A South by Southwest Guide to Surviving the Nerdpocalypse (2012 Edition)

*A note of introduction and hello to all who arrived from the SXSW Interactive website. They asked me a few questions, I answered, and they published this far-too-kind blurb. The lesson: Always make friends with the organizers! Enjoy the read.*

Greetings Earthlings.

Last year, I wrote a handy little survival guide for attendees of Austin’s South by Southwest Interactive Conference and Festival Week.

I did it mostly because after 18 years of attending, people oftentimes asked me how to navigate the conference. It’s a hard question to answer because the Interactive conference is so personal despite the reality that there are 12,000 lunatics wandering the streets Tweeting about the Naked Cowboy.

Instead of answering each question individually like a good human, though, I posted some advice and included a map of non-SXSW related venues that I go to each year.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Coliseum. The 2011 SXSWestians made my little post the most read of any of my personal writings so I guess that means you got a bit of value of this whole “blogging” thing.

With that in mind, I thought I’d update my Guide with the understanding that absolutely everything I said in 2011 is without question still 100 percent true: comfortable shoes, water, morning runs, sleep, avoid your friends, plugs, high fives, dinners, lunches, screen burn, avoid parties, and be respectful.

But I did leave a few things out…

My Most Glaring Omission:

  • Attend The Ultimate Bruce Sterling Talk: I am beyond embarrassed that I forgot to include the most iconic part of the South by Southwest Interactive festival. You are not an attendee of this conference until you have sat in the room with Bruce. Fact.
  • In years past, Bruce hosted the closing party, where he would wax about the state of the world. As the conference grew, that became impossible. However, his closing Rant is still the must see event of the conference. Bruce remains the heart and soul of everything the conference once was.
  • Listen to his 2011 talk. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Things That You Should Know That are Now Different About the Conference:

  • It’s Big: The Interactive conference is now the largest of the three festivals. So big that it spans 15 campuses and spawned a spin-off education event — SXSWedu — that happens before SXSW. Don’t get frustrated. The city layout won’t allow you to sprint between venues. Settle in, calm down, listen up.
  • It’s Business: Years ago, SXSW focused on media, culture, technology, coders, network engineers, and creators. Now, there’s a business focus. For some, that’s disheartening. For others (like me), it’s the natural evolution of the industry. The Start Up Village is where much of the official hob-nobbing will be happening. (And I’ll be hosting the Accelerator finals for the fourth time.) If you want a really good education on what’s happening in media, information, and technology…pop on over.

Where To Escape When the Weird Turn Pro:

  • Head to Enchanted Rock: The conference feels like it goes quickly, but it’s truly a marathon. In all likelihood, you won’t be able to maintain the breakneck pace you set for yourself. If you have time, take a little trip outside of the city to Enchanted Rock, where you can hike and rock climb.
  • Or Maybe Marble Falls: When I lived in Austin, I used to book time at Marble Falls just to get away from the city. Last year’s drought really put a hurting on the Texas hill country, but you’ll still find a nice respite from the madness. Rent a bus or take a group of new friends into the hill country.
  • But Definitely Barton Springs Pool: This fresh-water spring is 69 degrees all year round. Austinites know this is the place to go. Bring your suit, lay on the sprawling lawns or swim in the spring. You can’t go wrong hanging out here all day. And if you fancy a run, it sits right along Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail.

Some Final Tidbits:

  • Call It South By: Smack upside the head anybody who tells you only newbies call it “South by.” That’s what we call it, and I’ve heard thousands of people call it that as well. (I call SanFran “Frisco” as well. Let’s make a deal: You learn how to properly pronounce Appalachia and I’ll stop abbreviating the town you live, but aren’t from. Okay?) Don’t be hipster-ed, yo.
  • Join Our Happy Hour: A few years ago, my friend Tim (@malbonster) of Made by Many (@madebymany) started meeting at The Cedar Door on Friday as a way to kick off the Conference. In the last few years, we’ve invited more friends. Last year, we had a nice group of people say hello: some that we knew, many that we didn’t. If you’re in town on Friday, March 9 at 2 pm, come say hello.
  • Start Your Own Happy Hour: If you aren’t around on Friday, put together your own impromptu happy hours. People come to the conference to meet each other. Even if they are staring at their tablet (or phone), pull your table up. The name of the conference is “Interactive.


  • Eat at Star Seeds: There’s lots of talk about the best place to eat in Austin, but the answer is clearly Star Seeds. It’s a 24-hour diner, and while it’s not quite the “seedy” it used to be they still make the best diner food in the U.S.A. Fact.
  • Coffee at Austin Java: I like the original location on 12th and Lamar, but any of these will do.
  • Or the Spiderhouse: Years ago, this is where I wrote a large part of Dungeons & Dreamers with John Borland. It’s a little too hip and popular now, but the large outdoor seating area is perfect for an escape from the downtown madness.
  • The Twitter Hashtags: You can try to follow #sxsw or #sxswi but you’re going to pass out. There’s a lot of people. And each session has its own hashtag, official or otherwise. Instead, create Twitter lists using the SXSocial tool so that you can follow the people you want to meet. (*Ahem: @thebradking*)

One Last Thing:

  • Be Nice: I subscribe to the Patrick Swayze Roadhouse school of life. “Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” And like the Cooler said in the film: look at me and I’ll tell you when it’s time to not be nice. Until then, Be Cool Shorties.

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  • commoncents68 February 19, 2012   Reply →

    Thanks for the advice. One question, I’m staying at a hotel about 10 miles away. I heard you cant find a place to park downtown, so i was going to take cabs rather than rent a car. If you can’t catch a cab, what else do you recommend for getting around?

    • Brad_King February 25, 2012   Reply →

      I’ve been driving downtown for years. It’s a little more expensive to park these days. $8 or $10 per day, but it’s well worth it. You won’t get a cab, and trying to catch the bus is just absolutely ridiculous.

    • Brad_King February 25, 2012   Reply →

      Oh: everything in Austin is walk-able, and the campuses that aren’t…there are SXSW shuttles for those. It’s a bit of a pain waiting for them, but it’s do-able. Just be prepared to walk. 

  • Kristy February 27, 2012   Reply →

    Hey Brad,
    Just wondering if you had any knowledge of any official hashtags this year besides #sxsw?


    • Brad_King February 27, 2012   Reply →

      Generally people use #sxsw or #sxswi <== that for Interactive. Each of the sessions will have a hashtag posted in the room (and I assume the hashtags are listed on the schedule as well). The #sxsw Twitter stream, though, is an OCEAN. I recommend creating a Twitter List of SXSW attendees (use SXSocial to find people you want to follow).

  • Marioarmstrong March 8, 2012   Reply →

    Brad this is AWESOME stuff  man – thanks for posting! Will pop by the Happy Hour and the Startup Village to check you out. Really great public service you offered up here – ‘preciate it – taking convo to twitter now look for @marioarmstrong 

    • Brad_King March 8, 2012   Reply →

      Glad it was helpful. The 2011 edition, linked in the first graph, offers some more practical advice 🙂 If it’s raining tomorrow, our Happy Hour will be inside at the Cedar Door 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you (and you’ve been added on my twitter. I’m @thebradking)

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