by Brenda Schumacher
“Tomorrow Happens Here”—the slogan to this year’s SXSW interactive, film and music festivals—was not hyperbole. Attending the workshops, films, concerts and parties, one had the distinct feeling of being right at the heart of something very important, and bursting with possibility. Even the conference badges seemed like they were right out of, well, tomorrow. Swipe your badge across a smart phone, and you neatly swap contact info—no need for old-fashioned paper business cards. Chart your movement, avoid your ex, find the best parties and panels with free location software; follow Twitter to decide if you should ditch your boring panel for something better. Gowalla, Foursquare, Google, Mashable, Digg and dozens of tech giants and juniors were on site launching new products, throwing extravagant parties and working hard to out-geek each other to become the next trending topic. New and free technology was flying around so fast, your freshly uploaded SXSW iPhone app was practically outdated by the end of the conference.
For the first time, paid Interactive attendance surpassed that of the music festival, long the grand dame of SXSW. Interactive grew 40 percent over last year to 13,000 paid attendees, and has become a must-attend event for tech industry leaders, geeks, nerds, bloggers, academics, social media mavens and edgy marketing professionals. And for good reason—many a start up was made or broken by its reception at SXSW. As well worn legend has it, when Twitter launched at the 2007 festival, its usage quadrupled in one week, embolding Twitter to go out and conquer the world.