I'm about to board a plane to Austin, Texas. Not because the weather is better (it's actually raining there) or because I am in dire need of a breakfast taco (though I am). I'm going to this thing, Ess Ex Ess Double You, or South by Southwest for short. So are thousands and thousands of other people. And we're all there to take advantage of each other, which is why SXSW exists.
Officially, SXSW Interactive — the nerdiest of the three components of SXSW — is "an incubator of cutting-edge technologies" and "the place to experience a preview of what is unfolding in the world of technology." Forgive me for being existential, but what is a conference, really, if not the people that are there? So what follows, our guide to SXSW, is a taxonomy of the folks going to SXSW and why they are going.
Journalists/hacks who need an app to write about
Hello there! I cannot tell you how many shitty apps and online services are pitched to me and every other tech writer every single day of every single week--I'm sure the whole process amounts to enough man-hours collectively to build the Great Wall of China out of Lego, four times over--making tech writers unbelievably desperate to find the one or two good internet things that you, normal person, will actually be using in a six months.
Or, we're going to be on a panel with smart people, where hopefully we will say smart things too, or things that sound smart enough, and then hopefully the other smart people will tell us how smart we sounded, too. Oh, and all of us in New York miss all of our hack friends in San Francisco, and this is one of the few times a year we're allowed to hang out with all of them at once and drink heavily.
Lastly, we just want to talk to interesting people and maybe interview them. I do, anyway. So please, come to talk to me.
People who have an app to launch
"Our app is like Twitter, but for 30-something moms who live in the Southeast and are into cross-stitching with one eye open and a real taste for adventure in hula-hooping." The codemonkeys and the worldchangers have something to show you. It doesn't cost any money because they just want users and they'll worry about making money later, because that's not the point, changing the world is.
I don't mean to be too mean: Twitter and Foursquare--a pair of services you probably actually use!--exploded onto the scene at SXSW. And odds are, there'll be something this year that every one of the people above can't stop using or talking about. Then maybe you'll be using it in six months too. Or sooner! These cycles get more and more compressed all the time because the hype machine is so damned efficient and so starved of signal to amplify, maybe critical mass can be reached in three months, not six.
PR People who have an app to pitch
The people above? If they've got money behind them or if they've done it before, they've got a few of these people with them. The service they're pitching is unlike anything you've seen before, it's a hyperlocal local Instagram for food.
They're there because the journalists are there--so many of them!--all in one place. It's a year's worth of email pitches in 30 minutes. Friends are made, coverage secured. Now you know about their client.
People who need an app to make them a lot of money
Venture capitalists. What they do seems somewhat shadowy and mysterious, but it's also fairly basic: They look for the apps and services that are going to be megastars, place their bets and hope to collect many multiples on the amount of money they invested to get the app up off the ground. They buy the servers and the office space that allow those tiny burstings stars to stay up and gather users and hopefully one day cash out.
Companies who need to feel relevant
No app or service involved here! Just big old media companies wanting to look and feel young again. It's why CNN sponsors a "Grill" for bloggers to plug in. It's why the New York Times is sending down a small army of people and has a SXSW Tumblr, even though there's nothing there to possibly warrant that amount of attention and money. But you know what? Bless them all for it. It makes everybody else above's life better.
It's going to be a blast. We can't wait to tell you all about it.