Today is the first day of SXSW Interactive and despite no insider access or privileged information any kind, we're determined to guide you though this annual gathering of the Geekiest Generation. This is only your correspondent's second trip to SXSW, so it's safe to say we still have no way to truly wrap our heads around this massive congregation of celebrity tech moguls, millionaire app developers, angry journalists, professional panel participants, bored investors, and a lot of straight up nerds. (And we're not even attempting to consider the Music and Film people, who are in a whole other world.) And the parties ... so, so many parties. Not in the sense of "It's a non-stop celebration that would totally blow your mind if you were here!" No, we mean: "Where did all these people come from and why are we standing in this line with them?"
The word we're expecting to hear and say a lot the next few days is overwhelming. Still, with so much happening, we decided the best way to give you a sense of what's happening in the heart of Texas is through a daily roundup of what we're hearing, who we're seeing, and how the buzziest buzzwords are winning Buzz War. Since the conference hasn't officially started yet, we're still in the opening stages. But, mark our words, even if you aren't in Austin, there'll be plenty of things you'll be sick of hearing about by Monday. With that, we present the first rankings of the things, ideas, people, places and companies that are dominating the 2012 edition of SXSWi.
FRIDAY PRE-CONFERENCE POWER RANKING
1. Rain. Forget everything we wrote about above. Everyone is paying closest attention to the weather forecast. Some vacation, huh?
2. Soledad O'Brien: Imagine my surprise when I turned on the television earlier to see Soldead's Early Morning Traveling Diner Revue had parked itself at the "CNN Grill," a brightly colored restaurant takeover that was blinking a bright neon sign outside my window all night. She's right across the street from me! Playing Jay-Z and talking about the Internet! We've arrived! Since it's Friday and her shift is up, she may already be halfway to Santa Fe, but the network has apparently gone all in on the full two weeks of SXSW. (Will there be an Anderson sighting in our future?) Just remember that your mom watches CNN, so behave yourself if you wander past any cameras.
3. Any location app, not named Foursquare: Oh, "4sq" is still the king, but that won't stop hopeful companies from following their lead into the social/mobile arena. Jenna Wortham of The New York Times lists nearly a dozen that have opened for business in the last few weeks, all timed to be ready for SXSW. Because as Foursquare proved, Austin is the prefect incubator for just such a product: Thousands of smartphone savvy scenesters suffering from FOMO in a compact, bar-filled city where personal connections are more valuable than drink tokens. Success here in Austin may or may not translate to the wider world, but if you can't make these people care enough to adopt early, then you can't make anyone adopt it ever.
4. Naveen Selvadurai: Is he even in Austin this weekend? We have no idea, but Naveen's co-invention, Foursquare, is both the prefect product of and the justification for SXSW. The fact that he was apparently forced out of the company just days before the conference began, would certainly make him a target of free drinks, suffocating sympathy, and job offers from desperate startups looking to bring on an experienced entrepreneurial star. Or maybe he'll just stay home and watch the check-ins from home.
5. Eventbrite: Here's how the SXSW party scene works. First, you RSVP to everything. That guarantees you nothing, of course, because everyone else is also RSVP'ing, so all events are wildly overbooked and unless you personally know someone throwing the throwing the party and can get you on the VIP list (which means standing in a slightly shorter line), you're all in the same boat. Before you go out for the evening, you carefully pick out the events on the schedule that you most want to attend and skillfully coordinate an itinerary based on level of interest, location of venue, and where you're most likely to see your friends. Then all that goes out the window you show up, realize everyone in the city had the same idea you did, so you stand in line for three hours wondering if you should try somewhere else, but knowing that it makes no difference because every venue faces the same problem. But what those RSVP's do get you is an avalanche of emails from Eventbrite, the online reservation system of choice for most of the events we've subscribed to so far. Will Call, which is an app designed to help you get last minute tickets, put together a separate South By Southwest tool that will replace your anxiety about not knowing which events are going on with anxiety about having too many events to attend. With one click it subscribes you to lists of dozens and dozens of events, setting off more EventBrite emails. I don't know if emailing people party invitations they have no intention of using is a business model, but they're doing a great job at it. Of course, by the time these events roll around I will likely be attending none of them, because let's face it ... there's always something better going on somewhere else.