Like all great inventions, SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, has gone through its Gartner Hype Cycle. First came the buzzing hyperbole. In 2007, a startup called Twitter took SXSW by storm, and one year later, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled in a interview (deemed either disastrous or sexist) by journalist Sarah Lacy, generating wild enthusiasm for Facebook as the new, big media platform. Were you there? Did you hear Zuck speak? If you worked in media, SXSW Interactive each March — a thought-leadership series far different than the concurrent music and film SXSW carnivals — was the place to be.
And then the buzz collapsed. Big brands crept in, taking over entire buildings with “activations” and with their slickness eroding SXSW’s cool. Some of this was positive: The 9:1 male-female ratio of the conference’s early days became more 50:50, and the exaggerated hoopla over every little app launch (Foursquare, Gowalla, Color,