SXSW Recommends gives real-time suggestions to festival attendees

Vera Bespalova

With 6,000 events spread out across hundreds of venues, South By Southwest can feel overwhelming to an attendee, especially one unfamiliar with the city of Austin.

Last year, the coordinators of SXSW made it possible for attendees to connect to one another by adding features like Around Me to the official SXSW app, SXSW GO. This year, they aim to make it easier for festival goers to find events all across the city with a new feature, SXSW Recommends.

Scott Wilcox, SXSW director of technology, said the newest addition to the app is designed to deliver personalized event recommendations based on a registrant’s favorited events, time, location and the popularity of the event. These factors are weighted through an advanced algorithm created by SXSW and Eventbase, which is then able to recommend upcoming events to the user.

“We wanted to give our attendees a tool that helps them discover things that we think they would like,” Wilcox said. “Those preferences are drawn directly, largely from the attendees signaling to us what events they’ve favorited and attended today.” 

SXSW Recommends utilizes GPS and iBeacons, technologies which communicate location using Bluetooth, in order to determine an attendee’s proximity to upcoming events. The feature recommends not only concerts, but also panels, book signings and other events under the umbrella of SXSW.  

“One of the things that we are using technology for is to create that sort of sense of intimacy within the event,” Wilcox said.

The new addition to the app has been received with mixed feelings.

Ethan Cummins, one of the tens of thousands of people who will be attending SXSW this year, said he feels that although the app is convenient, it caters more to SXSW newcomers who are less likely to know about pop-up shows and local acts. 

“Personally, when it comes to planning the events I’ll attend, I’m more likely to rely on other platforms such as Facebook RSVPs or the Do512 app,” Cummins said.

Psychology sophomore Lauren Burgess said she thinks the new feature will make the festival less overwhelming.

“Usually South By shows are heard about through Facebook events, random websites and word of mouth,” Burgess said. “Given that the festival is spread throughout the city and that this device alerts you when you are near an event, it has value for not only natives, but also tourists.”