All Posts

South by Southwest: ‘Spring break for geeks’ – USA Today

Mar 14, 2010 by Jon Swartz

AUSTIN — The sprawling South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) show is a lot of things: Tech show. Late-night bacchanalia. Music acts. Independent films. But local resident and tech worker Lexie Murray  puts it simply. “It’s spring break for geeks,” she says.

The digital masses have descended on this college town (University of Texas) to gawk at products (mostly, geo-location services and gaming applications), listen to movers and shakers in various creative fields, and enjoy the local club scene.

Make no mistake. The show is crowded, every event teeming with nerds — mostly young, white males. They stand elbow to elbow, usually at the nearest bar, trading war stories about how they eventually got funding for their startup, schmoozing or working. Many a twenty something was pecking away at their laptop while music blared at the Ustream party Friday night.

“This is about film, music and the Internet,” said John Ham, CEO of Ustream, a popular video-streaming service used by celebrities like Diddy and Miley Cyrus.  “This is about people coming together, not competing.”
That vibe was shared by Dale Blasingame, a former TV producer in San Antonio who is a mass communications graduate student at nearby Texas State.  “It’s a networking opportunity, and a way to see where the old and new media are headed,” he said.

— At its core, the show is about panels. They range from the practical (“How to make a Living as a Blogger”) to the provocative (“Can you copyright a Tweet?”) to the snarky (“Exploring Failures”).
In “How to make a Living as a Blogger,” writers from Nerve online magazine and AOL shared their tips on posting items that are widely read. The money isn’t great — don’t expect to make more than $50,000 — but you can carve out a nice supplemental income, usually by focusing content on sex, pop culture and top-10 lists, said Brian Fairbanks, who writes for Nerve.

He says one of his most read items, about the sexual hijinks of a high school student, was viewed 1 million times. For that, he was paid a couple hundred bucks. (The average blog is read by only six people, according to Technorati.)

Often, Fairbanks said, readers are drawn as much by eye-catching photos and titillating headlines than they are by words. He encouraged his audience of about 200 people to break up text whenever possible, run a photo and bio of themselves to engage readers, and keep the same web-site address for their blog once they establish a following.

— Lest anyone think the show is mostly sheen with little substance, consider the scores of cool companies with practical business uses.

uShip, deemed the “eBay of shipping” by its marketing communications director, Dean Jutilla, connects sellers with shipping services for a nominal fee. And, yes, it does business with eBay sellers.

The reverse-auction service, which has a roster of inexpensive shipping partners, has helped deliver products ranging from goldfish to a life-sized statue of Frank Sinatra to more than 100 countries.
“Shipping is not sexy, but we know how to make money,” Jutilla says. Venture firms Benchmark Capital and DAG Ventures agree: They are investors in uShip.

Read the story on USA Today.