A Davos for the Web Set

By Brad Stone



This year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival, which ended on March 13, drew tens of thousands of the social media elite to Austin, Tex. It featured torrential rain, endless lines, and plenty of barbecue. Below, lessons from the 20th anniversary of a gathering that now draws small startups, big brands, and tech insiders.

#1 Popularity at SXSW is no guarantee of success

Last year’s phenomenon, GroupMe, was acquired by Skype, but few people seemed to use the group-messaging app this year. SXSW is a petri dish for new services, but once they hit the real world, they often wither.

#2 Some techies don’t get the sensitivity thing

Ad agency BBH Labs thought it had a clever idea to solve bandwidth overload at the event: It outfitted homeless people with mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. Online reaction was harsh. Turning human beings into routers seems “like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia,” wrote Wired’s Tim Carmody.

#3 Old Media wants to play, too

Jill Abramson, New York Times executive editor, noted that subscriptions to the Gray Lady increased after a paywall went up last year. The same day word spread that CNN was in talks to buy social media news site Mashable.

#4 Big brands hope to catch a little bit of that social media magic

To wow tech’s big influencers, American Express sponsored a Jay-Z concert; HBO heavily promoted its new Judd Apatow-produced show, Girls.

#5 There’s always something new

In 2007, Twitter took SXSW by storm. Then it was location-sharing services like Foursquare. This year, apps that passively broadcast your location were the belles of the ball. It’s a safe bet that next year there will be a new social media category to drool over — or scoff at.


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