So, let's review.

Fast Company declared Google Glass the "winner" of SXSW Interactive 2013. Sort of. AllThingsD declared that parties- not products or panels- stole the show, adding, they were "where there real work is done". The Wall Street Journal also suggested that the focus is on re-embracing the physical.

And, of course, there was Grumpy Cat.

So, who won overall? In my opinion, none of them.

The reality is that SXSW, this year, as every year, is really what visitors make out of it. Veterans of SXSW (this year was my third), learn quickly, and painfully that there is no possible way to consume and interact with everything available - or even a majority of it. This is partly because there are so many options and partly because the panel / discussion / dinner / party you really wanted to go to was full 30 minutes before starting.

So rather than trying to pick a winner, I'll focus on a series of themes that stood out during my days in Texas:


(The MakerBot: Replicator 2 and products made with Autodesk iPad app. / Photo: MakerBot)

(Photo: Matthew Knell)

  • Brands as incubators - the Nike+ FuelBand has inspired a whole new way of thinking for marketers - offering products and solutions that extend your brand through making your consumer's lives easier. In this regard, Target's retail accelerator, in partnership with Fast Company's Co. Labs, is challenging developers to build innovative mobile apps to improve the retail experience for a $75,000 prize. Target will offer API access to their retail data, and will work with finalists to make sure their solutions fit the target brand. These sorts of partnerships will become more common as brands, looking to be more nimble step outside their own walls for fresh inspiration, and developers look for more interesting data sets to play with and problems to solve.

(The Samsung TecTile Wall /Photo: Matthew Knell)

  • Touchless tech... the next big thing? - Using Near Field Communication (NFC), Samsung allowed you to pay for a pedicab ride, or get a free cupcake or ice cream just by waving your NFC-enabled phone at tags (Samsung calls them TecTiles) all over the city of Austin. Samsung had no shame in flaunting one of its biggest product advantages over Apple devices, and put it to good use in trying to meet Maslow's hierarchy of needs for conference goers.
(#sxswRTM Panel: L to R: Bonin Bough, Mondelez International; Gary Vaynerchuk, VaynerMedia; Steve Doan, Oreo; David Berkowitz, 360i; Albert Chou, Expion; David Teicher, Associate Editor, Ad Age / Photo: @stevehall)

  • Real-time marketing is challenging - The challenge to replicate the Oreo Super Bowl moment has driven marketers to rethink how they create social content. A spirited exchange on a Expion sponsored panel, called "The Power of Microcontent and Marketing in the Moment" featuring some of digital's biggest thinkers, showed the ink isn't even dry on the right ways to do "real-time marketing." Its success and failure depends on having the right brand and team to make it happen.
(Grumpy cat greets her fans! / Photo: Matthew Knell)

  • IRL matters - The appearance of Grumpy Cat at Mashable House illustrated what makes SXSW best, the limited opportunity for people to crossover from Internet to real-life, to meet each other, put faces to Twitter avatars, and above all, cheer for a cat who stole the Internet's heart.


Adding one more entry into the chorus of voices sharing their perspective on SXSW has allowed me to better absorb what matters to me through the noise. While many have declared the festival "over" or "a thing of the past", I still find the experience unique enough to where I'd recommend trying to go yourself if you've never been. The real winner in this sweepstakes is you.