The sunshine really made a difference. South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive finally began to look and feel more like a festival. People poured out of the convention center and filled the streets of Austin. Music could be heard everywhere, and that transformed some of the grumpiness of the previous couple of days into gleeful celebration.
After soaking up some of the atmosphere (and stuffing my backpack with promo postcards and flyers handed to me by street teams), I ventured inside to explore more of the themed campuses and their offerings. One of the most interesting places I visited was a lounge and day stage set up by Ogilvy on the fourth level of the convention center. Last year, Ogilvy introduced Ogilvy Notes – “a series of visual summaries of the biggest and best keynotes and panels at SXSW,” according to its website. The summaries are displayed on giant size white boards at the day stage and prints are made available to attendees. They are very cool. See them here.
While at the Ogilvy day stage, I also had the good fortune to hear a thought-provoking and timely presentation by historian and author Jo Guldi, a professor who specializes in the history of infrastructure at the University of Chicago and at Harvard. In her session, Road to Power, she discussed the first government-sponsored information revolution, which took place in Europe from 1790 to 1830, when an interkingdom highway system of thousands of miles of roads was built that connected London’s cities.
That project ultimately ruined the economies of Ireland and Scotland when a libertarian revolution destroyed public funding for infrastructure. After giving the audience a brief history lesson, she then drew comparisons of the European roads project with modern day net neutrality as well as many other societal and policy issues of today — and the steps American society needs to take to bolster our economy for all. Following her session, Guldi signed copies of her book, “Roads to Power,” following her session.
Alas, sessions filled all the SXSW campuses, especially at the Intercontinental, where brand and marketing sessions are being held. There, attendees arrived an hour before their selected sessions were scheduled to begin. Rooms filled fast. I missed out on a session I very much wanted to see. The session was so packed that standing room was non-existent.
Disappointed, I walked further down the hallway. As I approached the hallway’s end I heard the unmistakable sounds of a Q&A session. I peered into the small boardroom and saw it was unoccupied. To my surprise, I had found the room at the campus where the live stream from the convention center played.
I settled into a chair at the empty conference table and watched a “fireside chat” featuring Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. To everyone’s surprise and delight, Systrom announced that an Android version of the popular app is currently in a private beta test.
Instagram was named Apple’s iPhone app of the year for 2011, and photographers who carry Android devices are undoubtedly rejoicing tonight. Systrom said he and his team have been working hard to create the new version and called it, “one of the best Android apps you’ll ever see.” I can hardly wait to see a test drive of the new app.
Pamela Oldham is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Follow her live tweets from SXSW @dmnews.