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With each year, a bigger byte

Sure, music and film get a lot of attention, but SXSW's Interactive component continues to expand

Omar Gallaga

The basics

South by Southwest Interactive runs Friday and through Tuesday and features speeches, panels, book readings, discussions, workshops, design competitions and more. This year's keynote speakers include Twitter CEO Evan Williams, social networking expert Danah Boyd, Valerie Casey of the Designers Accord and Daniel Ek, CEO of the music service Spotify. The walk-up registration rate is $550.

Why it matters

Last year's SXSW Interactive grew about 25 percent to 11,200 attendees while the Music and Film fests stayed flat from the previous years. Organizers of this year's festival say Interactive is poised for even more growth as subjects such as location-aware apps, mobile marketing and the shadow of Apple's upcoming iPad attract even more attendees.

SXSW Interactive is frequently the launching pad for new technologies and services like Blogger and Twitter, and companies including Facebook and Dell Inc. have used the fest to roll out announcements and new products.

The fest is a gathering of hard-core techies, social media gadflies, digital creatives, design experts, Twittering celebrities, bloggers and more.

What's new this year

ScreenBurn at SXSW Arcade, the video-game expo that is free and open to the public, has expanded to three days. It runs 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on the first floor of the Austin Convention Center (500 E. Cesar Chavez St.).

The festival's programming has spread beyond the Convention Center and the Hilton Austin (fourth and sixth floors, 500 E. Fourth St.) to include the Radisson (second floor, 111 Cesar Chavez St.) and the Courtyard Marriott (second floor, 300 E. Fourth St.). Themes like 'Greater Good,' Convergence,' 'Emerging' and 'Business' loosely organize the fest's panels into specific locations. Registration and the Trade Show hall are now on the first floor of the Convention Center.

Attendees will be able to exchange contact information with a smart phone by scanning 2-D QR Codes embedded on Interactive badges (more info on this at www.sxsw.com/qrcodes). The my.SXSW.com Web site and two iPhone apps – ‘my.SXSW' and ‘SXSW Play' will help you navigate the fest, change your profile and view content from the Music and Film fests.

More highlights

The Statesman Texas Social Media Awards happen at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Cedar Door, 201 Brazos St. (Sold out.)

The 13th-Annual SXSW Interactive Web Awards, hosted by comedian Doug Benson ('Best Week Ever'), take place at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Hilton.

The Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator, a kind of 'American Idol' for tech startups that debuted last year, will be Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton, with 32 companies will battle for bragging rights.

How to attend without attending

Many unofficial parties, lounges and events have sprung up around the fest for those who are badge-less. The official SXSW Interactive site (sxsw.com/interactive) posts videos (also found at youtube.com/sxsw ), podcasts, photos and other content during and after the festival.

The American-Statesman will be covering the fest heavily on the Digital Savant blog (austin360.com/digitalsavant ), on Twitter (twitter.com/360sxswi), with videos (austin360.com/sxsw ) and with panel previews and other features in print.