Looking Back at SXSW 2017 with Viget

If you were in Austin last week, you may have seen us running around, giving workshops, or enjoying some local eats. SXSW 2017 was a blast, and we were able to catch up with friends and the latest tech. Here’s a quick teaser of our trip:

Themes

We arrived on the festival’s first day to fantastic weather and the smell of delicious tacos. There were thousands of talks during the interactive segment, covering many different topics. However, there were a few popular themes that stood out:

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality (VR/AR/MR)

Last year, we said Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality would blow up, and we saw some ingenious uses of these technologies. Related products were highlights of the expo, and many speakers focused on the intersection of immersive storytelling and VR/AR/MR. Innovators are now using this technology to sell homes, share immersive journalism, enhance music experiences, explore space, and push the boundaries of cinema.

The Blending of Journalism, Politics, and Tech

On the heels of an administration change, there was a surprisingly large spotlight on social and political issues. Van Jones, Joe Biden, the NYT, and others tackled controversial issues and encouraged renewed action from attendees. Journalists also discussed the risk of pushing the boundaries of privacy and going beyond ethical storytelling in the wake of new technological developments.

Connected Hardware

Connected hardware is near and dear to us at Viget, and we were happy to see it all over Austin. From meetups to sessions to events, we saw IoT lovers everywhere. Eager innovators were looking to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds (s/o to our friends at SparkFun!). Covering everything from industrial production, cooking, and home security, there were some seriously smart products that got us thinking about our next projects!

Data Visualization

Bridging the gap between statistics and storytelling, data visualization has been a focus of ours for quite a while, so we were excited to see more on it at SXSW. Although organizations are collecting more data than ever, it’s often under-utilized. With the advancement of data analysis and visualization tools, the ability to create useful and shareable data stories is unprecedented. You’ve probably already noticed it creep into your daily life, and the future of data storytelling is bright.

Digital Influencers

I did not actually plan on watching a grown man eat chicken for an hour, and yet there I was on Wednesday morning doing just that. It was one of a few sessions I attended that discussed the interesting (and bizarre) followings and subcultures on the internet. I found myself asking, “What can I learn from this odd but popular content?” numerous times at the festival, whether it was about people live-streaming their eating habits, eSports, or ridiculously tiny kitchens. As the internet has removed many barriers to entry, digital influencers can gain huge followings and change real opinions and behaviors, bringing up interesting ethical, sociological, and business questions.

More

Still curious? Listen to SXSW sessions here: SXSW on SoundCloud.

Workshops

We submitted quite a few entries to SXSW and were fortunate enough to host two workshops this year:

What JavaScript Everywhere Really Looks Like

If you don’t know by now, JavaScript is pretty much eating the world of software. We can now build for any platform with this once-ridiculed language thanks to React, Node, and other advancements. Nate and one of our friends at the Unreasonable Group, Lawson Kurtz, led a tour of what this new world means for developers and those they work with.

Intro to Connected Devices

Back for a second year, this workshop guided newbies through the the “Internet of Things” and gave them the skills to create their own connected device. Led by Justin, Eli, and myself, attendees learned about tools and services used to connect the physical and digital worlds. Everyone took home their own hardware creation (👏 to our friends at Particle), along with the components necessary for future projects.

Events

This year, we held our very first Viget SXSW Happy Hour on Rainey Street at Craft Pride, a fantastic Texas-only craft beer bar. There, we caught up with clients, Viget alumni, and new friends.

We also joined our peers at the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) Happy Hour, seeing some familiar faces and meeting other agencies from around the world. Kudos to their event team for a well-organized, well-attended, and fun happy hour!

A staple of SXSW, many organizations rent out whole venues for the week where they host speaking panels, live music, and parties. A few of our favorites were:

  • FastCo Grill – Put on by Fast Company, this venue hosted big names in design and tech for in-depth panels and some of the best networking events of the festival.

  • NatGeo’s Further Base Camp – Hot off their Super Bowl ads promoting their first-ever scripted fiction series, “Genius,” National Geographic featured Augmented Reality experiments, a crazy robot chalkboard, and plenty of talented explorers/speakers for the week.

WeDC House – Bringing together local startups, speakers, and also politicians, WeDC recreated a small piece of the DC Tech scene in Austin that made anyone from the DMV area feel at home.

Eat, Drink, Do

Austin is beautiful, hospitable, and yes…weird! Our week in the city flew by, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of our favorite eateries, watering holes, and activities.

Eat

  • Gourdough’s – Come for the doughnut burgers, stay for the doughnuts.

  • Frank – Our favorite hot dog place. Get the Stag.

  • Chi’lantro BBQ – Food truck and restaurant. Kimchi fries and delicious bowls.

  • G’Raj Mahal – Former food truck with a tented outdoor space. Perfect if you’re hungry on Rainey.

Drink

  • Firehouse Bar – Downtown speakeasy bar. Enter through the bookcase and enjoy the cocktails.

  • Craft Pride – For craft beer lovers. This bar serves only Texas craft beer and has a small stage out back.

  • The Dogwood – A bit west of downtown. Fun and casual hangout with a patio.

Do

Since most of us had speaker passes, we were able to partake in the film and music segments of the festival (thank you, SXSW organizers and volunteers). Lesson learned – show up earlier than you think to get in! A few of our group favorites were Colossal, Mayhem, Bill Nye: Science Guy, and Meth Storm.

The best ways to get around the festival were ride-sharing(ish) and hoofing it. However, nearby Lady Bird Lake provides some highly enjoyable kayaking, especially this time of year.

Feel free to browse photos from our trip below. Until next time – thanks, Austin!

SXSW 2017

Original post by Ben Travis and software by Elliott Back