Since its founding in 1987, the South by Southwest festival in Austin (a.k.a. SXSW) has grown from a music-centered event with about 700 registrants to a massive festival that spans nearly two weeks and draws 32,000 people to the city each March.
The Interactive portion of the festival, which also includes music and film, may be the newest addition, but it’s gotten a ton of buzz ever since Twitter was more or less birthed there in 2007. (Subsequent launches have included apps like Foursquare.)
For us, SXSW’s digital festivities represent the kick-off to months of spring and summer music festivals, featuring nerdy launches and some killer parties. Here are some of the biggest highlight from Interactive:
The Big Debuts:
Google Glass: While Nina Garcia may have joked on a “Viral Fashion” panel that Google’s wearable gadget may not be very well-designed (she suggested tech companies hire Tom Ford), Google Glass—in the form of wearable glasses—was one of the must-spot features of SXSWi. The glasses feature a small screen visible from your right eye that you can use to navigate Gmail, Evernote, and more.
A 3-D Printer: MakerBot unveiled its new Digitizer at the festival, a gadget that can scan items using lasers. The outline of said item can then be uploaded to a computer and printed in three dimensions using the company’s 3-D printer. The founders said at the festival that the new gadget will allow people “the ability to easily duplicate small household objects, tools, and parts.”
The Leap Motion Controller: This little gadget enables players to execute actions on a computer through the air (“Minority Report”-style!) in front of them, thanks to an infrared field.
Elon Musk: The founder of SpaceX was generally acknowledged to be one of the most compelling speakers of the festival, giving an inspiring talk about space travel and insisting he’d like to die on Mars.
Amit Singhal: The Google engineer revealed that the company is planning to create a computer that you’ll be able to talk to—just like “Star Trek.”
Al Gore: The former vice president and the voice behind “An Inconvenient Truth” gave a rousing speech about how our democracy “has been hacked” and how the environment continues to be in peril.
A Massive Telescope: NASA brought a full-scale model of its new James Webb Space Telescope—set to launch in 2018—to the festival, showing it off just across the river from downtown.
Beyond the panels and the big launches, it’s the off-line networking and parties that continue to bring top influencers to SXSWi, and marketers have rigged plenty of entertaining events to lure registrants to them. Grumpy Cat, the sour-faced cat that has become an Internet meme, played host to thousands of visitors at the Mashable House, and at the convention center, guests lined up to sit in a throne made of swords that is the centerpiece of the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” In addition to a jaw-dropping performances by Girl Talk (arranged by Nat Geo) and Passion Pit (thanks to Taco Bell), Foursquare hosted one of the weekend’s biggest parties at the Hype Hotel downtown.