Hello from Austin! Now SXSWi begins

As the annual conference kicks off Friday afternoon, attendees fill Bingo boards with pictures of Robert Scoble and obsessively follow a Twitter account to learn where to find free cupcakes.

AUSTIN, Texas--I'm in Austin for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, finally. And I'm exhausted. Last night, some friends convinced me that it would be a good idea to watch the Syracuse-University of Connecticut basketball game on TV until the end, and if you read the sports section this morning, you'll know that it went into six overtimes. I was able to get, oh, three hours of sleep.

Apparently, "nerd bird" is SXSWi slang for an Austin-bound plane coming from a city like New York or San Francisco, where there would be plenty of geeks flocking to the conference. It's totally true.

My early-morning JetBlue flight from New York contained folks from Gawker, Mashable, AllThingsD, and CrunchGear. However, unlike a Thursday flight from San Francisco that happened to host Digg founder Kevin Rose, there was no flight attendant encouraging us all to Twitter upon arrival.

So what's the buzz right now? The weather is unseasonably chilly and rainy. The line to pick up conference badges is screamingly long, and I'm about to go deal with that. Friday has only a limited number of panels and discussions.

Beyond that, everyone seems particularly eager to just have some fun. And some cool SXSWi-centric games are popping up. A few days ago, something called SXSW Bingo started making the rounds. It's a sort of Bingo scavenger hunt for which players are tasked with taking mobile photos of targets that range from Robert Scoble to a Snuggie.

I've also heard that Paparazzi, an iPhone game from Socialbomb that attempts to rank players by fame stemming from how many times they show up in mobile photos, may be another time-waster of choice.

I wonder if wacky games, scavenger hunts, and other outside-the-conference shenanigans will have a bigger presence at SXSWi 2009 than they may have in the past. My reasons for thinking so are twofold.

First, given the economic conditions we're all dealing with, a lot of people in the tech and media industries are looking for something to ease the stress. I think that any out-of-work geek would smile at the fact that blogger Ariel Waldman is sporadically twittering the locations where she is giving away free cupcakes.

Second, SXSWi was big last year, and it's bigger this year . The quirky digerati who have traditionally dominated SXSWi's core may be looking for new ways to hang out, now that the conference has grown increasingly corporate.

My CBS Interactive colleague Andrew Mager is also at the conference, and he is currently playing a Twitter-organized game of "Assassins." I'm not quite sure how it works, but he has reported that he was kidnapped by rival players. Eek!

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Tech Culture
About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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