What to expect at South by Southwest Interactive

AUSTIN—Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest, a festival that's become as synonymous with tech startups as it has for new music and films. In recent years, the Interactive portion of the festival has gained major traction as a launching pad for hot new mobile and web products—after all, services like Viddy, TaskRabbit, and Foursquare got started at South by Southwest in the not-so-distant past.

The show has been dubbed the “Spring Break for geeks” by some—and for good reason. Interactive mixes emerging technology with exciting daytime demos and exclusive nighttime events. With many sessions spanning the interests of Film, Music, and Interactive attendees, it’s no wonder that the number of showgoers is expected to keep growing. According to South by Southwest’s official statistics, the 2012 Interactive portion had 24,569 registrants, and that number is expected to grow by 5 to 8 percent this year.

Large crowds show up at SXSW Interactive every year.

And there’s a lot to be excited about. If anything, South by Southwest is the place for new startups and developers to meet and mingle with larger companies. Even if there isn’t a major release, many large companies—like Facebook, Spotify, and Fast Company, to name a few—are hosting an event or making private appointments throughout the week.

Most of these startups are, unsurprisingly, app makers. We’ll see a huge wave of new, innovative apps launching over the next few days during Interactive. Some underdogs on my radar are Zya, a music creation desktop tool that launched a mobile beta during South by Southwest; Learnist, an iOS app for content creation; and Piddas21’s RemotePlay, an app that allows legal peer-to-peer mobile streaming of video, music, photos, and other media.

Meet Grumpy Cat in the fur.

Another trend that we can expect to see at Interactive this year is the meme culture overlapping with mainstream pop culture. There are several panels on the study of how a meme goes viral, including “Why we still love the honey badger?” and “The economy of the GIF.” The Mashable tent will also have in-house appearances by Grumpy Cat (my favorite!) and Scumbag Steve, where people can meet-and-greet with these popular memes in real life.

Finally, we should see some interesting new creative products for photography and design, many of which are focusing on making 3D printing more user-friendly. MakerBot just announced the Digitizer, a desktop 3D scanner that scans household objects and creates a digital file that can then be printed using the MakerBot Replicator 3D printer. AutoDesk is sponsoring the South by Southwest Create tent, which will feature a create-your-own 3D printed toy center alongside other DIY builders and hackers. Plus, there are several panels with creative endeavors in mind, like “Hacking the crowd: Artists as entrepreneurs,” “Building tools for creativity,” and “How 3D printing changed my life.”

I’m sure that just barely scratches the surface of what we’ll see at the conference throughout the week, so keep checking in with TechHive for more South by Southwest coverage.

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