Last year, South by Southwest had approximately 60,000 registrants. And close to half of them – nearly 25,000 – came for SXSW Interactive.
In 2013, SXSW Interactive is still growing – but by five to seven percent, instead of the 15-20 percent leaps seen over the last few years. “That’s probably a good thing,” says SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest. He says continued but manageable growth means “a little more bandwidth to manage some of the rough edges of the event and hopefully improve the usability.” Or in the words of CNN: “SXSW may have peaked –and that's not a bad thing.”
But with more than 900 panels, meet-ups, mentor sessions, book signings and more in 2013, it’s hard to get a handle on SXSW Interactive. Despite being the place “where Twitter first ‘blew up’ in 2007” and “Foursquare got a huge launch pad in 2009,” the days of one big breakout defining the entire conference are over.
So, it's hard to get a handle on the conference – but not impossible. Organizers can still pinpoint six “popular trends and conversations” that will define South by Southwest Interactive 2013. Here they are:
- 3-D Printing: Machines that can form three-dimension objects from digital renderings are erasing manufacturing barriers-to-entry – and carrying the potential to disrupt everything from intellectual property rights to public safety. (3-D printed guns anyone?) The Wiki Weapon Project’s Cody Wilson is hosting a panel on printed guns. And Bre Pettis – the CEO of 3-D printer manufacturer MakerBot – delivers Interactive’s opening remarks today. “We always try to give the registrants and attendees as many different perspectives on the given topic as possible,” Forrest says.
- DIY & Maker Culture: As the prices of 3-D printers drop, their ubiquity is rising. It and other real-world hacks are spurring a new “makers” culture or creators; many maker events are covered under the “SXSW Create” tag this year. “Generally, hardware is a much bigger part of South by Southwest Interactive this year as opposed to previous years,” Forrest says.
- Big Data’s Big Impact: The question of how to address the snowballing amounts of data modern life generates is being explored in several panels: speakers cover everything from electoral and governing implications to Big Data’s impact on the creative process. And open data advocate Aaron Swartz is being eulogized in a town hall (open to folks both with and without badges).
- Private Space Exploration: With companies like SpaceX moving space flight from the public to private sector, space is the place this SXSW Interactive. That’s not to say private industry’s the only group having the fun: even NASA is coming in for a landing this year, having planted a full-size model of its four-story James Webb Space Telescope on the lawn of the Long Center. “In 2013, space is very hot again,” Forrest says.
- “The Internet of Things:” RFID tags are just the beginning: This emerging topic envisions a network of smart objects empowered by the plunging cost of computation. “Imagine a developing country where a bandage not only heals a patient’s wound, but also tracks data like bacteria levels and blood pressure with a built-in sensor that can be monitored real-time by a doctor,” reads the pitch for one panel.
- Wearable Tech: Think Google’s “Project Glass” … iWatch ... need we say more?
SXSW Interactive kicks off today, March 8, and runs through March 12. Are you attending? You should leave a comment below describing what you’re watching for this year.