Okay, you’re going to SXSW, now what?

Each year I mean to write a guide for those new to SXSW. I had a pretty rough time my first year, mostly because I didn’t listen to the most frequent advice I recieved. Every year since I’ve been getting a bit better at handling the insanity. Last year I keynoted the conference, which was an experience in itself!

This guide is aimed at people new to SXSW. If this is your first time, welcome! This is a pretty overwhelmingly giant festival now! This will be my 5th year at SXSW. Looking forward to seeing you here!

0. Arrive a Day Early

Whether you’re new or returning to SXSW, a great thing to do is to arrive a day early. Not only will badge lines be shorter but you’ll get a chance to walk around Austin and orient yourself before you get caught up in the mob.

If you don’t arrive a day early, don’t panic! Eat before you get into the badge line or you’ll pay top prices for the food at the convention center after you finally get your badge.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Geography

A lot of what happens at SXSW is bounded by 11th and 1st, Lavaca and Red River. The streets in between are for you to discover yourself!

Just remember – you can see the Capitol building from Congress, and if you go past Red River, you’ve probably gone too far.

Here’s a quick map so you can get your bearings:

SXSW Streets

2. Don’t Overschedule/Schedule Panic

Or better, don’t schedule at all. Pick 1-2 events/panels you’d like to see, but be ready and willing to drop them in case something more interesting comes up or you get caught in a conversation.

Better yet, bring the people you meet to the sesison if you’re so intent on going to it.

Yes. You are going to miss something. Heck, you’re going to miss a lot of things. If you get upset about stuff like that you’re missing the point of SXSW.

3. Bring Battery Backup

SXSW works best with a mobile phone, but it fails when you’re out of juice. Pick up an extra battery pack for your phone and travel as light as possible. Print out pertinent information such as phone numbers and the address to your hotel. Put it in your wallet. If your phone dies it will probably die at the worst time. Paper never loses it’s charge.

Finally, don’t install any of those “ambient networking apps”. If you were at SXSW last year you’ll know what they did to your battery life.

4. Skip the Big Events

Have you ever been to Europe in the middle of tourist season? Ever been in line at an airport? Ever been to some place where you stood in line to get in, lined up for the bar, then lined up for food and then for the bathroom? Skip this junk. It’s not worth your time and it’s not fun.

Unless you’re on the VIP list and/or the party is run by your best friend, you’d better either arrive early or don’t arrive at all. Don’t get me wrong, you should go to one if you’re really into that kind of thing, but often the music is so loud that you can hear it/see it from the balcony of another bar. Just go to that bar instead, or make your own meetup. Or stand on the street and talk with people.

Even hanging out in a hotel lobby late at night or a nearby coffeeshop or bar will get you involved into interesting conversations and exciting people.

Exception: Brunches and BBQs are always awesome. Daytime events are less likely to be loud and more likely to be delicious and efficient! Go to them and meet awesome people! Brunches usually sell out instantly, but with some begging to the event organizer you might be able to get in (or not).

5. Find a Hideout/Lounge

Whether it’s a giant lounge inside the Austin Convention Center or a small coffeeshop 4-6 blocks away you’ll need a place you can rest and recharge for a while. Your brain and feet will thank you.

The best thing about finding and stopping at a lounge or hideout is that you can invite people to meet you at your secret hiding spot too. You’ll probably see a bunch of people you know the doing the exact same thing.

6. Use Eventbrite to Find Interesting Smaller Events

New events crop up all the time on Eventbrite. A lot of them are smaller and have great people at them. Here’s a quick link to see which ones are going on: []https://www.eventbrite.com/directory/?q=sxsw&loc=austin%2C+TX EventBrite SXSW Search]. A lot of events don’t require badges, either.

7. Use SMS or Group Chat

Tired of too many text messages? If you’re at SXSW with a group or team, communicate through GroupMe groupme.com/. Get the app on your phone as quick as possible to avoid getting SMS messages.

