SXSW Interactive Festival: 21 Years of Innovation, Creativity and Inspiration

SXSW Staff circa 1994

Launched in 1994, SXSW Interactive has changed a lot and covered a lot of ground in our first 21 years. We have also been lucky enough to enjoy tremendous growth -- both in quantity of registrants but also in quality of experience (which is ultimately a much more important measure of success). Through all these changes, however, our commitment to innovation, inspiration and creativity has remained remarkably consistent.

With these three values in mind, read below for a quick review of some of the highlights of the first two decades of the SXSW Interactive Festival.

Want to know more about how this all came together? Then we encourage you to read the Fast Company oral history of SXSW Interactive.

1987 SXSW Music Conference & Festival
First year of the SXSW Music & Media Conference. The geeks are not yet allowed to be part of the March festivities in Austin.

1994 SXSW Film & Multimedia Conference
First year of what was originally titled the SXSW Film & Multimedia Conference. The inaugural offering features eight panel sessions and 36 total speakers. Registration / badge pickup occurs at the Dobie Mall on the campus of the University of Texas.

No keynote in the first year of the event.

1995 SXSW Multimedia Festival
SXSW Film and SXSW Multimedia separate into two separate events, as the convergent future hasn't arrived quite yet. Daytime activities move from the Hyatt to the newly-built Austin Convention Center. The bandana-wearing, über-geek Willie Nelson sings the praises of Microsoft during the closing party at the Austin Music Hall.

Keynotes for 1995: Todd Rundgren (musician); Richard Garriott (video game developer, astronaut & entrepreneur)

1996 SXSW Multimedia Festival
Small round discs that are easily transferred from one computer to another are clearly the wave of the future! Sample panel titles for the 1996 event include “So You Want to Make a CD-Rom,” “Enhanced CD and CD-Plus” and “CD-Plus from A-Z.”

Keynotes for 1996: Hal Josephson (MediaSense); Bruce Sterling (author)

1997 SXSW Multimedia & Interactive Festival
Negativland’s Mark Hossler discusses how yoU-2 can have fun and games with copyright. To create positive vibes that will counter technical malfunctions on his laptop, Jaron Lanier encourages the audience to hum during his interactive keynote presentation.

Keynotes for 1997: Thomas Dolby (musician); Jaron Lanier (computer scientist / father of virtual reality)

1998 SXSW Interactive Festival
Total number of panels and presentations at the event increases to 56. First year for the SXSW Web Awards, honoring the best in websites and digital work. Ceremony takes place in lobby of the Austin-based advertising agency GSD&M, in conjunction with the Texas Interactive Media (TIM) Awards.

Keynotes for 1998: Howard Rheingold (author); Steven Johnson (FEED); Richard Grimes (Cool Site of the Day); Chipp Walters (Human Code)

1999 SXSW Interactive Festival
Douglas Rushkoff talks about “How the Free Market Enslaved the Net.” Industry Standard columnist Michael Wolff delivers a profanity-laced keynote address about the evils of advertising. Q&A portion of Mark Cuban's keynote speech is dominated by a young Jason Calacanis. Helmet guitarist Page Hamilton serves up the musical entertainment at the Closing Party. A documentary about early weblog adopter / pioneer Justin Hall titled "Home Page" screens at the SXSW Film Festival.

Keynotes for 1999: Mark Cuban (investor); Michael Wolff (Wolff New Media); Philip Glass (musician) as interviewed by Marcos Novak (UCLA)

2000 SXSW Interactive Festival
During his memorable keynote presentation, Stewart Brand explains the concepts behind the Long Now Foundation and why we should adopt a 5-digit approach to years (02000 as opposed to 2000). First year of the SXSW Dewey Winburne Community Service Award celebrating technology do-gooders in honor of the man who co-founded this event. NASDAQ hits its Dotcom Boom peak on Monday of SXSW Interactive. Derek Powazek adds the confessional storytelling event known as Fray Cafe to the increasing list of evening activities. More great memories from SXSW 2000 can be found via SapphireBlue

Keynotes for 2000: Rob Burgess & Kevin Lynch (Macromedia), Denise Caruso (New York Times), Stewart Brand (author)

2001 SXSW Interactive Festival
DJ Spooky covers the logistics and ethics of remixing content during his keynote discussion with Ian Clarke. Ev Williams (who years later will co-found Twitter) makes his first SXSW Interactive appearance to talk about his relatively new company Pyra Labs. Burning Man founder Larry Harvey talks about community -- and why showering is overrated.

