Why You Should Try SXSWi

Why You Should Try SXSWi (photo)

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There are many motivations to make the nerd pilgrimage to Austin, which, as it was related to me by a local cab driver, was first an idea the city came up with to replenish the lack of foot traffic when UT students leave the city for spring break. As the natives escape, the town is momentarily invaded by a mix of geeks, both of the film and tech persuasion. They — we — are often described as obsessives but, more accurately, are people who have a serious passion for what they do.

In particular, it takes a certain type to come to South By Southwest Interactive, and every year that type becomes less a type and simply the direction that’s driving so many aspects of our daily lives. Politics, race, age, communication, retail, industrial — the list goes on and on. You’d be hard pressed to find a industry that hasn’t been radically influenced by the effect the technologies dissected and analyzed here.

But it’s hardly academic. It can be, but a majority of goes on at SXSWi is networking. Sure, a good deal of it is superfluous, but there’s also a high concentration of decision makers in a very small area who are bound to encounter opportunities they may not find anywhere else.

It’s no coincidence that Austin is the city that launched some of the most game-changing applications in the past several years, Twitter being the biggest and Foursquare being the most recent. How game changing? Look around your news media diet and count up the number of instances you hear someone’s Twitter being mentioned. If you’re hearing about something that happened anywhere in the world, I am willing to bet someone posted it to Twitter before anywhere else, period.

Foursquare, like Twitter, had an incubation period at their first SXSW. It was adopted eary by a cliquey, influential set of people and a year later had begun to reach substantial audiences. Twitter is thought to be around six million users today, and Foursquare around 60,000. But there hasn’t really been a singular app to come out of this year’s SXSWi that’s ended up on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

The applications that help keep everyone organized about where they need to go seem to be the most useful, Plancast being a particularly popular one that launched an iPhone app just before the conference. A app called Hot Potato was used by many to discuss panels as they were in progress in sort of a closed room Twitter. However, Twitter is still the king when it came to providing instant feedback on anything that was happening at any moment at the conference.

So if the networking, the technology, the free drinks and food, the parties, the gadgets, the next new thing, and an opportunity to take your startup to the next level appeals to you, how do you get to SXSWi 2011? Well, first I would suggest trying to get yourself on a panel. Find a topic that you’re opinionated in and approach the panel moderator. That’s exactly what I did, and it pays for your entry into the conference with Gold level access, getting you into both the movie and interactive portion of the festival.

It also gets you discounts on your hotel, which you should book very early. The panel experience allows you to reach a larger audience and market yourself in a way that can open up other opportunities with folks in the audience or those who may watch it later online. If you’re a writer, it can open up additional freelance gigs or invites to speak at other conferences. Anyone who works in that kind of business knows you need to find as many of those jobs as possible to stay afloat — a big part of that is marketing yourself, and this is one of the best ways to do just that.

The panel I spoke on yesterday was attended by David Carr of the New York Times, who happens to be one of the writers I admire most. He tweeted about our panel and told us afterwards how much he enjoyed it. It was a real honor and incredibly satisfying to be able to get that kind of feedback from someone who I think is at the top of his game and understands what I am trying to accomplish better than anyone else.

If you’ve never been to SXSWi and you’ve been following along vicariously through those who are here, now is the perfect time to start hatching plans to get here in 2011, when it will be even bigger and better. I’ve given you a few tips on how to make that easier, it’s up to you now to make it happen. I promise — you will not be disappointed.

Fred Armisen and Stephen Colbert Sample Foghat Wine

Slow Vine

Fred Armisen and Stephen Colbert Had a Rockin’ Wine Tasting

Catch Fred on the new season of Portlandia Thursdays at 10P on IFC.

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As per The Late Show’s themed gift recommendation this past December, we all spent the holidays delightfully unwrapping various Foghat albums and compilations. And while those cassettes remain in our tape decks, there’s still more ’70s boogie rock to enjoy in the form of fermented grapes. Yes, Foghat has its very own wine, straight from the cellars of drummer and Late Show fan Roger Earl, and Portlandia’s Fred Armisen joined host Stephen Colbert to sample the goods. And thanks to Earl’s watchful eye and drumstick swirl during fermentation, the pinot noir unfolds nicely on the tongue and has the perfect notes to swig directly from the bottle while shrieking, “HELLO, CLEVELAND!”

Watch Fred Armisen and Stephen Colbert don literal “fog hats” and take a slow ride through some tasty spirits below.

The Battle for the Future of TV Sets SXSWi On Fire

The Battle for the Future of TV Sets SXSWi On Fire (photo)

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Day one at SXSW Interactive ended with a bang or, more precisely, a fire alarm, which presumably was a result of the heated exchange between Boxee‘s Avner Ronen and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and the man who made millions selling Broadcast.com, an internet-based media delivery system. The medium made him a rich man, but today he’s skeptical about its legitimacy as a business.

About 20 minutes into the debate, the alarms went off and the entire Austin Convention Center was evacuated. 20 minutes later, everyone was let back in and the talk continued. Ronen had the room stacked with tech-savvy people, many who have already cut the cable cord. The crowd had grown jaded from years of paying extravagantly for hundreds of channels in order to watch the few they actually want, rather than going with the a la carte cart model being pushed by Avner’s Boxee.

Cuban and Ronen had been going back and forth online regarding this very topic, and they decided SXSWi was the perfect venue for them to try and settle their differences. For those who aren’t familiar with Boxee, it’s software that you can run on the company’s Boxee Box device, or almost any computer you hook up to your television, to tune into internet-based media.

