SXSW Interactive: day one

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Credit: Brittany Ryan
Credit: Brittany Ryan

Experiencing South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive is like witnessing a marketing lab. Every conceivable way to promote a service, product, or even an educational session is on full display. Pillars are covered in posters and promotional material. Vehicles are wrapped in brand messaging. Music blasts from demonstration centers located in tents and buildings all over the city. Event teams roam the streets of Austin and the halls of the convention center, handing out branded swag and postcards that contain special offers, educational programming and party invites.

The amount of printed material is astounding, given that this is first and foremost a digital festival. Product booths and brand sponsored lounges hand out print brochures, business cards, flyers and posters. Print newspapers and magazines are prominently displayed in a series of racks along a lengthy hallway on the first floor of the Austin Convention Center. And, attendees are grabbing up all that printed stuff. 

Ads adorn just about every physical surface imaginable, including the interior windows of the convention center and even Austin's pedi-cabs. Offers of free food and drinks served in branded containers are prevalent, and appear to be highly effective in drawing attention of SXSW attendees today, even if the wait involves standing outside in the rain. (Branded rain ponchos were among the most sought-after swag items.)

Sessions began at 2:00 today, and one of the most fascinating featured events was a “fireside chat” about Google+ with Guy Kawasaki and Vic Gundotra. Kawasaki's new e-book, “What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us” was offered to SXSW attendees in a downloadable 135 page PDF format for a very limited time after the session ended, thanks to a sponsorship by Samsung.

The session on Google+, along with chatter about Kawasaki's book and the offer extended to attendees, generated a lot of buzz in and outside the convention center. The net takeaway from the session is the prediction that Google+ will surpass Facebook and Twitter in popularity. So, get thee to Google+. Kawasaki's book is a great navigation guide.

A note for those following from afar: SXSW keynotes and featured speaker sessions are streamed live. Tomorrow's live-streamed sessions include a session by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman entitled, “The Start-Up of YOU: 21st Century Career Strategy.” It begins at 11:00 a.m. Central/12:00 a.m. Eastern.

Today, Shutterstock.com kicked off “Austin Translation: a Photo Documentary of SXSW 2012,” an innovative guerrilla marketing campaign to document SXSW. Five on-scene photographers will be documenting everything from conference panels to food trucks to landscapes, capturing the real Austin, and streaming their photos live to a curation team. Shutterstock has also invited attendees to be a part of the story by tweeting their photos to @Shutterstock with the hashtag #SXSWpix.

Additionally, the Shutterstock mobile photo booth, will park outside the hottest parties each night, providing attendees with their own mini photo-shoots. Festivalgoers can find the 1983 Volkswagen Westfalia on Foursquare, or by following Shutterstock on Twitter. These photos, along with those tweeted in and shot by on-site photographers, will all be projected nightly from 7pm CT to 1am CT, onto a six-story wall projection on the corner of 5th Street and Colorado, in Downtown Austin. The feed will also be available to viewers worldwide via Shutterstock's Facebook page.

Unfortunately, most of the talk today — in the convention center and on social media — was all about the rain and the extraordinarily long lines at registration. The cold, rainy weather undoubtedly kept a lot of people in their hotel rooms, postponing their arrival at the registration center until the afternoon. I'm guessing it's possible that they all showed up at once. The result of all that procrastination was gridlock. Here's an image of the line from inside the registration area posted on Twitter by @adamnash: and another posted by @linds2023 showing the doubled line waiting to enter the registration area. Quite a mess.

Many of the people I encountered today are hoping that some of the techno wizards in attendance at SXSW this year will come up with an innovative way to handle high volume conference registration and credentialing.

Pamela Oldham is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Follow her live tweets from SXSW @dmnews.

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