Keynotes for 2001: John Battelle (Standard Media Int'l) & John Heilemann (author); Ian Clarke (The Freenet Project) & DJ Spooky (musician); Michael Hirschorn (music journalist)

2002 SXSW Interactive Festival
Lawrence Lessig explains the Creative Commons and the importance of a robust public domain. Social activities include the Sexiest Geek Alive pageant and the Iron Webmaster competition (an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful takeoff on the popular Iron Chef TV series). Entire event still fits comfortably into one wing of the Austin Convention Center.

Keynotes for 2002: Kevin Lynch (Macromedia) & Jeff Veen (HotWired); Simon Assaad & David Carson (Heavy); Cory Doctorow (EFF) & Bruce Sterling (author)

2003 SXSW Interactive Festival
Best-selling author Richard Florida talks about the growing importance of über-creative cities (like Austin) in his keynote speech. Also part of the keynote lineup is artificial intelligence innovator Doug Lenat from Austin. Other speakers include Cory Doctorow (who warns of the Hollywood Agenda) and open source advocate Richard Stallman (who delivers an appropriately free-and-open-to-the-public presentation on the opening Friday of the event).

Keynotes for 2003: David Weinberger, (author) Opening Remarks; Doug Lenat (Cycorp); Joshua Davis (School of Visual Arts, New York); Richard Florida (author)

2004 SXSW Interactive Festival
Texas opinion writer and political firebrand Molly Irvins introduces Zack Exley / Eli Pariser Keynote presentation, as the 2004 event is dominated by content focused on the upcoming elections. Also keynoting is Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams, blazing the way for the social media explosion that will occur at SXSW Interactive over the next several years. Final year for Bruce Sterling's legendary come-to-my-house party on Cedar Street.

Keynotes for 2004: Brenda Laurel (Purple Moon), Opening Remarks; Eli Pariser & Zach Exley (MoveOn); Howard Rheingold (author); Jonathan Abrams (Friendster)

2005 SXSW Interactive Festival
Fresh off the "The Tipping Point," best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell graces the keynote stage -- attendees are amazed by his brilliance as well as his hair. Comedian Laura Swisher emcees the SXSW Web Awards.

Keynotes for 2005: Jeffrey Zeldman (Web designer, author), Opening Remarks: Malcolm Gladwell (author); Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette.com); Alex Steffan (WorldChanging.com) & Bruce Sterling (author)

2006 SXSW Interactive Festival
With a nod to the emerging popularity of video games, SXSW ScreenBurn joins the ever-expanding SXSW Interactive lineup. Mild-mannered Weblog Award emcee Nikolai Nolan thrills the assembled audience by singing an unapologetic cover version of “Stacy’s Blog.” Call it Fountains of Geek! Meanwhile, celebrity bloggers Heather Armstrong and Jason Kottke cover the ethics of over-sharing your personal life as well as pay-to-read revenue models in a fascinating keynote conversation. Late night on Sixth Street, Limor Fried and Phil Torrone (who will keynote at the 2007 event) play real-life Frogger with a tricked-out Roomba.

Keynotes for 2006: Jim Coudal (Coudal Partners) & Jason Fried (37 Signals), Opening Remarks; Heather Armstrong (dooce.com) & Jason Kottke (kottke.org); Craig Newmark (Craigslist) as interviewed by Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia); Burnie Burns (Rooster Teeth Productions); Bruce Sterling (author), Closing Remarks

2007 SXSW Interactive Festival
In Year 14, SXSW Interactive features 150 panel sessions and more than 450 total speakers. The SXSW PanelPicker is launched as a means to crowd-source programming proposals from the community. Registrants are thrilled by an addictive new app called Twitter, which won the Blog Category at the 2007 SXSW Web Awards. Little-known author Tim Ferriss gives an energetic presentation about reducing your work load -- shortly thereafter, his book "The Four-Hour Workweek" becomes a national best-seller. A review of SXSW Interactive penned by Dan Fost makes the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Keynotes for 2007: Kathy Sierra (wickedlysmart.com), Opening Remarks; Limor Fried (ladyadda.net) & Phil Torrone (Make); Dan Rather (journalist) as interviewed by Jane Harmsher (firedoglake.com); Will Wright (Maxis); Bruce Sterling (author), Closing Remarks

2008 SXSW Interactive Festival
Underwhelming Mark Zuckerberg keynote interview on Monday of the event. A day later, the Q&A portion of Frank Warren's emotional keynote speech features a surprise on-stage marriage proposal. She said "yes"! Daring Fireball's John Gruber speaks on a session titled "Blood, Sweat and Fear: Great Design Hurts." Registrants delight at seeing Jeff Bezos walking the hallways of the Austin Convention Center -- he purchased a registration and attended SXSW without entourage. Cheeseburgers are served to badgeholders at Ben Huh's panel on the last day of the event. Book Readings added to the programming mix.

