaving my Manhattan apartment at 6 o’clock in the morning, I walk outside to what feels like a slap in the face; it’s freaking cold out. I feel skeptical that Texas is as warm and lovely as everyone says it is – how can it be when NYC is so cold?
Jumping in a cab to the airport, the city smells like bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches; something that leaves me feeling dissatisfied with the granola bar I’m munching on.
Inching my way to the airport, all I can think is: Texas or bust.
I’m heading to SXSW.
Of course, being the last-minute person I am, I was unable to get a flight into Austin directly without selling my first born child to the airline, so I opted to fly into San Antonio. The city, which is located about an hour from Austin is straight up Texan.
I get off the plane expecting to hoof my way to baggage claim, only to be stuck behind two people slowly moseying down the hallway blocking my way. Instead of getting annoyed, I remember, I’m not in New York City anymore and somewhat patiently slow my roll.
There are cowboy hats. Lots of cowboys hats. And men with faces so red, the only normal patches of skin are the lines where folds in their necks prevented the sun from shining. Walking towards baggage claim, there is a picture of a giant steak.
I love this place.
My friend appropriately picks me up in his pick-up truck (I’m serious) and takes me to the local mall, where I force him to stop and take a picture in front of the giant cowboy boots. This is Texas.
Heading to Austin tomorrow, I can only imagine what that city has in store. I’ve heard rumors of an El Dorado-esque downtown where Steve Jobs personally hands out iPads to one and all.
I’ve also heard rumors of Brazilian churrascarias with free flowing meat on sticks consumed while talking trends in social media.
SXSW is a place where “I have a meeting” really translates to “I RSVPed to a party at that time.”
And that’s what it’s all about – it’s about the social scene where young entrepreneurs, developers, marketers, and minds can share ideas and talk the next best thing.
A fitting trend at this year’s SXSW is the idea of the “group.” Apparently, Gowalla is announcing a new feature that will allow for group rewards based on a similar Groupon or Living Social business model.
Group texting is a much talked about trend with companies like GroupMe, Beluga, or textPlus are making announcements about group chats through social networking sites like Facebook Groups or other messaging services.
Another big trend is location-based services where users can share pictures and tips on the best food using location-based services like Foodspotting.
It seems like everything being announced at SXSW is a byproduct of the sociability of the event itself. It’s all about the group.
What was born as a celebration of life, music, technology, and movies has literally helped fuel the trends in technology.
It’s about interacting with the world around you whether it’s through food, music, location-sharing, or group texting.