Too many different groups? Get people’s phone numbers and text them or communicate through Facebook messages. There’s no time for email. Don’t even look at email unless you’re in hideout/lounge mode. There won’t be any time.

8. Choose Your Drinks Wisely

It’s easy to drink too much at SXSW.

I generally choose one night to drink heavily (mostly on a night that I know has a great free brunch in the morning) and drink only a few beers or nothing at all the other nights.

A good friend of mine suggested the quick go-to drink of his: cranberry juice and soda.

  • Looks like alchohol, so you can look like you’re partying hard, I suppose
  • Keeps you hydrated/sane
  • Will usually be given to you free by the bartender
  • Won’t make you cry/puke the next morning and miss all those panels/brunches you wanted to go to!

9. Breakfast Tacos, Foodcarts and BBQs

  • BBQs are one reason why you should arrive one night early. You can grab your badge and then grab delicious BBQ at the Iron Cactus right at the Convention Center. There won’t be a giant line and you’ll be in for an awesome and delicious experience. Vegetarian? Grab corn on the cob, potato salad and/or a baked potato.

  • Breakfast tacos are great fuel after long nights and hopefully not so nasty hangovers. They’re cheap, tasty to eat and get you going quickly.

  • For really late nights, or if you don’t have the time to sit down for a meal, grab something from a food cart. They’re everywhere.

10 Ride a Trolley Around Downtown!

Esri Geo Trolley

Fri, Sat and Sun from 9:45am-5pm there will be a free trolley running up and down the hill from downtown Austin to Esri’s Lavahouse on 16th and Lavaca. Just look for the trolley with the globes and maps on the side and take a ride up to 1614 Lavaca Street.

In addition to lounge area, the Lavahouse will allow you to get custom trading cards made of yourself, or take your fingerprint and turn it into a 3d city you can zoom through with a Xbox Controller.

If you’re lucky, you signed up for on the Esri geo brunch or geo happy hours before they sold out. However, anyone curious or interested in geo is free to stop by between 10am-5pm Fri, Sat and Sun during SXSWi. No badge required!

Enjoy and see you there!

Amber Case can be reached at Amber Case.

Esri Events at SXSW

Here’s what Esri will be doing at SXSW this year!

Catch the Esri Trolley!

Esri Trolley

Catch the Esri trolley to the Lavahouse! The trolley runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9:45am to 5pm! (No badge required!) Look for the trolley with the giant globe on the side!

The trolley picks up at 5th & Neches and will take you straight to the Lavahouse! You can also see where the trolley is on the live tracker map!

Friday Geo Happy Hour

Saturday Geo Happy Hour

SXSW Official OAuth Meetup

Sunday Geo Brunch

Esri Open Data Hackathon with City of Austin

Panel: The Commoditization of Overnight Entrepreneurship

Esri Lavahouse

The Lavahouse is open to the public! (no badge needed) Stop by at any point during the day to hang out with other like-minded geo people and check out the cool demos!

  • Fri 3/8, Sat 3/9, Sun 3/10
  • Open 10am-5pm

1614 Lavaca Street

Austin, TX

(Entrance is around the back)

The trolley picks up at 5th & Neches and will take you straight to the Lavahouse! You can also see where the trolley is on the live tracker map!

Esri Trolley Map

I’ll be Keynoting SXSW 2012 in Austin, Texas on March 11th, 2012 from 2–3pm CST!

SXSW 2012 - Austin, Texas

I’m excited to announce that I was offered a keynote speech at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin, Texas! I’ll be doing an extended version of a talk on cyborg anthropology and the future of the interface, and will then go into what we’ve been doing at Geoloqi, and some major partnership announcements.

If you’re interested in the future of humans and technology, and the future of location, it should be an interesting speech! Lots of new things to talk about. Hope to see you there!

When and Where?

