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Tens of Thousands of Technology Lovers Head South to Austin

Packed Interactive Keynote room at the 2010 South by Southwest
Packed Interactive Keynote room at the 2010 South by Southwest

This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.

Tens of thousands of people travel to Austin, Texas each year to attend the South by Southwest festival. The festival is most famous for its music and film presentations. In recent years it has also become one of the biggest new media events of the year.

Last year more than fourteen thousand people from fifty-four countries attended the event. It is the place to learn about promising new technologies.

Margie Newman describes the event as “a sea of Mac-toting, smartphone-obsessed, new media snobs on a mission to know what is next.” Ms. Newman is a public relations professional in Washington D.C. She made her third trip to the South by Southwest festival this year. We spoke with her by phone at the festival.

MARGIE NEWMAN: “When you can go to a place and not only see what’s next and see how to better use what’s already here, but also connect with people who love it as much as you do, it’s just kind of a special thing. A lot of people call South by Southwest Interactive the geek spring break. And that’s pretty accurate.”

SXSW 2010 Film and Interactive Trade Show
SXSW 2010 Film and Interactive Trade Show

South by Southwest Interactive has seen the successful launch of several products. It helped push Twitter into mainstream popularity in two thousand seven. In two thousand nine, a company called Foursquare launched its mobile networking service at the festival. The service lets friends tell other friends where they are by “checking in” using a mobile application or a text message. Foursquare’s owners say they now have more than six and a half million users around the world.

Margie Newman says quick response codes are big news at this year’s festival. The codes turn URLs and text into barcode-like images that can be scanned using a mobile phone or a QR code reader.

MARGIE NEWMAN: “It looks like a scanning device like when you’re at the grocery store but it’s a square. A lot of people aren’t quite using QR codes for marketing just yet in mainstream. But you’re seeing a lot of it here. It’s very hot this year.”

Cloud computing is also expected to be a hot topic this year, as is group messaging. The five-day festival runs through March fifteenth. Hundreds of events are planned each day. They include speeches by some of the world’s leading technology industry experts, hands-on training workshops and many group discussions.

MARGIE NEWMAN: “Without a doubt I would say South by Southwest Interactive is the place to be if you are into digital new media. You don’t want to miss it. And in fact, part of it is just being able to say you were here makes you one of the cool kids, even if you didn’t go to one panel. Just having the badge that says you were here kind of makes you worth your salt if you’re part of the new media landscape.”

And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report, written by June Simms. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports are at We're also on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.