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SXSWi's party scene goes do-it-yourself

With many of the conference's big parties no longer offering open bars, and with venues even more packed than last year, the phenomenon of Twitter-organized alternatives has grown only more prevalent.

The impromptu SXSWi party at the Driskill Hotel, one of the many sporadic parties that have been redefining the conference's nightlife scene.
Brian Solis, via Flickr

AUSTIN, Texas--Over a lunch of fajitas at the Iron Cactus restaurant Sunday, one of my friends here at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival shrugged and said, "I'm just not into the party scene this year. It's all a little weird."

I had to concur. SXSWi, after all, is known for its wild parties. But two nights in, I've clocked in a total of 20 minutes at them before opting to hang out elsewhere, and I'm not the only one.

There are obviously a ton of people going to this year's bashes--the line at the late-night PureVolume House was ridiculously long on Saturday night, I hear, and the Digg party was packed with fans eager to see Diggnation hosts Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht do a live taping of the show. But many people I've talked to, especially veteran SXSWi-goers, say they're skipping many of the big, planned soirees.

There are a couple of reasons, I think. First there's the fact that budget cuts have meant that admission to a party no longer guarantees access to an open bar. That's enough to make some people just want to hang out somewhere random where it won't be as crowded.

Then there's the fact that SXSWi has gotten simply huge: last year's long lines led to impromptu offshoot parties, and the heavy influence of Twitter and the half dozen location-based networking tools people are using have meant it's easy to find out where your real friends are. On Saturday night, for example, it seems like everyone wound up at the downtown Driskill Hotel via word of mouth.

It's not just the bar scene. Conference attendees have been shaking up the whole panels-by-day, parties-by-night model with surprise cupcake giveaways, scavenger hunts, games of geek Bingo, and something called "SXSW Star Wars" that I don't quite understand. wired an RV with a Rock Band game and has been conducting mobile karaoke excursions. (You might've seen me with some friends on Friday night running up and down 6th St. trying to catch it and get onboard. We succeeded.) Honestly, it's sort of more fun and unpredictable this way.

But who knows? This may all change on Sunday night with Facebook's big annual bash.