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Say what you want about SXSW Interactive (and plenty of people have said quite a lot). But a couple of things are clear.

The annual mega conference in Austin, Texas later this week is too big for marketers to ignore — and nirvana for tech aficionados, early adopters and the easily distracted.

As Tim Leake, SVP of Growth and Innovation at RPA, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based ad agency, wrote yesterday in Adweek, "brands, startups, bands, speakers, agencies, films and events engage in a battle royale to get noticed."

SXSW, he added, is "an eye-opening metaphor for the cluttered media landscape that marketers have to deal with in today's world."

A swirl of music, film and interactive events, the event starts Friday and runs through March 22. Of course, for anyone in marketing or advertising, the focus is on the interactive portion, which runs Friday through next Tuesday.

Fire It Up

This weekend, the seventh annual SXSW Accelerator startup competition will take place at SXSW Startup Village. Presented by Oracle, it celebrates new technologies.

On Saturday, 48 interactive technology companies will present their ideas, innovations, products and services. A panel of judges will whittle the entrants down to 18, who will compete a second time on Sunday.

The winners will be honored at the SXSW Accelerator Awards on Sunday evening.

Last year, Trustev, a Cork, Ireland start-up that leverages big data, social graph algorithms and analytics to verify identity and prevent fraud, took the prize in the big data and enterprise category. It joined an exalted group of previous winners, including Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and Uber. 

You can learn more about this year's participants — who beat out hundreds of other companies for a spot on the accelerator stage – here.

Bring on the Buzzwords

PMBC Group, a Los Angeles-based PR firm, thinks it has a handle on the likely trending topics at SXSW Interactive this year. Here are its predictions on the five hottest trends:

  1. Personalization: Companies like Williams-Sonoma have been capitalizing on massive amounts of data — from demographics and purchase history to the time of day people shop and the products they consider but did not buy — to drive personalization, relevance and speed of delivery. And there are no signs this is likely to stop. Dave Vronay, founder and CEO of Heard, said companies are moving toward personalized experiences that offer both privacy and anonymity. In addition, more of them are finding ways to act on customer insights in real time to give people what they want now, rather than what they may have wanted last week.
  2. Gamification:  For those who have somehow resisted it, gamification uses data and gaming concepts to motivate and encourage behavior through rewards. Bill Trost, the co-creator of EverQuest, designer of Koi Pond and creator of Graphiti, said gamification helps companies "communicate effectively with a chronically distracted generation." Trost believes more apps will exemplify the engaging elements of games by offering users limitless ways to engage with content and be rewarded for that engagement.
  3. Geo-Location: Thanks to smartphones and a host of location-based technologies, there's a good chance someone can pinpoint your location, give or take a few feet. It's a huge marketing opportunity, one Brent Schafer, CEO and founder of Vuevent, predicts will grow even stronger. Schafer said the recent explosion of geo-location in apps will continue to expand as apps leverage users’ locations in unprecedented ways, including discovery of local social events with tracking of how many people are attending certain events, in real time. 
  4. Constant Computing: According to a new study the Local Search Association released today, 148 million US adults or 60 percent will use mobile devices when searching for information on local products and services online this year. That number exceeds PC use for the first time. The fact is that most of us are always connected. At SXSW, organizers boast that attendees will be "increasingly immersed in a digital universe where everyone and everything is seamlessly connected." Consider it a sign of life to come.
  5. Internet of Everything: People like Richard Hollis, CEO and founder of Holonis, are advancing the idea that the Internet of Things (IoT) is really the Internet of Everything — unifying all the fragmented pieces of the Internet into a holistic, integrated and sustainable web-based marketplace for businesses. Hollis expects these new platforms to open digital marketing capabilities previously unavailable to businesses with modest budgets. Such platforms will enable businesses to integrate the Internet of Everything, by taking facets of digital commerce, such as social media, data, analytics and reviews, and merging them into a central, simple-to-use hub.

But what do you think? Whether you're heading to Austin or watching SXSW from afar, what do you expect to make headlines this year?