Keynote on Location and the Future of Humans and Technology
March 11th, 2012 from 2:00pm–3:00pm CST
Exhibit Hall 5, Austin Convention Center

Speech Abstract

We are now entering into an era of liquid interfaces, where buttons can be downloaded at will, and software flies through the air. Phones have been untethered from their cords and are free to colonize our pockets. They cry, and we must pick them up. They get hungry, and we must plug them in. We increasingly live on interfaces, and it is their quality and design which increases our happiness and our frustration.

The best interfaces compress the time and space it takes to absorb relevant information, and the worst cause us car accidents, lost revenue, and communication failures. We are tool using creatures. Prosthetics touch almost every part of our lives. Until recently, humans have used their hands and bodies to interface with objects. Early interfaces were solid and tactile. Now, the interface can be anywhere.

This speech will discuss how the field of anthropology can be applied to interface design, and how future interfaces, such as the ones employed by augmented reality, will change the way we act, feel and communicate with one another. Topics will include non-places, time and space compression, privacy, user flow, supermodernity, wearable computing, work and play, gaming, history and prosthetic culture.

Want to meet up during SXSW?

I’ll be on Twitter @caseorganic. Feel free to @ or DM me anytime!

If you are press attending SXSW Interactive and would like to schedule an interview, contact
Jennifer Lankford
theMIX agency for Geoloqi

Non-Visual Augmented Reality and the Evaporation of the Interface at SXSW 2011

On Sunday March 13th, Aaron Parecki and I will be giving a talk on Geoloqi, augmented reality and home automation at SXSW. The talk will be in the Hotel Radisson’s Town Lake Ballroom (111 East Cesar Chavez St). at 12:30Pm.

Type: Panel → Interactive
Venue: Radisson, Town Lake Ballroom (111 East Cesar Chavez St)
Date and Time: Sunday, March 13th, 2011 at 12:30Pm
Speakers: Aaron Parecki, Amber Case

Speech Description

This presentation will highlight the advantages and disadvantages of visual and non-visual augmented reality. We’ll cover alternate types of augmented reality techniques and how they have been saving us time in the past few months. We’ll demonstrate how we’ve been merging available technologies with custom programming to create location-aware social networks with custom proximity notification. Finally, we’ll describe other uses for location sharing, such as automatically turning off house lights when leaving for work, wayfinding with piezoelectric buzzers, geonotes and other mashups that can be done using sms, gps, x-10 and irc as a control hub.



Twitter hashtag:


Data Viz: Donations to the Cyborg Reconstruction Fund

Portland Donation Amount by Location - Cyborg Reconstruction Fund

On March 17, 2010, I slipped on a slippery deck in Austin, Texas. It was the last day of the SXSW Interactive Conference, and it had been a long night.

I wanted to get outside to take a break from all of the madness, and I fell. I broke all of the bones in my ankle and was rushed to the emergency room. I didn’t feel any pain, and I thought that my ankle was simply sprained. It was not. The emergency room staff gave me a pair of crutches and told me how to walk on them. It was very difficult at first, but now I’ve gotten pretty good at them.

I woke up the next morning still in shock, so nothing hurt yet. My flight from Austin to Portland was later that afternoon, and I was determined to go home, even with a broken ankle. I took a few Tylenol and got to the airport with the help of Paige Saez and many others at the Social Media Clubhouse. When I got back to Portland I asked Twitter for an orthopedic surgeon. @pdxflaneur gave me the name of one and I scheduled surgery the next evening. I was checked into day surgery at 3 Pm and waited for surgery until 1Am. The waiting was the most difficult part.

Then, I became a Cyborg. Here’s an X-ray of what the orthopedic surgeon put into my ankle. The surgery was originally supposed to take 45 minutes, but when they opened up the sides of my ankle, they realized that all the bones had splintered into tiny pieces. The surgery ended up taking 4 hours. A lot of hardware was required to stabilize the bones while they healed back into place.

Amber Case's Cyborg ankle post-surgery

Right away, Vancouver-based photographer Kris Krug started the Cyborg Reconstruction Fund in an attempt to help defray medical costs. Once the word got out, the donations started rolling in. Aaron Parecki and I thought it might be fun to visualize the data.


