SXSWi Wrap Up: Spectacular

by francine Hardaway on March 16, 2009

While I had some doubts about going to SXSWi in the current environment — it seemed frivolous, since my panel had been rejected — it turns out to have been a very (randomly) wise decision. I met some wonderful new people, caught up with great old blogospherical friends like @QueenofSpain, @Pistachio, @Scobleizer and @rocmanUSA, performed some (I hope) valuable acts, and learned a whole bunch.

First and most important learning: the world is not over. Although I knew this before, it was reinforced by the 20% growth in the interactive part of the Festival this year. Social media is growing in influence, and more corporate types came to watch us early adopters play. Major brands have undertaken serious programs to get to know their customers and to share information with them in less strident and locked down ways than traditional corporate communications.

For example, I read, for the first time after meeting one of its creators, the FedEx blog. And I helped Valerie Jenkins circulate information about the blog she’s launching at Serious Materials, a green building materials company founded by Silicon Valley technology veterans with vision. I supplied my friends with their “Green Jobs, Get Serious” buttons, which turned out to be in demand.

I visited the Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator, and realized that Mr. Softy sponsored this year’s BloggerLounge, too. Big social media push for a mature company.

I also learned that startups can really catch on at SXSW, even when they are in their true infancy. Three Arizona companies launched this week: GetWhuffie, a site dedicated to recognizing social capital with virtual currency; JustSignal, a solution for people overwhelmed with information now that Twitter has “jumped the shark”; and Texder, a for-sale-by-SMS solution that means you no longer have to put your phone number on that beater car you are selling. Yes, I gave out their promo cards, too. I have no shame about promoting Arizona startups. Take a look at them:-)

All these companies are self-funded, right in the middle of the Rec (or is it Depr)ession, demonstrating that creativity does not cease during tough times — in fact it revitalizes itself and reproduces. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. We will be okay if we focus on the JustSignals and the Serious Materials’ of the world and not on AIG and the dirty past.

I had quite a surprise in the health care arena, too. An “intimate” conversation about the era of the e-patient drew overflow crowds — about 50 of us were all sitting next to each other on the floor, after the one table with its eight chairs filled up–anxious to discuss the ramifications of everything from self-diagnosis to electronic health records and data security. An apparent generational divide turned out to be not-so-generational as some of the older folks in the room proved ready to share their information to make the world of medicine a better place. And as for the younger members of the group: they are 110% in favor of patient social networks, provider information sharing, and personal responsibility for transforming the system in the US. Change will come here; we had young physicians in the room who are experimenting with new models that involve leaving the office and going to the customer.

Last, and certainly not least, I was invited by Brian Roy, founder of JustSignal, to participate in the salon every evening. I got to meet Peter Himmelman in person, and find how just how brilliant he is as a musician: he’s a cross between James Taylor and a rapper. And I got to work with Sean Michael Wright, the director, who reads everything from particle physics to Marc Canter’s blog and puts it all out there on a live stream for us to discuss. I have not had such a complete mental workout in years, and I learned I have to go back and re-visit matter and anti-matter.

If you weren’t there, I urge you to follow some of these links and get to know these incredible people and companies. Yes, I”m exhausted. Yes, I have a sore throat. But, boy, am I a happy girl! (intentionally mixed metaphor)

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