Convention Center from above
AUSTIN, Texas--Lights glitter Thursday night at the Austin Convention Center, home of the South by Southwest Interactive, Film, and Music festivals.
On Friday, the interactive (SXSWi) and film festivals begin. The music portion starts Wednesday.
SXSWi is set for 20 percent to 30 percent growth over its record attendance a year ago. That's notable at a time when many conferences are shrinking. But the Interactive festival is seen as indispensable to many people in new media and Internet businesses.
This year's event includes keynote speakers like FiveThirtyEight.com blogger Nate Silver, Wired magazine editor and "The Long Tail" author Chris Anderson; and Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. There will be dozens of panels and parties, and more iPhones and Twitter conversations than in just about any other small neighborhood in the world.
Lots of bags
One row of materials
Each bag includes a set of magazines, newspapers, and other paper products. Some SXSW attendees have raised the point over the years that the thousands of bags given out result in massive amounts of waste, as much of what they contain is instantly thrown out.
Conference organizers have acknowledged flaws in the bag system, but note that many attendees end up using the canvas bags for years for shopping. In addition, they point out, conference sponsors often insist on having their materials included in the bags.
Sea of bags
In a supermarket near the Austin Convention Center, a giant stack of soda cases touts the upcoming college basketball tournament, a big deal here, where the University of Texas is a perennial sports powerhouse.
But "March Madness" in Austin could just as well refer to SXSW, which draws tens of thousands of people to town, and is expected to do so again this year, in spite of the dismal state of the economy.