4 Ways to Help You Survive #SXSWi 2012, From a Veteran
It’s that time of year again when techies, and lots of marketers and journalists, descend on Austin, Texas, for one of the largest annual technical conferences, South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi). SXSWi will be taking place Friday, March 9 through Tuesday, March 13. The conference is massive in every way -- total number of attendees, parties, sessions, technology and, of course, buzz. In addition to behemoths such as Microsoft, IBM and Google, masses of fledgling companies and individual entrepreneurs arrive hoping to be “Southby’s” next Twitter or Foursquare. Here are a few things to watch for in the SXSWi 2012 whirlwind.

What to Watch at SXSWi 2012

SXSWi always provides a bit of foreshadowing about what will be the next big thing in technology. In 2007, Twitter was hot; two years later it was location-based social networking with services such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Last year, it was all about group social. I think this year’s thing will be ambient location and people discovery, which is an evolution of (over sharing) social and location technology. Instead of requiring users to explicitly check-in, this technology detects location and makes relationship recommendations about the people around you. Startups like:

  • Highlight -- lets you know if people you may have something in common with are nearby; it relies on Facebook data
  • Glancee -- alerts you if people with similar interest are nearby
  • Sonar -- analyzes Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter and alerts you if someone you have something in common with is nearby

will be at the conference pitching their wares.

In addition to new technology products, SXSWi always features a wealth of technology discussion. This year, big data and gamification will be big topics at SXSWi. Countless panels, discussions, workshops and hackathons exist to explore the topics from all angles.

Having an Epic Experience

If this is your first year attending SXSWi, increase your chances of having an epic experience by:

Learning Opportunities

  • Creating a schedule in advance. Every time slot from 9 am to 10 pm has at least 20 events occurring simultaneously. Select two or three items for each timeframe. If sessions are full or the content isn’t what you expected, you have a backup plan. Don’t wait until you're on-site to figure things out. You will be overwhelmed and miss great content.
  • Having a goal and sticking to it. Are you at SXSWi to party, network, make business deals, learn or some combination of things? Keep in mind why you are attending the conference and plan your activities around that goal. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of the event and miss valuable opportunities.
  • Installing an app or ten. SXSWi is overflowing with apps that help with everything from finding sessionslocating foodnetworkingmeeting new people or just letting the world know what you are doing. Install some.
  • Talk to people. Sure, there are tons of sessions and panels at SXSWi, but it’s not all about the official schedule. An eclectic mix of people and personalities attend the conference. Every day meet someone new, and you’ll likely learn twice as much as what’s planned on your calendar.

You can also check out the SXSW first timers' guide for additional tips on optimizing your SXSW experience.

My complete schedule is available for you to view it as it progresses or make suggestions. I will definitely be visiting Google’s VillageStartup Village and IBM’s Future of Social Lounge in addition to my full agenda of daily sessions on topics ranging from big data, new trends in web development, mobile and social media. If you don’t catch up with me outside of a conference room, there have also been rumors that I may attempt to demonstrate my “mad vocal skills” at TechKaraoke; I can neither confirm nor deny this.

If you will be at South by Southwest Interactive, I’d love to meet you. Leave a comment below and let us know you’ll be attending.