In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Fast Company presents an oral history of the SXSW Interactive Festival.
Within SXSW Interactive’s march from obscurity to prominence is the story of digital culture itself. SXSW was a hive of activity for early web denizens and hackers around the turn of the century, and a birthing ground for the social media revolution that reshaped modern life in the second half of the ’00s. Its emergence from the shadow of the music festival it grew out of mirrors the transformation of geeks into modern society’s newest rock stars.
I went to SXSW a handful of times (maybe five?), met my wife there, and even keynoted (w/ Dooce) in the big room (which was, in my memory, a disaster of Zuckerpudlian proportions). Paul Ford noted on Twitter:
Wow this is just a tiny bit The Oral History of Talking About Yourself.
Totes get that, but South By1 distinguished itself in the early days by being a conference where anyone could participate. Attendees took ownership of this conference as they could not at the other big web conferences of the era. Everyone was someone, everyone was nobody. (I mean, not literally — the Jeffreys (Zeldman and Veen) couldn’t walk three feet without someone engaging them in conversation. But you get my drift.) As on the personal web of the late 1900s and early 2000s, you were the focal point of SXSW, for better or worse.
There was an effort back in my day to refer to the conference as “sick-sow” but thankfully that didn’t stick. I mean, Jesus.↩