SXSW Interactive evolves from small, community-driven event into a huge industry happening
From 2009 to 2010, SXSW's attendance jumped from nearly 11,000 to just under 15,000
In 2007, a tiny service nobody had heard of called Twitter used the fest as a launching ground
As the festival grows, it tries very hard to be both sprawling and intimate
Editor’s Note: Omar L. Gallaga is a tech-culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, a technology contributor to CNN.com, NPR and Kirkus Reviews, and a veteran attendee of South by Southwest.
If 2011 was the year that South by Southwest Interactive grew up, 2012 may be when it decides it wants to don a suit and enter the corporate world – or run off and join the Peace Corps.
The history of the funky, Austin-based festival suggests it may try to do both. Since its start as the multimedia portion of the SXSW Film Festival in 1994, the event – which runs Friday through Tuesday – has its roots in community-driven tech creativity. But in the last five years, the festival has grown bigger and more commercial.
Riding the explosion of interest in social-media services and mobile technology, the fest has a reputation for hosting some of the biggest names in tech and helping launch some influential start-ups.
In 2007, a tiny service nobody had heard of called Twitter used the fest as a launching ground, installing big screens around the Austin Convention Center with a stream of short messages on display called “tweets.”
In 2008, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was a disastrous keynote guest for a Q&A that was derailed by a disgruntled audience unhappy with interviewer Sarah Lacy’s softball questions.
Both events were turning points for SXSW Interactive – known to festival veterans as “South By” – which at the time was still recovering from some lean years after the dot-com bust. Twitter’s ascension meant many more start-ups began trying to use the festival, which is filled with influential early adopters, as a launching pad for their products.