SXSW2

South by southwest, as it turns out, is “an institution”, here in Austin, but so it seems is everything else. My morning coffee comes from a coffee shop that’s an institution, my barbecue lunch likewise and my evening drinks, well I think you’re probably ahead of me.

Given our British tendency to grab onto language trends from the US, I suspect this is coming our way soon:

in·sti·tu·tion

noun

A brand promoted as being established and belonging to a particular local area:

“Fix coffee is a Shoreditch institution”

So as usual, on returning to the US, I find myself able to understand the words in isolation, but not the meaning, and here in Austin, the official home of the weird, that’s perhaps more true than every.

The overall feeling of south by southwest is one of marketing bling, of trying to achieve a social spark (or perhaps a twitter moment) by being the biggest, loudest and weirdest. Of course it doesn’t always work and whilst some of the big brands engage with visitors in an interesting and genuinely personal way – I had a great chat with a developer at IBM about all sorts of real world stuff that he’s doing – other brands are just wheeling in the marketing folks and seeing how many “likes” they can get.

I think it’s fair to say that the Austinites (those who remain – most have fled!) and visitors are pretty wise to this, and seem to go down the route of either swag collecting or seeking out the genuinely interesting. And of that there is plenty, from robot footballers to thought controlled prosthetics and VR systems by the truckload.

The lessons I’ll be bringing back home? Well too early to tell yet as we still have days of the show to go, but “think big, move fast” certainly seems to be the mantra that these guys are sticking to, so we’ll be bearing that in mind for sure.

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