The 30,000 web heads migrating to Austin for SXSW 2014 were greeted with plummeting minus degree temperatures and torrential downpours. But even while the UK baked in equally uncharacteristic weather, moods were not dampened and much more than the rain was soaked up. Read on for the best of SXSW Interactive at this year's festival.
This year was a year of anniversaries that added to the festival atmosphere: the 20th anniversary of 6 Degrees of Bacon alongside Soundgarden’s seminal 1994 rock album “SuperUnknown”. Adding to the musical milestones was Def Jam’s 30th birthday knees up and for film fans, the 40th celebration of horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
But the big one had to be the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. Planned or not, the themes bubbling up in several of the keynotes highlighted the challenges both the web and the world face after a quarter of a century of connected living.
Google Exec. Chairman, Eric Schmidt took the stage early on Friday, partnering with Jared Cohen, co-author of their book, The New Digital Age. With 1-2 billion people joining the Internet over the next five years, he quickly hypothesized on the role the web will play in rebellious activity and how revolutions “will be easier to start, but harder to finish”. Does this mean that the greater population of web citizens require greater control, and if so, what affect will this have on the open web and an informed public?
These issues were explored further and more deeply with virtual conversations from Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, who urged tech audience to help "fix" the U.S. government's surveillance of its citizens. But for those with ‘fragile’ festival heads who found all this a little too much to take on, there was the chance to meet web-Royalty, Grumpy Cat at the Mashable House – it seems that cats still fuel the internet economy.
There was also the annual lookout for the next big thing to emerge from SXSW. It seems that this perhaps is the albatross that now hangs around the festival's neck since Twitter’s explosive intro to the world in ’07. There was little of note and many Silicon Valley rock-stars were notably absent – but the observant were paying close attention to overseas guests visiting from over 70 countries.
This international flavour was captured on the fringe of the festival with Hackney House - a self-dubbed “alternative trade mission,” showcasing Hackney’s many creative businesses and start-ups across a series of weekend events. Author and futurologist Bruce Sterling declared, “Hackney is a force to be reckoned with” in his 2013 festival closing remarks and this was clearly evident. The dedicated space on Congress Avenue hosted the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Design and Direction, the team from Dazed and the launch of HereEast – a dedicated campus in Hackney designed by and for the ‘maker’ community.
Our favourite moment? Watching a group of students from Hackney and Austin partner up and present their ideas to British Airways, Adobe and local .com RetailMeNot in front of a packed crowd – a brilliantly formative moment and one that captured the creative, innovative, and inspiring spirit of the festival.
So here’s to next year. More of the same please SXSW, just sort out the weather.
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What did you think of SXSW 2014? What made your list of the best of SXSW Interactive highlights this year? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
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About the author: NickFarnhillNick Farnhill
Nick is a founding partner of POKE, a creative ‘practice’ focused on delivering original and effective interactive communication. Clients include EE, RSPB, Skype, Ted Baker, RNLI, Mulberry and BBC. In 2007, he helped successfully launch POKE New York with three new partners.