Hello world. Welcome to day one of 2014 SXSW. It’s off to a much better start than the last two years. No rain, no wind, just a comforting blanket of smog. Festival goers are devouring Korean barbecue with gusto at outdoor picnic tables.
In the time-honored tradition started by former Pando writer Erin Griffith, rather than bombarding you with a thousand stories an hour, I’ll be providing you with a daily roundup of everything you need to know from the conference, plus any odds and ends and weird Austin goings-on that I think you might get a kick out of. Also, I’m a SXSW newb so you’ll enjoy it through my unsullied eyes.
SXSW attendees didn’t bother waiting for the start of the festival to get their drink on. The parties started last night, with Sprinklr + Dachis bash at the Cedar Street Courtyard. There was supposed to be an open bar, but it didn’t make an appearance.
My more experienced SXSW friends were miffed about that, but it didn’t keep a hundred or so hipsters and techies from throwing back shots and dancing. A really old guy showed up. So did a guy dressed as Luigi. By eleven everyone was black out drunk and doing the bump ‘n grind.
The SXSW vets I was with muttered “Amateurs.” Apparently SXSW is a “marathon” and these drunk rookies were “sprinting.” Duly noted.
Today at the festival itself there was room to breathe, working wifi, and free coffee at the Hilton that kept magically refiling itself into the afternoon. SXSW was already putting the hell of CES to shame.
Oreo is already winning the brand marketing game with its #eatthetweet “Trending Vending Machine.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. Users pick a trending social media hashtag on the vending machine and it 3D prints a customized Oreo based on that. One woman couldn’t decide between #bitcoin or #thetonightshow and finally went with #jenniferlawrence (lemon+sherbet+chai).
In the corner an Oreo PR person consulted with a group of reporters saying things like “This is the future of food, what with 3D printed pizzas.” Moving on…
Most of the pedicabs are spattered with boring ads from the likes of Braintree and Nest. One guy wasn’t down with the corporate messaging and chose to strap a giant white speaker to his lift instead, blasting reggae. Good life choices.
By 6:26 am on the first day, Wired had already written the predictable “At SXSW, the Next Big Thing May Be No Thing at All” post.
If last year was all about space and NASA, this year is all about snooping and the NSA. If the trend continues, the theme of next year’s event will be the NS. Attendees are pumped to hear from Snowden and Assange, video conferencing in from whatever cave or embassy where they’re hiding in Russia or whatever. Also, wearables and 3D printing.
At today’s interactive keynote, speaker Austin Kleon — New York Times bestselling author of Show Your Work! — opened by asking an age-old question: Is SXSW over? Given I have no idea who you are, let’s just say yes and stop asking.
At the startup village at the Hilton there were lots of delightfully awkward panels happening, apparently per usual. Political correctness was not on the agenda. The opening line at the 3:30 session of foreign startups pitching experts was “We will start with the only woman of the entire group, but she counts for ten women.” Which is how gender equality works.
Next door was the drably titled “Founders Stories.” Just as boring as you might expect, except for when the founder of “Uber-for-massages” company Zeel went on a tangent to explain he does not run a prostitution business. Even though people come to your houses to give you massages it’s all above board. Breathe a sigh of relief. But no other kind of relief.
The moderator’s transitioning joke to the next speaker, “So your business sounds like everybody’s happy but no one gets a happy ending.” He was pretty pleased with himself for that one.
As for tonight’s shindigs, Newsweek is throwing a bash to celebrate its big clusterfuck of a Bitcoin launch story. Should be fun with lots of shame and anger drinking. We’ll be there, and will report back tomorrow.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]