You know what? You should have come down to Austin Texas for South by Southwest Interactive. I know it’s too big and it was wet and cold. And sure it was overrun by stupid startups pitching me-too apps and corporate brands, but it was also a celebration about what makes the web awesome, if you knew where to find it.
SXSW isn’t just the place where Twitter or FourSquare achieved mass adoption, it’s also where real debates of around OAuth or microformats take place. Where folks get together to help charities and where this year I saw the creation of an open data format for food. The show itself tries hard to balance the corporate and startup focus it has with its mission to use tech in ways that benefit the community.
Kevin Marks the VP of OpenCloud standards at Salesforce, who didn’t attend this year but has been a fixture at many previous SXSW events, noted that many conversations begun at the show lead to projects and efforts between participants who otherwise may never have met.
“The venue creates this deliberate chaos and you often make connections that you weren’t expecting, because you have to talk to people just to find out where anything is,” he said.
It’s also no accident that you can find panels about gender identity and the impact of SOPA on the web among the conspicuous parties thrown by magazines, tech firms and giant brands. The folks behind the show made a concerted effort to bring in people who care deeply about using tech to make the world better, or who just want to make tech better.
If what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, then the exact opposite is true for South by Southwest Interactive, what happens here in Austin during those five days should carry the debate or ideas out to a wider population. Maybe it’s an interview with someone about creating new standards for 3-D and virtual reality, which Jay Iorio of the IEEE is attempting to do, or it’s a look at how our private lives are under threat because of big data. Discussion will happen here that have the potential to launch a new standard or a new social movement.
The folks at SXSW work hard to bring in new faces of tech and foster discussions that range from the founder of the X Prize hoping to fix education to the way your interact with your mobile phoneand how that affects your humanity.
So yes, you should go. Don’t go for the parties, to launch your startup or with an eye on finding the next hot app. Go, so you can hang out with a like-minded community of folks who believe technology can help make the world a better place and who are actively trying to do so. Go, to learn about an entirely new area of technology! Sure, you can avoid all that, but that’s what SXSW is about, even if you have to dig a little harder to find it, or bypass the temptation of the easy app story or the next alcohol-fueled blowout featuring JayZ.