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Why You Should Try SXSWi

Why You Should Try SXSWi (photo)

Why SXSW Interactive is essential to understanding the future of media, and how to get here next year.

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.

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