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What to expect at SXSWi, part 4: The big picture

Will there be a breakout hit like Twitter this year? Of course not.

This is part four of a four-part series. Here are part one (the launches), part two (the panels), and part three (the parties).

So there are just a few hours left before I have to head to the airport and hop a flight to Austin for this year's South by Southwest Interactive Festival, and I wanted to take up just one more blog post to talk about what the week's big trends are going to be. Remember last year when everyone kept asking, "So what's this year's Twitter?" and then it didn't happen? Yeah. It won't happen this year, either.

The breakout Web app at SXSWi 2008 was arguably, which one of the founders of music blog aggregator The Hype Machine created as a way to let conference-goers organize their agendas. But its event-centric focus meant that it didn't catch on the way Twitter did in 2007. I'm pretty sure we won't see another Twitter-like breakout this year, and I think most veteran SXSWi-goers would agree. That was a case of the perfect time and the perfect place, and two years later it's still the dot-com du jour. You don't see something like that every year.

That said, we may see some moderate SXSWi stars: Loopt, Brightkite, Whrrl, and FourSquare are all going to be gunning for the top spot in location-based social networking at a conference where finding out where everyone goes after-hours is crucial.

Expect a lot of talk about the future of media and entertainment. Newspapers are dying, Twitter's all over the news as a form of media consumption, and the digital TV and movie wars are raging like 300. You'll be hearing more from me on this one.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I wouldn't be surprised if the economic recession took a back burner at SXSWi. At a more buttoned-up conference like the Web 2.0 Expo, which is happening later this month in San Francisco, I imagine it'll be front and center. But SXSWi is full of innovators and dreamers, and the what's-next focus may mean that many speakers and panelists opt to simply accept the fact that budgets are tight and times are hard, and instead target the future. Whether that comes across as hardy optimism or just out-of-touch, well, we'll have to see.

See you in Austin!