Welcome to SXSW
Every spring, downtown Austin transforms into blocks upon blocks of in-your-face branding, interactive activities, and venues supplying endless amounts of food and alcohol. Walking downtown, you can hardly move ten feet without watching some demo or getting handed a crisp libation (Editor’s note: or nearly getting clipped by a scooter.) For those of you unsure, I’m referring to South by Southwest (SXSW), a ten-day showcase of some of the best speakers, music, film, and technology that the year has to offer.
It’s difficult to write an accurate description of SXSW, or what some casually refer to as South By. It contains bars/restaurants converted into branded experiences, musical acts scattered around town, film premieres, and hundreds of well-known speakers presenting on today’s hottest topics.
Of course, any technology event worth its salt would feel empty without one of the most influential innovations of this decade: blockchain. Thankfully, SXSW delivered.
Block by Blockchain
South By featured blockchain and cryptocurrency in its own track alongside other important topics such as sports, intelligent future, and journalism. The track included several speakers you may have heard of such as Jimmy Song, the Winklevoss twins, Ari Paul, and Linda Xie.
While 2017 and 2018 were all about initial coin offerings (ICOs) and blockchain panaceas, crypto conference presentations this year are beginning to revolve around concrete use-cases. Instead of speakers from the blockchain industry telling us how the technology could help this-or-that industry, SXSW showcased experts from outside sectors explaining how blockchain technology is already benefitting their business.
Here are just a few examples of the industry-specific talks:
- Revolutionizing Food Safety with Blockchain Tech included a panel of VP-level speakers from food safety, traceability, and quality companies.
- Real World Applications of Blockchain demonstrated the vast array of blockchain applications already in place in Australia.
- Healthcare and Blockchain: A Practical Introduction educated participants on the blockchain companies specializing in healthcare innovation.
- And The Promise of Blockchain: Hope and Hype took a self-aware approach to the sometimes overstated benefits of blockchain tech.
While blockchain breakout sessions didn’t pull the crowd sizes that some other tracks brought in, the substance was there. Without astronomical investment returns to fall back on, speakers were forced to outline the real value of blockchain tech to captivate the audience. And for the most part, they succeeded.
A Run-In with Jimmy Song
In between sessions, the CoinCentral team had the serendipitous pleasure of running into Bitcoin developer Jimmy Song. What started as a quick meet-and-greet turned into a nearly two-hour sitdown in which we discussed everything from the current state of the cryptocurrency market to family life outside of Bitcoin.
At its core, this conversation exemplifies the open-arms nature of the blockchain and cryptocurrency community. Song had no issue in taking time out of his, most likely, hectic day to chat with a couple of young crypto enthusiasts. In fact, we had to remind him of the time toward the end of our conversation so that he wouldn’t be late for his next activity. I think it’d be difficult to find that type of openness in many other industries.
The ConsenSys Blockchain House
No SXSW write-up would be complete without mentioning the Blockchain House, hosted by ConsenSys. At the Blockchain House, you could hear speeches by ConsenSys founder Joseph Lubin, learn the basics of blockchain with Black Girls Code, or simply enjoy the refreshments while talking with others interested in blockchain tech.
Although the Blockchain House was slightly off the beaten path of other South By locations, it was still wall-to-wall packed with guests. Every time you turned around, you were met with a new face to meet.
Honestly, the turnout was a surprise given the current market conditions. But, it was a pleasant surprise. The conversations I had with the people I met were mainly focused around the projects we’re working on – not the price of that week’s hot altcoin. It’s refreshing to know that so many people are continuing to passionately work on blockchain projects, disregarding what the crypto market cap may be on any given day.
From Hodlers to Builders
Overall, SXSW 2019 demonstrated that although the bitcoin price may not show it, the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry is still thriving. More people are interested in the technology than last year, and I’m sure the same will be true next year.
It’s finally feeling like we’re beginning to grow up as an industry. We’re moving away from lambos and pie-in-the-sky ideas to concentrate on the real-world impact of blockchain implementation. Listening to Song’s stories about the early Bitcoin days reminded me a little bit of where we are now, worrying about building rather than the price.
As an Austin resident, I look forward to blockchain’s future appearances at South by Southwest and learning about what new problems we continue to solve year after year.
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