South By Southwest Interactive 2014

This month Ben pops his ‘South by’ cherry and jets off to Austin, Texas to represent Grand Visual at this year’s SXSW Interactive Awards final. Alas, we didn’t win any new metal for the cabinet, but here Ben shares his thoughts on the talks, exhibition stands and the buzz from the world’s coolest interactive technology festival.

The Biggest Buzz

As a newbie to this legendary event, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by everything there is to see and do. However, cutting above the noise, was one man who has been in the news a lot, sometimes as the hero but others as traitor, guilty of treason. Whatever your views, Edward Snowden has put security and privacy at the top of the agenda for companies where it was once a low priority.

Interviewed via Google Hangout that was ported over seven different connections to keep his location concealed, Snowden put the onus on the tech community – individuals and companies – to change the way data is protected. You can check out the interview here and expect to see lots of new services that better protect the privacy of your online communication.

The Exhibitors

With limited time, I scoured the huge exhibition area and discovered there were some common themes amongst what was on show:

  • Paid for APIs to enhance online services
  • Big data analytics tools
  • Drag and drop apps development platforms

In terms of interactive kit, a few exhibitors really stood out for me:

  • iQ media – the media intelligence tool provider – were displaying their ability to search all media channels for keywords and deliver daily reports to you.
  • New start-up AGIC demonstrated their conductive ink, with a pen that lets you rapidly prototype electronic circuits. NASA loves it and the educational value could be huge.
  • OpenPool was showing off pool tables which use a Kinect to track movement and a projector to provide sound and light effects based around the direction and flow of the billiard balls. Best of all, it’s open-sourced, so users can upload and share their own motion graphics.
  • Digital out of home vending machines, it’s something our creative team has wanted to deliver for a long time. Freeosk had their hardware on display, plus Mondelez partnered with Twitter to bring two tweet powered vending machines producing 3D printed Oreos to the show. Also on show was Arnie the talking Beer vending machine and of course Dorito’s 62-foot vending machine and stage returned, allowing people to interact and control the lights and smoke machines during Lady Gaga’s performance.


The SXSW Interactive Awards

The pre awards party was full of innovators, game changes and those people responsible for creating innovative work. There was some serial networking, drinking and the question of the evening was “what category are you in” as everyone tried to suss out their competition.

Unfortunately our campaign for the MicroLoan Foundation missed out this time, but the big winner of the night was the well-deserved The Little Red Logo that Transformed the Marriage Equality Narrative by the Human Rights Campaign that scooped up three separate awards.

SXWSi finalist-pre-party

Next Year

Austin is an amazing place and if you escape the downtown melee and hit some the local spots (try the bars a few miles away from downtown on South Lamar Avenue) you get to meet very hospitable locals who will happily drink a few craft beers with you and recommend some of the local delicacies such as the “Dirty Harry” donut.


I’m already thinking about SXSWi 2015. What work do we enter, how do we get inspired, and how we can network with more innovators and meet more “weirdos”, as Joi Ito (this year’s top trend setter) calls them/us!