It’s a great piece of software, which owes much of it’s technology to the XBox Media Center platform, developed more or less by a community of hackers who wanted to use their XBox for more than just a gaming device — they wanted to turn their television into a internet video portal. What was once available to the realm of a few technically savvy homebrewers cracking open their console (and thus voiding the warranty) is now going mainstream. It’s become the darling of the tech crowd who prefer to pick and choose what they want to watch, rather than pay for a cable service that decides for them, and charges a premium for the privilege.


Panel Panic: A Day in the Life of SXSWi

Panel Panic: A Day in the Life of SXSWi (photo)

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With four to five or more events happening at one time, at all times, choosing which direction to take can be a daunting task at SXSW Interactive, the portion of the festival devoted to all thing internet. There are plenty of tools to choose from to keep track of what’s available — the main SXSW.com website, Plancast, Sched, and SitBy.us. If you’re the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type and want to follow the crowd, you can always check which panel your friends are at by logging into Foursquare or Gowalla, or do a Twitter search to see which panels are trending.

Personally, I prefer to go in with a basic idea of what I want to cover at a bare minimum, and that includes more than just panels. I want to have a list of some places I must eat at that I know will be nearby, which events and parties I need to attend and what times I need to be near the convention center to check out speakers and panels.

Here’s a good outline to get your started. I’ve got all day Friday planned out for you, follow along or choose your own adventure.

9am to 10am: AOL Seed Lounge

So called “content sweatshops” are a controversial topic right now. Is AOL Seed the enemy, their corporate Borg-like complex churning out an endless stream of articles dictated by algorithms that are supposed to know what generates clickthroughs? Or are they our friend, giving so many freelancers, who often are forced to write for free just to gain attention for paying gigs, actual consistent for-pay writing assignments. It would be worth your while to stop by and find out for yourself and come to your own conclusion.

11am to 12pm, Live performance at 6pm: The IFC Crossroads House

The Crossroads house has free breakfast, wifi and live performances, with a lineup of acts that include The Walkmen, Broken Social Scene, She and Him and Drive By Truckers. If you’re only here for the Interactive, and you’re more into music than BBQ, skip the Tweet House and get here at 6pm on Friday to check out a live set by The Black Angels.

12pm to 1pm: Stubb’s BBQ / La Casa del Fuego

I’m giving you my top two options here near the convention center for lunch. It’s up to you to decide if you can handle the rest of the afternoon after feasting on BBQ at Stubbs or if you would rather grab a great street taco that will hit the spot but not do you in for the rest of the day. I suggest going the Casa del Fuego route, order up one pork taco, one chicken taco, and a can of Dr. Pepper.


Six Murderous Movie Minors

Six Murderous Movie Minors (photo)

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When “Kick-Ass” premieres this evening as the opening night feature of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, it’ll be under the scrutiny of comic book fans who’ve been lusting after the film since director Matthew Vaughn showed clips at Comic-Con. But paying almost as much attention will be moviegoers who might take issue with the character of Hit Girl, the purple-haired heroine with a world-weary rasp, a predilection towards switchblades and an age of 12, as played by the prepubescent Chloë Grace Moretz.

Although she’ll be appearing soon in the more age-appropriate “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” Moretz is no stranger to doing things well beyond her years, having already poured a glass of vodka for Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “(500) Days of Summer.” As Hit Girl, she becomes part of a long movie tradition of killer kids (not to be confused with the creepy kids of horror films) that have been on the big screen since the 1950s, usually with controversy not far behind.

Since there’s no end in sight for these deadly youngsters — “The Lovely Bones”‘ Saoirse Ronan will star as a teen assassin in “The Soloist” director Joe Wright’s next film “Hanna” — we offer up a brief history of the children you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley.

03112010_thebadseed.jpgRhoda Penmark of “The Bad Seed” (1956)

“The Bad Seed” became a big hit in 1956, but it wasn’t an easy road getting there. When Billy Wilder attempted to bring Maxwell Anderson’s play (based on the William March novel) about a murderous young girl as tightly wound as her blonde pigtails, the still-standing Production Code Administration rejected his adaptation that kept the original ending of little Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) tickling the ivories to “Clair de lune” after she’s set the help on fire and her mother doesn’t succeed in drugging her. They instead gave the go-ahead to a Warner Bros. version that would have the teeny terror get her comeuppance for drowning classmates and tossing out innocent queries like “is it true when blood is washed off anything, a policeman can still find that it’s there?” (Warner Bros. went the extra step and even added a postscript where movie mom Nancy Kelly gives McCormack a right spanking.) Mervyn LeRoy’s thriller has since gone on to become a cult classic and inadvertently launched the creepy kid genre, though Anderson’s original text was intended to shed light on the then-unpopular notion of hereditary mental illness.


Snapshots from SXSW 2009

Snapshots from SXSW 2009 (photo)

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Has it really been a whole year since the last SXSW? As the masses get ready to converge on Austin, TX for another two weeks celebrating the best of Interactive, Film and Music, IFC takes a look back at some of the highlights from our photo coverage of SXSW 2009.

We’ve got everything from celebrities walking the red carpet, to guests who stopped by to chat in the IFC Lounge, and out to the 6th Street clubs where artists of every genre performed. And closing things out, a look back at the IFC Crossroads party, featuring The Decemberists and Gomez.

Make sure you check out all of our upcoming 2010 SXSW coverage.

[Click the thumbnails to see the images full size.]







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