The 19th annual Interactive portion of the "South by" music, film, and tech festival opened its doors on Friday afternoon and is expecting more than 20,000 participants over the course of the next few days. The festival's continued rapid growth results in mad scrambles for hotel rooms, bidding wars over cabs, and on Friday, a more than two-hour wait for some participants to just pick up their badge from registration.
"Yesterday showed we still need to reform the process," said Hugh Forrest, event director for SXSW Interactive, during the Saturday opening keynote to a packed auditorium. Many were turned away from the keynote by author and digital editor of The Onion Baratunde Thurston and pointed to rooms where the discussion would be simulcast.
Forrest suggested the rain - it has rained for all three days of the conference so far! - drove more people indoors than they expected.
While the rain has put a damper on some of the late-night party-hopping that SXSW has become famous for - OK, it just made it more challenging - it is driving people into all of the branded lounges in the Austin Convention Center and on the periphery. The lounges are branding genius, because they allow participants to take a much needed break, put their feet up, charge their various devices free of charge, and maybe even take a peek at some of the devices or information laying around at say the AT&T Lounge, the Xbox Microsoft Lounge, Chevrolet Volt Recharge Lounge, the Samsung Blogger Lounge, and the IBM Social Business lounge. Off-site, there's also the dessert lounge from Ask.com, the Spreadfast Social Zone, the StumbleUpon bar, the Whole Foods “Good Food Fast” cart, and on and on.
Today, the rain drove me right into a GM promotion: “Catch a Chevy.” I was running to a session, “Socializing the Presidency,” at the AT&T Conference Center, which is further away, and the shuttle bus didn't seem appealing, so I hailed one of the Chevy Cruzes that the automaker has on hand to ferry SXSW participants around the city during the festival. It was convenient, warm and dry, and showed off the company's benevolent side, not to mention its most popular car around the world right now.
Even more fun sometimes than the sessions themselves are the serendipitous run-ins that South by hopes it facilitates and is known for even as the event balloons in size. For example, while sitting in on a CNN politics event Friday night at the “CNN Grill” - a special SXSW venue that has also appeared at the Republican and Democratic conventions - I started chatting with a gentleman who happened to also be a political blogger and is originally from Maine (my home state).
Check back for more coverage of SXSW Interactive from myself, and all our industry contributors who are here in Austin with me.