AUSTIN -- Less than a month from now, the South by Southwest Interactive Festival will be in mid-grok, with more than 25,000 attendees geeking out to panels, parties and entire city blocks of events that surround the official programming.What was once a modest offshoot in the '90s focused on multimedia and the rising World Wide Web has since the mid-2000s exploded into a cultural conference about everything and anything related to tech. That may be mobile apps, social networking, hacker culture and dozens, if not hundreds, of other conversational threads.The fest, which runs March 8-12, is not everybody's tech nirvana. Some feel the fest has gotten too crowded, that startups and marketers have overrun Interactive, or that the ever-increasing registration rates and costs of attending (not to mention the downtown hotel crunch) have made things less than ideal.If you're attending, considering it or just planning to observe from afar, this is a good time to look at what's on offer this year and how the festival appears to be shaking out.What to expectWhat will people be talking about? Often, the discussion at SXSW Interactive has a lot to do with who the keynote speakers are, as well as the number of panels chosen about a particular topic. Based on that criteria, the hot topics will include space travel; crowdfunding; so-called "big data"; maker/DIY and design culture, including the coming 3-D printer revolution; and the role of hackers in society.Space travel will be well-represented by keynote speaker Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, and by plenty of panels about the future of private space travel. Video game legend and astronaut Richard Garriott de Cayeux attracted a large crowd a couple weeks ago for a pre-SXSW event on the topic, predicting that commercial space travel will one day be available to everyone.Crowdfunding, as represented by the rise of Kickstarter and other avenues for artists and developers to raise money to bring projects to life, is another big topic. Keynote speaker Matthew Inman of the popular online comic The Oatmeal has created several successful crowdfunding campaigns, including one to create a museum for inventor Nikola Tesla. Keynote speaker Julie Uhrman will talk about Ouya, a $99 Android-based video game console that was successfully crowdfunded. It's expected to be released in June.The face of big data and number-crunching analysis, Nate Silver, a past keynote presenter, will be featured again this year. He will likely talk about his book, The Signal and the Noise.Festival director Hugh Forrest said there will likely be official programming added to discuss the issues raised by hacker activist Aaron Swartz's suicide, not only government prosecution but also mental health in the tech world.Keynote speakers Bre Pettis of MakerBot and design guru Tina Roth "Swissmiss" Eisenberg will lead discussions on the rise of 3-D printing and design, respectively. One provocative session at the festival will feature Cody Wilson, a University of Texas law student who created software that could allow those with a 3-D printer to manufacture guns.The festival has struggled with growth, with a limited supply of hotel rooms in downtown Austin, as well as managing registration and panels that can generate long lines.That congestion and the increased interest in tech startups are reasons the festival has created another Interactive event, SXSW V2Venture, which will debut Aug. 13-14 in Las Vegas. Expect attendees on the business side to discuss whether they'll be going to that event as well.Changes and new stuff? Forrest says there's growing interest in technology in fashion, food and even comedy (witness the wave of comedy podcasts, some of which will be featured at the fest).