Getting Social at SXSW

by Courtney Chauvenne

While March 2013 seems far away the reality is that Austin, TX is already gearing up for one of it’s busiest times of the year- South by Southwest (SXSW). Less than five months from now 6th Street will be filled with collections of people ranging from techies, the next big thing, locals, past documentary crews, bands, lovers of all the above, and more. All these people come together to share their love of their unique industries but leave Austin with their new favorite start up businesses and hottest new mobile app downloaded on their iPhones.

Twitter’s ground breaking launch at SXSW in 2007 paved the way for other technology focused startups to do the same like in 2009 with FourSquare and Gowalla . The two week long festival has continued to evolve and grow, but SXSW didn’t always used to be about the latest online social platform.

Before Twitter and smartphones, navigating the two week long festival required weeks of preparation. Anticipating which panels or parties were going to be the must attend while making lists upon lists for events on top of the stress of leaving town all made attending SXSW at all a production before even arriving. Once in the midst of the madness, fumbling around the city with all those sheets of paper crumpled up in a bag along with all the freebies acquired throughout the day leads to a massive headache. Not to mention the sleep deprivation from late night partying.

Fast forward to 2012, where walking 10 feet without seeing someone tweeting or looking up their next move on their phone is next to impossible. The weeks leading up to the event are filled with RSVPing online for what is most likely going to be the biggest parties that are loaded straight into your calendar. SXSW even has an app that shows which official events are going on and at what time. Attendees who have a little extra time can check FourSquare or Gowalla to see where everyone else is or where a nearby free food stand may be. Every piece of information you could ever need is digitally available at your fingertips. Pop up stores and shows thrive in this environment where with a simple tweet millions of people can be reached.

While the extremes within the festival present a true test to any new product, if it can survive and latch on through the unpredictable marathon the unique festival presents, these rest of the world soon will learn its name. Similarly all festivals and conferences are interconnected, what does well at one is usually ends up involved in the events following. Live tweeting events regularly appears during big press releases like Apple and during conferences like DEMO and CES. Back before 2007 and Twitter launching during SXSW none of that would be possible.

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