When the South by SouthWest (SXSW) Festival burst onto the scene in 1987, the music and media conference in Austin, Texas attracted just 700 participants. By 1992, when one of my favourite alt-country acts, Michelle Shocked keynoted (and caused all kinds of controversy), there were 3000 registrants. By 1994, film and multimedia was included in the burgeoning festival and the man in black, Johnny Cash, keynoted. Veruca Salt and Presidents of the United States of America rocked the local establishments.
By 2002 when innovation guru, Lawrence Lessig spoke on the importance of a robust public domain and explained the concept of the Creative Commons, the Interactive part of the festival had been running for five years. There were 6300 participants, over 1000 acts/presenters, and Courtney Love drew the biggest ever non-keynote audience.
In 2010, the Interactive festival attendance out-gunned the music festival – attracting over 14,000 participants. danah boyd keynoted along with Ev Williams from Twitter and the eponymous Umair Haque.
Over the last 25 years, SXSW has transformed contemporary culture’s relationship with art, music, film and interactive/digital media. The Festival has launched or reinvigorated the careers of many of the digital world’s biggest names – and SXSWi continues to be the preferred conference for launching new products and platforms – or for amplifying the presence of new technology with the most influential influencers in the digital domain. Just some of examples include:
- Twitter – not launched, but amplified into our consciousness at SXSW 2007
- Foursquare – the location based social network launched at SXSW in 2009 and successfully completed a funding round six months later
- Tim Ferris – the now famous author who only works four hours a week (yeah sure) launched his book at SXSW in 2007. I bet he worked more than four hours that week.
Over the years, the festival has not just transformed the lives of entrepreneurs, the prospects of startups and many of those who attend. It has also transformed Austin too.
For years I have been surprised that no Australian equivalent has appeared.
Enter DiG Festival in Newcastle
I can recall speaking some years ago with Craig Wilson, managing director of leading digital agency Sticky, about how a “local SXSW” would transform the local digital and startup ecosystem. But not content to sit back and wait for such a conference to magically appear, Craig who is also founder of InsiderJobs.com.au and NLYZR.com along with Steph Hinds, founder of Growthwise Accountants and Eclipse Media, Events and PR – a well-respected Exhibition and Event Management organisation have banded together to create the DiG Festival.
Focusing on design, interactive and Green-tech, the “Australasian DiG Festival and Conference will feature a series of Keynote Presentations, Panels, Performances and Workshops lead by international, national and local industry leaders. There will be a strong emphasis on innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and ethical business”.
To be held 2-5 October – it’s a great chance to immerse yourself in the world of digital thought leadership, design, innovation and startup culture. There is a strong and inspiring line-up of speakers, workshops and events – and the glorious Newcastle beaches and thriving food and cafe scene is a short walk from most of the venues. You can even experience, first hand, the amazing creativity that is part of the Renew Newcastle project which has transformed vacant city shop spaces into vital cafe, craft and art spaces across Newcastle.
And just as SXSW has become a by-word for geek-cool, DiG Festival is aiming to tread the same path. Will you be able to tell your colleagues and friends that you were there for the FIRST DiG? Clearly the Commonwealth Bank see the opportunity, having come on as a sponsor. Registration is open – I hope to see you there!