The tagline for the annual South by Southwest conference and festival is “Tomorrow Happens Here.” It is known to be the place where new music, film, media and technology break ground. For the Interactive portion of the event, SXSWi, new advances in social media are at the forefront of the buzz. In 2007, Twitter was the hot new app. In 2009, Foursquare was introduced. This year, Foursquare continued to dominate, but Gowalla began to have more of a pervasive presence as well. Stickybits and Foodspotting were the hot new names, but weren’t in usage as much as expected this year. Next year: I predict they will be.
This was my first year attending SXSWi, and I quickly learned that the panels and other conference events are just the dressing (or as Texans might say, the steak sauce). The real reason why throngs of media and tech geeks make the pilgrimage to Austin, TX every spring is the people and the conversations. The “hot new apps” each year just help people to further connect and deepen relationships with each other before, during and after the conference.
There’s a lot of buzz about networking and making new connections, but in my experience, the best part of SXSWi was re-connecting with old friends and meeting those who I had previously established a relationship with through Twitter.
As I was planning my trip to Austin, I realized that two old friends were going to be there as well. But they weren’t just any old friends. A lot of people say that social media is some new concept, but people have been making connections and forming communities online since the inception of the Internet. When I was in college, I was part of an online community of indie music lovers. After interacting through listservs for fans of particular musicians, we would meet up in real life and travel to concerts together, across the eastern seaboard from Washington, DC to Toronto. Paul and Rannie, two friends from Ontario, were part of my music adventures from 1998-2000. A decade later, we reconnected via Twitter and realized that we were all going to be at SXSWi this year. Without making specific plans beforehand, we each happened to be at SB Nation‘s Kickball and Tacos event Saturday morning. And in the true spirit of putting the social in social media, I was introduced to a great group of people through Paul, who I ended up going to parties, restaurants and panels with – and who I now consider friends.
I also made real-life connections at SXSWi with people who I’d been chatting with on Twitter. In fact, my travel buddy, Amanda, was someone I just met for the first time a month ago at Social Media Week in New York, after a year of chatting on Twitter about our sports obsessions.
So, thank you Twitter and Foursquare, the new forms of social media, for allowing me to reconnect with friends I made through older forms of social media – and to make new ones. Sharing our passions and experiences through both online media and offline meetups is what SXSW is truly all about.
The Social Technologies Powering South by Southwest, from David Berkowitz’s Inside the Marketers Studio
13 Observations from South by Southwest from Jay Baer’s Convince&Convert