“Anxiety, self-loathing, guilt.”
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At South by Southwest 2018, these three words from Westworld’s Dr. Robert Ford about the human condition will likely weigh on myself and the more than 400,000 visitors convening for the annual tech, film, and music conference from March 9 to 18 in Austin, Texas.
Like every year since 1987, SXSW has a lot to offer. There’s more than 2,100 sessions and over 2,000 musical acts. It’s impossible to see it all, but we expect to hear a lot about blockchain, meet some robots (real and fictional), and party with some of the biggest tech companies.
Technology = everything
SXSW of years past were all about the next big app. We witnessed the rise of Twitter in 2008, Foursquare in 2009, Highlight in 2012, and Meerkat in 2015. This year, we’ve already played with viral apps like HQ trivia and Vero. (If you want to play HQ at SXSW, there’s an unofficial gathering on Friday at the Austin Convention Center.) But an app isn’t necessarily going to be the big SXSW story in 2018, according to conference veteran Trevor Guthrie.
“The breakout star was interesting to see, always trying to figure out who that big bet was going to be out of Austin, but now [SXSW] has broaden to food and fashion and education,” Guthrie told Mashable. His agency Giant Spoon has been prepping big activations for HBO’s Westworld and Ready Player One.
“There’s a broader appeal outside of technology, which to me makes sense. Technology is about everything,” Guthrie added.
This year’s keynote speakers touch on that breadth of technology’s influence. Speakers include director Darren Aronofsky, philanthropist Melinda Gates, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan. vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who has been vocal about , will be appearing at two events. Separately, Sen. Bernie Sanders will be interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Mayors from New Orleans, LA; Raleigh, NC; Kansas City, MO; Columbia, SC; South Bend, IN; Dayton, OH; Tempe, AZ; Chattanooga, TN; Orlando, FL; Oakland, CA; Stockton, CA also will be attendance to speak on innovation in cities.
U.S. cities are vying not only for Amazon’s second headquarters, but the attention of startups and entrepreneurs. The WeDC House — led by the Office of the Mayor, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and the Washington, DC Economic Partnership — will feature only female artists this year.
Wu-Tang Clan performed at SXSW 2017 for WeDC
Blockchain. Tacos. Blockchain.
And yet, one technology may dominate conversations. Blockchain is a featured topic of at least 38 official SXSW panels this year. SXSW’s Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest published a round-up of blockchain-related panels and presentations.
That post doesn’t include all the panels happening on an unofficial basis in individual companies’ houses or other spaces. For example, I’ll be moderating a panel on blockchain at the first-ever Initial Taco Offering.
Yes, there will be a lot of tacos and beer flowing in Austin, and among that, conversations about bitcoin and blockchain.
“What I still love about SXSW is it’s on the weekend. There’s an automatic point of relaxation, where every conversation happens over a beer, breakfast taco, or piece of BBQ,” Guthrie said.
Other top topics we’re betting on include augmented reality and artificial intelligence, the latter of which my colleague Karissa Bell will be moderating a panel on titled, “We Want It Now: The Future of AI is in Your Hands.” At the panel, there will be plenty of talk about how AR negatively affects the state of the media and how AI can fix it.
For those startups looking to play into those spaces, SXSW will continue to be a testing ground on what marketers and entrepreneurs see as valuable. Cash-fueled corporations will be in attendance to listen to those ideas. Comcast is hosting an event for companies to literally give an elevator pitch. Yeah, we mean pitch their startup in an elevator.
For those keeping track at home or FOMO’ing between panels, there’s always Twitter. People posted 1.5 million SXSW-related tweets from March 8 to March 19, 2017, a Twitter spokesperson told Mashable.
This year, Twitter is encouraging more tweets with its SXSW emoji engine. Any Twitter user can tweet @TwitterMktg with #TwitterFeedMe along with any food or drink emoji and receive an instant recommendation for the most tweeted about Austin restaurants. The auto-responder will run from March 8 to April 7.
Parties and Perspective
Twitter made a big splash last year with its #TwitterHouse. The company’s bringing it back this year to host events with chefs, artists, activists, and actors.
But Twitter won’t be the only social network showing off its community. Facebook is planning presentations and events around Facebook Watch, Instagram, Messenger, and Oculus. Google is hosting a bunch of YouTube-related events. Pinterest is bringing back its house. Reddit and Tumblr are hosting parties, again.
For the music services, Pandora House will feature an interactive experience that makes attendees their own songs. Called Sounds Like You, the experience personalizes a song based on other songs you pick. Pandora also is hosting shows with Amy Shark, Dashboard Confessional, Jaden Smith, and more. SoundCloud is throwing a two-day showcase featuring Whethan, Elohim, Yung Pinch, Smokepurpp, and Jay Prince.
Some companies are doubling down on diversity and inclusion. Uber, the ride-hailing giant that spent much of 2017 clouded in controversy, is holding an all-day event with Walmart focused on women in tech. Uber’s Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John will be speaking about remaking a brand, something she’s been busy with at Uber.
Other companies are offering experiences with robots … and donuts.
All in all, it’s sure to be another great year at SXSW. Be sure to check out Mashable’s ongoing coverage from the show, and if you’re in Austin, get in touch via Twitter. We’ll see you there!