SXSW Geeks Out Before The Music
AUDIE CORNISH, host:
For filmmakers, musicians and digitally creative people, Austin, Texas is the place to be this week. It's the site of the annual South by Southwest Festival, where new movies are screened, new artists are showcased and new applications are launched. It is also where Liane Hansen is this weekend, and she joins us from member station KUT in Austin to tell us about it. Hey there, Liane.
LIANE HANSEN: Hey there, Audie.
CORNISH: So, what's going on?
HANSEN: Oh, it's amazing. The interactive component of the festival got under way Friday, and I'll tell you, this place is crawling with young people, old people, tattooed people. I've even spotted a few guys wearing kilts. The place is wired. I mean, there are lounges in the convention center where you can go have yourself a drink while you're recharging all of your devices.
But the main interactive attraction this weekend is something that they're calling Screen Burn Arcade. It's a huge exhibition room and there's going to be a video game tournament held there. But it's one of the places that's actually open to the public and it's free. And you go in and there are just all of these new games and lights and music. And you saw a lot of kids and their parents walking around checking out, you know, all the latest in gaming technology.
In fact, the first thing I saw was a few kids up on a small stage playing the popular video game Rock Band.
(Soundbite of song "Any Way You Want It")
JOURNEY: (Singing) Any way you want it, that's the way you need it. Any way you want it...
HANSEN: And the whiz bang electronic technology in the arcade, I mean, really was a magnet for a lot of people. But I have to tell you, they are also attracted to a giant Lego setup that had everything from the Taj Mahal and Yoda made out of Legos. So, there were some low-tech attractions too.
CORNISH: Yeah, Legos never get old.
HANSEN: You bet.
CORNISH: But was it all fun and games?
HANSEN: No. Actually, there's some very serious work going on here. Networking, first of all, a lot of exchange of business cards. But there's a lot of panels and small conferences. Just a few titles: How Sci-Fi is Shaping the Internet. There's a panel on the iPad, new opportunities for content creators. There's panels on citizen journalism. There's even one on cooking for geeks, which I'm not sure what that one's going to be.
Friday, I was able to attend a session on how to fund gaming startups in a recession. And there were about 50 people in the room and they were learning the dos and don'ts of raising money for their ventures from a gentleman who used to work for Dell who's been very good for raising money. And he had a list of dos and don'ts.
For example: do be confident - you're the expert, not the investor - and don't take every piece of advice because you can't absorb it all. And when the session ended, I met a woman named Susan Dresher(ph), and her business card identified her as the president and chief herder of cats for a company called Extra Feet(ph).
She and her business partner have created a game called E-Ville(ph).
Ms. SUSAN DRESHER (President, Extra Feet): Not too long ago we were employed by MySpace and we were released from MySpace when things started happening a year ago. And so we started a company of our own, and we just built a game.
HANSEN: They're trying to get the money to be able to launch it out. And then they said they have something else coming down the pipeline but they wouldn't tell us.
And the session where I met Susan Dresher was just one of some of 50 panels going on Friday. The interactive portion of the festival lasts four days, so, you know, do the math: 50 panels, four days, I mean, that's a lot of panels. And since it's impossible to go to each one, we tracked down Hugh Forrest, who's the event director for South by Southwest, and he gave us the big picture.
How did Austin and South by Southwest become the Mecca for all of these pilgrims?
Mr. HUGH FORREST (Event Director, South by Southwest): Well, as you know, South by Southwest was originally a music event and it still is a very strong music event. And that's the base of what we do. I think that - or I know that if there wasn't a music event to support what we did, we wouldn't have survived some of the very lean years.
But in terms of why the event has grown and become a Mecca, I mean, I think there are lots of different factors here. I mean, I think the geeks like being on the same stage as musicians, so to speak. I say geeks in a totally loving way. I mean, the digital creators who attend the event love to be on that same stage. And it's also very important that we have this big film event going on at the same time.
I mean, again, the most meaningful connections that people make here are usually with someone completely outside of their industry that, wow, you mean you need a Web site and you make films and I need this film content and, you know, this is a great connection. And so, again, it's bringing these different people together and hopefully making these connections.
HANSEN: Do you mind if I just go through a random picking, a lucky dip, of some of these panels? Okay. Cybersex 2.0. Is Social Networking Ruining your Sex Life?
Mr. FORREST: I got to say, that's one of the big questions or issues in this community is, the more you tweet or the more you blog or the more you're transparent on the Web, how does that impact your relationships, casual and more so?
HANSEN: What We Learned Watching Kids with Homemade Flamethrowers.
Mr. FORREST: That was a slam dunk in terms of accepting that. It's about tracking memes. One of the more popular memes, as we may or may not know, is people on YouTube with homemade flamethrowers. So, the panel will be discussing that in specific but trying to get some - learn some more details on how these things go virally and why they go virally and what makes it spread and what doesn't make it spread.
HANSEN: And the other one - I mean, it seems like this is an issue that people are just beginning to think about - My Life Take Two. No, no, it's not My Life Take Two: The Right to Delete... oh, here we go. Your Online Identity after Death and Digital Wills.
Mr. FORREST: Sure.
HANSEN: Which goes along with, you know, deleting one's life.
Mr. FORREST: Yeah, we did one session on that last year and we create this virtual presence more and more with our new technologies. What happens to that presence when you pass away? Do you will that on to someone else to essentially keep on your virtual existence or how does that work? And there are lots or there are some services that help you with that process now.
Now, the other session you mentioned was My Right to Delete, which is, again, in this brave new world we live in, the things we say or do often get onto the Internet and it's impossible to get rid of them. How do we move on, if and when we want to move on?
HANSEN: Right. So, how do you get the bad stuff off the Web that your, you know, sister put up there from where you were a kid, you know?
Mr. FORREST: Absolutely.
HANSEN: Hugh Forrest, thank you very much.
Mr. FORREST: Thank you.
HANSEN: And, Audie, I mean, as you can see how difficult it would be to choose between, you know, cybersex and cooking for geeks if they're going on at the same time. I actually heard somebody say that he wasn't going to bother to make up a schedule of things to go to. He preferred the Twitterverse to guide him, so he'd tweet and ask, where's the best place to go next?
And I also can't talk about the festival without mentioning Twitter. I mean, everyone really is walking around with mobile devices, eyes down, fingers flying, and I'm surprised people aren't crashing into one another. Actually, while we were waiting in line to pick up our credential, there was a gentleman who actually made what we called a Twitter pitch.
Unidentified Man: If you guys are on Twitter, we're trying to raise money for charity. And if we get 5,000 tweets with a hashtag in it, then we get $5,000 for charity by 5:00 p.m.
CORNISH: All right, Liane. So, what's next?
HANSEN: Well, we're hoping to catch up with some of the film people. There seem to be as many screenings as there are panels. We'd actually done an interview already with a young man with a company that has a developing technology to make it easy to create video games. So, we'll bring back that story.
And by the way, we're meeting a lot of NPR fans here at South by Southwest, and they actually, a lot of them are listening on the NPR iPhone app, which is, I suppose not too surprising, given that everyone here is, as they say, digitally creative.
CORNISH: Liane Hansen speaking to us from KUT in Austin, Texas. And you'll be back next week, right?
HANSEN: You betcha.
HANSEN: You're welcome.