SXSW 2012: 'Spring Break For Geeks' Kicks Off in Austin

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AUSTIN, Texas - The city of Austin is about to get a whole lot nerdier, at least for the next couple of days.

The annual South by Southwest Interactive festival (don't call it a tradeshow!) kicks off today, and like year's past, the city is expected to be swarming with a mix of technology, social media and creative types.

As some put it, the show for people who love the Internet is about to start.

"It's spring break for geeks," says Robert Scoble, who is notorious in the technology industry for knowing about all the next big apps and start-ups. "So many people are here from around the world and most of them are tech passionate. It's become one of the most important events for networking and accelerating the growth of companies."

Over 20,000 people are expected to be attending the interactive portion of the show. The music and movie events begin later in the week.

Courtney Boyd Meyers, the features editor at The Next Web, describes the event as a "fun melting pot of entrepreneurs, journalists and investors." Fun being the key word.

While there are hundreds of panels in the Austin Convention Center on a whole range of topics, including social gaming, start-up leadership, and Internet culture, the parties are where the real networking happens.

"It ends up being one big networking event where everyone is in a relaxed mood," Michael Dodd, a partner at Austin Ventures, explains."You'll find everyone from Valley Venture Capitalists to CEOs of major start-ups in a T-shirt and jeans with a beer and BBQ in hand listening to live music."

Some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley, including Skype, Facebook, have sent out invitations to SXSW attendees. Jay Z is playing American Express' party while other popular bands like Third Eye Blind and GirlTalk are set to headline others.

In the year's past, the show has served as a major launchpad for particular tech apps and services that then went on to gain a widespread user base. Back in 2009, FourSquare debuted at the show; the service now has 15 million users. In 2007, Twitter put some major publicity at the show and, well, it certainly paid off.

The tech community is already suggesting apps like Highlight, which lets you see friends who are physically near you, might be this year's halo app.

"It's going to be Highlight and Glancee," Scoble believes. "The people here are very mobile, and very social, and they are walking around with the leading smartphones. These are the people to get hot and bothered about a new service."

ABC News will be on the ground in Austin for the next couple of days; stay tuned for coverage of what might just be the next big things in media, technology, and social networking.