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5 things to watch for at SXSW

Brandon Griggs, CNN
Bruce Springsteen will play a gig at an as-yet-undisclosed Austin club on Thursday.
Bruce Springsteen will play a gig at an as-yet-undisclosed Austin club on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Here are some guesses for what will make headlines at SXSW 2012
  • This year everyone is buzzing about "social discovery" mobile apps
  • Former Vice President Al Gore is set to interview ex-Facebook President Sean Parker
  • Rocker Bruce Springsteen will give a talk Thursday afternoon and then play a gig that night

Austin, Texas (CNN) -- South by Southwest, the tech-music-movie conference getting under way here Friday, isn't typically a place for big newsy announcements. The indie ethos of SXSW is more about discovering the hot emerging thing -- a new mobile app, a bold filmmaker, a brilliant set by an undiscovered band.

It's hard to predict what everyone here will be talking about by the time SXSW wraps on March 18. The festival is too huge and fractured for that, and tastemakers often disagree.

But based on early chatter, here are some guesses about what will make headlines at SXSW 2012:

Start-ups

Each year, the tech press at SXSW anoints an emerging digital-communications trend as the Next Big Thing. In 2010 it was location-based social networking, led by Foursquare and Gowalla. Last year it was group-messaging services such as GroupMe or Beluga.

This year everyone is buzzing about something called "ambient location" and "social discovery," terms for mobile, GPS-based apps that run in the background on your phone and scour Facebook or other networks to alert you when friends, or even strangers with similar interests, are nearby. Among them: Sonar, Banjo, Highlight, Gauss and Glancee.

The early favorite in this space appears to be Highlight, which will detect other Highlight users near you and show you what you have in common, such as favorite movies, TV shows, bands or mutual friends. (Hey, you like "Dexter" and Bon Iver -- me too! Let's hang out!)

Despite some obvious privacy concerns, expect to hear a lot more about these apps in the coming weeks.

Former Vice President Al Gore will interview Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame at SXSW on Monday.
Former Vice President Al Gore will interview Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame at SXSW on Monday.

Ideas

At its best, SXSW Interactive (the tech part of the conference) is about lofty ideas: how the Internet has changed us; how game mechanics can make our lives better; can social networking bring meaningful social change? And so on.

The conference hosts hundreds of talks and panels on almost every conceivable digital subject. Among this year's meatier topics: the failure of news sites' commenting systems, why happiness is the new online currency and whether photo-sharing apps such as Instagram are creating magic or filter-laden mediocrity.

We'll also hear from Sohaib Athar, the Pakistani man who unwittingly live-tweeted about the raid last spring that killed Osama bin Laden, in a talk that should shed new light on the expanding role of citizen journalism.

And then there's former Vice President Al Gore interviewing former Facebook President Sean Parker on Monday. It's not clear yet what they'll be talking about, but we're not going to miss it.

Movies

Last year's SXSW saw the launch of the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller "Source Code" and Jodie Foster's drama "The Beaver," which marked Mel Gibson's uneasy return to movies.

This week's slate of premieres looks more promising. "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon is here with a new horror film, "The Cabin in the Woods," that's gotten early buzz. Austin native Richard Linklater is back with "Bernie," a dark comedy about a small-town Texas mortician starring Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey.

And several of Bob Marley's children are in Austin to promote "Marley," a documentary by Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") about their late, legendary father.

Music

Every club, concert hall and courtyard in town will be booked wall-to-wall next week with gigs by hundreds, if not thousands, of artists in every musical genre.

Which ones will break out is anyone's guess, although pre-festival buzz is building around indie popsters Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Montreal singer-songwriter Grimes, disco-punk outfit Eyes Lips Eyes and College, the French composer behind the music in the film "Drive." Just to name a few.

Plenty of bigger names will be on hand, too: Fiona Apple, singing songs from her long-delayed album; indie darlings the Shins, whose new record hits stores this month; electro-dance artist Skrillex; Brooklyn trash-pop duo Sleigh Bells; and of course, rock grandaddy Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen will give a talk Thursday afternoon and then play a gig that night at an as-yet-undisclosed Austin club. Admission is by lottery only and may become SXSW's toughest ticket.

Comedy

SXSW is getting serious about being funny. The SXSW Interactive keynote is being given by comedian Baratunde Thurston, Web editor of The Onion.

The creators of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" talk about making political jokes on the Internet, while "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane will explain his upcoming movie about a man whose teddy bear comes to life.

And "The Office's" Rainn Wilson has been given a slot on the conference schedule for an event titled "The View From Inside Rainn Wilson's Brainstem." There he will riff for an hour on, well, whatever he wants.

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