Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Rain Douses Austin as Crowds Flood Into SXSW

It’s pouring in Austin, and my AT&T data connection is already choking. For the past few years, the wireless provider has added network capacity for SXSW. In response to my tweeted complaint this morning, AT&T just sent over a map of temporary Austin hot zones and cellular on wheels (see below).

But with the rain keeping thousands of us indoors in the same spots, it doesn’t seem to be enough.

SXSW’s press office told me it won’t release attendance numbers until later in the festival, because new people will keep buying tickets during the event. With the registration line twisting for hours throughout the Austin Convention Center, it seems almost abusive for the organizers to let more people in.

Last year’s SXSW Interactive had 19,000 badged participants, up 40 percent from the year before. Based on my own anecdotal experience with flights, hotels and lines so far, there are way, way, way more people here.

There are currently more than 3,700 people currently checked in on Foursquare to the main Austin Convention Center location, and conference sessions haven’t even started yet.

SXSW is a hugely lucrative event for its organizers and for the Austin economy, with the interactive, film and music festival bringing in an estimated $167.8 million in revenue to the region in 2011.

This year, even in the rain, the city is more crammed than ever with branded tents and domes for corporate parties and showcases for cellphones, soft drinks and cars.

But the official program isn’t the end of it. This morning, I had breakfast with the folks at Zaarly, who have 14 staffers on the ground in Austin, and only one conference badge among them — for their biz-dev guy.

Zaarly is co-hosting a party tonight with Twilio and Startup Weekend, in a venue that holds 300 people. They have received more than 12,000 RSVPs.

Zaarly, which is a peer-to-peer marketplace for goods and services, is actually optimistic about long lines being a marketing opportunity. CEO Bo Fishback said he has contracted workers who will stand in lines throughout Austin this week with “Z” signs above their heads, and who will charge people who want to take their spot in line between $10 and $50.

Especially if it’s still raining here on Monday, I imagine people will pay far more than 50 bucks for spots in line to get into the free Jay-Z show at SXSW put on by American Express.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work