This week, the crosscurrents of technology and pop culture are coursing through Austin.
Hollywood stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Jack Black are making appearances in the Texas capital at the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) soiree. So are technology innovators such as America Online co-founder Steve Case and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.
The festival, launched in 1989 to draw attention to this city's vibrant music scene, has morphed into a magnet for technology companies -- start-ups and large corporations alike -- and Hollywood, too. SXSW Interactive runs through Tuesday, giving way to the music festival that runs through Sunday; SXSW's film portion ends Saturday.
The self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World has an embarrassment of riches over the coming week with guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Norah Jones and Lionel Richie.
It's a mash-up of extreme proportions. Moseying along its famed Sixth Street, you could rub elbows with a Super Bowl champion (Green Bay Packers' Greg Jennings spoke on an online fantasy sports panel), a famous TV actor (The Office's Rainn Wilson pontificated about Web-based creativity) or a professional video gamer.
The tens of thousands of techies, filmmakers, actors and musicians all have in common the desire to become -- or discover -- the next breakthrough hit in technology, film or music. "There are a lot of influencers here," says well-known blogger Robert Scoble. "We come to get rejuvenated and find out what (are) the latest things."
Adds Tina Wells, CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, a trend-spotting company that works with brands such as Dell that are seeking to engage the Millennial generation: "You've literally got some of the smartest people in the world and some of the richest people in the world (here) who are just so laid-back, cool and open about ideas and creativity."
The festival and its operators have demonstrated what Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis calls "intelligent flexibility" by showcasing the latest in film and technology. "There is a kind of understanding that in a lot of ways all of these things are emerging out of the same world, and there's an overlap," he says. "The lines are much less clear than they ever were before, so why pretend? Just throw everybody into the same bin."
More than 50,000 are expected to officially pass through the Austin Convention Center during the 10-day festival, plagued by a dreary cold rain until Sunday's return to sunshine and warmer temperatures. But thousands more people organize, perform and attend neighboring events that bask in SXSW's glow. For aspiring start-ups, the rain, thunder, gridlock and crowds are worth it. "It is chaotic and a bit of a hassle, but it is a great place to meet clients and have random encounters," says Victoria Ransom, CEO of Wildfire Interactive.
Some technologies getting buzz here:
Highlight, a people search app, and Glancee, another app that combines your location with the likes and dislikes of other smartphone users nearby, are trending topics in conversation and the subject of multiple panel discussions. "The whole idea of ambient social marketing is (that) your phone will tell you the person next to you is a Yankees fan, and if you are a Yankees fan, you should strike up a conversation with him or her," says Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive.
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