SXSW has morphed over the years, moving from a music festival to a multipart, multi-industry gathering that spans the technology, film and music sectors. The interactive festival has served as an all-in industry gathering for anyone in digital, ranging from developers to marketers to technology entrepreneurs of all streaks. Brands and their agencies have flocked to Austin every March to see what's new and what's next. (SXSW Interactive played a pivotal role in the launch and growth of Twitter and Foursquare, among others.)
But this year was a little different --
the festival attracted the old guard, and new industries as well. Software developers were side by side with hardware engineers and marketers, next to a growing cohort of journalists and publishers.
We saw eight big changes in 2013:
1. Democratization of hardware. Whereas past years have focused on software/app development, 3D printing has made experimenting with new hardware more accessible, more cost-efficient, and faster. Fading are the high costs and long lead times to produce a prototype; hardware design is increasingly iterative and flexible.
2. Absence of a breakout app. Unlike previous years, 2013 did not have a true breakout app -- techies were inspired by what they could do with new hardware, rather than focusing on further developing with the current generation of technology. Many (if not most) of the new apps we saw were redundant with existing platforms and services like Facebook and Spotify.
3. Impact of social media on technology. Instead of changes in technology fueling new social platforms, social connections are driving the growth of technology. This year was the year of the indie company gaining traction quickly through crowdfunding, driven by social finally operating at scale.
4. Innovation inspiration from outside digital. Elon Musk blew away attendees with his keynote interview about innovation in space and reusable rockets. Musk demonstrated the power of not staying siloed within a single industry: his appeal was as much for his involvement in aeronautics and energy as it was for his past success in digital payments.
5. Convergence of diverse industries. No longer is SXSW Interactive dedicated to Web/software development and digital marketing. Shared talent -- and increasingly, shared content with the journalism, health care, and the aeronautics industries -- have brought them together in somewhat unexpected and sometimes inspiring ways.
6. Greater international presence. Set in out-of-the-way Austin, the festival has historically been primarily a domestic event. But as it has grown in scale, SXSW Interactive is attracting larger numbers of entrepreneurs and vendors from around the world, seeking global exposure.
7. Increased focus on content rather than strategy. Viral content and memes were prominent this year, with visits from several Internet sensations such as Grumpy Cat. This drew attention both from publishers like Buzzfeed as well as marketers who feel more comfortable with digital and social strategy, and are now turning to activate with content.
8. Some tech trends just won’t die. A few technologies like NFC, RFID, QR codes, and augmented reality have been showing promise without ever seeming to reach their potential for several years now. Experimentation continues, but no one has cracked the mass appeal just yet.