The following images are visualizations of donations to the fund from March 20, 2010 to April 10, 2010. The data was taken from a PayPal Excel file and put into a SQL database based on location and amount of donation. The Google Maps API was used to place and visualize the donation data.

Bar Graph - Average Donations Per State Cyborg Reconstruction Fund

Here, we graphed the total amount of money donated by ‘state’. Oregon was in first place, with $1,200, followed by California, New York and Washington State. Note that this graph has some non-states as well, like British Columbia, London, Ontario, Quebec and Alcorcon (which is in Spain). Perhaps it could be called donations by territory instead.

Total National Donations Per State - Cyborg Reconstruction Fund

Here are the total donations per state. Oregon had the largest number of donations, but the average donation amount amount was less than the other states.

National Average Donation Amount Per Person - Cyborg Reconstruction Fund

This map shows the average donations per person by state. Washington and New York had the largest donation amount per person, but less donations overall. California followed, due to some awesome people in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

National Donation Amount Per Location - Cyborg Reconstruction Fund

This map shows donations by location and amount.The size of the circle shows the total volume of money donated. The circles are set at 50% opacity, so many donations overlapping (in the case of Portland) create a more opaque circle.

Portland Donation Amount by Location - Cyborg Reconstruction Fund

This map shows donations from Portland, Oregon. Portland had the highest number of donations, which makes a lot of sense. Portland is my local tech community! Everyone was kind and concerned about the injury. But there’s an issue on this map: circles float above people’s houses. This undermines personal data privacy. To fix this, the address data of donors was made ‘fuzzy’ in order to protect the confidential addresses of Paypal donors. The fuzziness was made by taking the latitude and longitude coordinates of each address and adding a random number to each.

Again, to everyone who has chipped in: thank you so much for all of your messages, your kindness and your support. The surgery actually cost more than twice the amount of the estimate that shown on the donation site. I applied for financial support from the hospital system, so things should turn out okay in the end. If it wasn’t for all of you, I wouldn’t have been able to pay the necessary bills required at the hospital. All of you made that possible. You helped purchase a walking boot, X-rays, appointments and checkups, local anesthesia, food, and pain medication. You got me through.

And you’ve all made me feel connected to this community in a much different way than ever experienced before. I’m honored to know so many incredible people. Thanks again for your amazing connectivity and efforts.

A Great Big Thank You

It turns out that it does “Take a Village to Build Cyborg”. Thanks again to the wonderful Vancouverites Kris Krug, Danielle Sipple, Dave Olson, Jason Saunders, and Robert Scales. Thanks to Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells for providing support and help with getting some funding and insurance. Thanks to Ponzi Pirillo for the delicious sandwiches and multiple rides to the hospital. I couldn’t have fallen in a better place. I couldn’t imagine falling alone.

Thanks to Paige Saez for helping me at the airport, through security, for carrying my stuff and keeping me company on the long plane ride from Austin to Portland. Thanks to Sheldon Renan for bringing me comics and soup and providing continuous council. Thanks to Brian K. for bringing ferns with microchips in them to my hospital room. Thanks to Ian Carmany for dealing with impossible hospital room waits and a whole lot of other things.

A very special thanks to Abraham Hyatt, Igal Koshevoy, Chris Pirillo, Audrey Eschright, Linda Canavan, Anne Buckley, Valdis Krebs, Orian Marx, Kate Bornstein, Susan Farrell and Spary Dauterman.

Enormous thanks to Periscopic, SalaamGarage, and Bo McFarland.

While I can’t mention everyone, I made an effort to personally thank everyone by E-mail. If you didn’t get an E-mail from me, please let me know! I want to make sure that I thanked you! It’s very important.

Still want to donate?

This donate link will take you directly to PayPal.


Amber Case, (@caseorganic) is a Cyborg Anthropologist studying the interaction between humans and computers and how our relationship with information is changing the way we think, act, and understand the world around us. She’s obsessed with compressing the space and time it takes to get data from one place to another, especially when the final destination is the mind.