The Untold Story of SXSW Interactive: An Oral History
When it started two decades ago, SXSW Interactive was a couple hundred participants and a handful of panel discussions, all crammed into a few rooms at a Hyatt in Austin. Today, it has become a launching pad for startups (including Twitter and Foursquare), a hunting ground for tech investors, a lab of forward-thinking ideas, and a lavish five-day party that draws 30,000 registrants.
How did this happen?
By gathering festival founders, big names in tech, early participants, and scene-watchers to the stage, we will find out. This uncensored oral history of SXSWi is the sometimes contentious, frequently messy, but ultimately triumphant story of how five days in March grew into one of the most important cultural and economic incubators of the new millennium.
Co-Founder & CEO
Baratunde is the co-founder of Cultivated Wit. He's also a comedian, author and former director of digital for The Onion. His responsibilities included producing the “War For The White House” 2008 election coverage, helping the company adapt its storytelling to new digital platforms such as smartphones and social media, and expanding The Onion’s public voice as well as relationships with the technology community. Baratunde is a best-selling New York Times author of How To Be Black. He regularly engages in “digital performance art” including being @The_Swine_Flu, running a real world campaign for his Foursquare mayorship and “live hate-tweeting” all Twilight movies. He’s been a standup comedian for more than 10 years and is a highly sought-after public speaker addressing topics related to the media, politics, technology and marketing. Also black people. He was named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company magazine and has worked with the White House Office of Public Engagement as a digital advisor.
Dr. danah boyd is a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a Research Fellow of the Born This Way Foundation, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales. Her research examines the intersection of technology, society, and youth culture. Currently, she's focused on privacy, youth meanness and cruelty, and human trafficking. She co-authored Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. She's working a new book called "It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens."
Gary Vaynerchuk is first and foremost a storytelling entrepreneur. He is also a New York Times bestselling author and his digital consulting agency, VaynerMedia, works with Fortune 500 companies to develop digital and social media strategy and content. Business Week selected him one of the top twenty people every entrepreneur should follow and CNN voted him one of the top twenty-five tech investors on Twitter. He lives in New York City where he avidly roots for the New York Jets.
Guy Kawasaki is the author of APE, What the Plus!, Enchantment, and nine other books. He is also the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.
Forrest serves as the Director of the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) Festival, where he guides the overall vision for the event as well as directs panel programming. He also spends much of his time with the all-consuming task of community management. Forrest graduated from Austin High School in 1980, and then majored in English at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Before joining the SXSW team, he founded a small alternative publication called The Austin Challenger.
Code for America
Lane Becker has been hanging out on the Web since it was invented, from his work-study job building websites for the University of Texas at Austin in 1994, to his first, sadly failed startup in 1999, and on to more successful ventures: co-founding Adaptive Path, the first user experience design firm, in 2001, and Get Satisfaction, an online customer service community platform, in 2007.
In 2012, Lane co-authored a New York Times bestselling book, “Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work,” about harnessing serendipity as a business practice. He's currently working with the non-profit Code for America to develop an open-source solution for city websites.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Molly Wright Steenson is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she focuses on digital media studies.
This is her 17th SXSW Interactive and her 16th year on the Advisory Board. Yikes.
Her research focuses on the nexus of architecture, urbanism, infrastructure, design, technology and communication from the 19th to the 21st centuries. She researches architectures of information, pneumatic tube systems, postal services, and mobile phone and social media use.
She has also taught interaction design for a decade and was a professor at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy, where she led the Connected Communities research group.
Molly began working with the Web in 1995 at a wide variety of companies including Reuters, Johnson & Johnson and Razorfish. As a design researcher, she examines the effect of personal technology on its users, with recent projects in India and China for Microsoft Research and Intel Research.
Molly has a PhD in architecture from Princeton University. She holds a M.A. in architecture from Princeton, a Master’s in Environmental Design from the Yale School of Architecture and a B.A. in German from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Editor in Chief
Robert Safian is editor and managing director of the award-winning monthly business magazine Fast Company. He oversees all editorial operations, in print and online, and plays a key role in guiding the magazine's advertising, marketing, and circulation efforts. Safian was named 2009 Editor of the Year by Adweek and recognized as 2008 Innovator of the Year by B-2-B Media. Under his leadership, Fast Company has received numerous accolades: a 2011 winner of a National Magazine award, two-time winner of Magazine of the Year from the Society of Business Editors and Writers; twice honored with the prestigious Gerald R. Loeb Award for Distinguished Business Journalism, among many others.
Safian came to Fast Company in 2007 from Fortune, where he served as executive editor. Prior to that, he was an executive editor at Time and headed Money as its managing editor for six years. Safian has appeared on CNN and other TV networks and has been a featured speaker at events ranging from the Cisco Systems CIO Summit to the Danish Top Executive Summit in Copenhagen. Safian began his career with a seven-year tenure at The American Lawyer, where he rose from summer intern to executive editor. He joined SmartMoney in 1994 and moved to Fortune in 1997.