Keynotes for 2008: Henry Jenkins (author) & Steven Johnson (FEED Magazine), Opening Remarks; Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) as interviewed by Sarah Lacey (BusinessWeek); Frank Warren (PostSecret); Jane McGonigal (avantgame.com)

2009 SXSW Interactive Festival
Against the backdrop of an extremely shaky US and world economy, the SXSW Accelerator pitch competition launches to serve the growing startup ecosystem. Klout.com makes it to the finalist round in the “Innovative Web Technologies” category. FourSquare and Gowalla both launch on the same day at SXSW. Big Data makes its first big appearance at SXSW, witness the Nate Silver keynote interview. Bre Pettis demonstrates a beta version of his MakerBot 3D printer to attendees at various Sixth Street bars.

Keynotes for 2009: Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Opening Remarks; Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight.com) as interviewed by Stephen Baker (BusinessWeek); James Powderly (G.R.L.) as interviewed by Virginia Hefernan (New York Times Magazine); Chris Anderson (Wired, author, 3D Robotics) as interviewed by Guy Kawasaki (VC); Bruce Sterling (author), Closing Remarks

2010 SXSW Interactive Festival
In her Openng Remarks, danah boyd talks about the importance of privacy -- and calls out Facebook and Google for not respecting this value. Siri wins SXSW Accelerator “Innovative Web” category; Foodspotting and GameSalad are also finalists in this pitch competition. Hands-on workshops are added to programming schedule. Stand-up comedian Doug Benson hosts the SXSW Web Awards. 32% of the SXSW community predicts “Location-based technology” as the top trend for the coming year.

Keynotes for 2010: danah boyd (Microsoft Research), Opening Remarks; Valerie Casey (Designers Accord); Ev Williams (Twitter) as interviewed by Umair Haque (Havas Media Lab); Daniel Ek (Spotify) as interviewed by Eliot Van Buskirk (Journalist); Bruce Sterling (author), Closing Remarks

2011 SXSW Interactive Festival
First year of CNN Grill at SXSW. AirBnB dubbed as the “breakout app" of the event, although the launch of Rock Health also gains significant buzz. Community comes together and creates SXSW4Japan, a movement to help the victims of the devastating tsunami in Japan, raising over $100,000 in just over a week. Group texting applications such as GroupMe and Hashable gain tons of users. Registrants flock to the Apple pop-store on Congress Avenue, as the iPad 2 is released during SXSW. Urgent Genius creates humorous viral video about the growing brand presence in Austin in March.

Keynotes for 2011: Seth Priebatsch (SCVNGR); Christopher Poole (4chan/Canvas); Felicia Day (Knights of Good Productions) as interviewed by Liz Shannon Miller (GigaOm); Blake Mycoskie (TOMS Shoes); Bruce Sterling (author), Closing Remarks

2012 SXSW Interactive Festival
SXSW Interactive introduces Startup Village as a hub for the startup community. Jeffrey Zeldman becomes first-ever SXSW Hall of Fame inductee. SXSW Create joins the roster for hacker / maker movement. Instagram's Kevin Systrom is a last-minute addition to the Featured Speaker roster; three weeks after the event, his application is purchased by Facebook for two billion dollars. Pinterest wins “Breakout Digital Trend” at SXSW Interactive Awards.

Keynotes for 2012: Baratunde Thurston (baratunde.com); Amber Case (Geoloqi.com) ; Ray Kurzweil (Kurzweil Technologies) as interviewed by Lev Grossman (Time Magazine); Jennifer Pahlka (Code for America); Bruce Sterling (author), Closing Remarks

2013 SXSW Interactive Festival
SXSW Interactive turns 20 years old and total number of registrants tops out at just above 30,000. Research finds that companies which have participated in SXSW Accelerator have received over $587 million in funding. 2013 marks the first year for the newly-named Gaming Expo (formerly known as ScreenBurn). Aisha Tyler emcees the SXSW Interactive Awards. Space (NASA) and 3D printing emerge as popular themes in PanelPicker. Says Elon Musk during his keynote interview: "I want to die on Mars, but not on impact." Leap Motion wins “Trend of the Year” at SXSW Interactive Awards. Dates for the SXSW Trade Show move -- the show now begins on Sunday and runs through the end of the day on Wednesday.

Keynotes for 2013: Bre Pettis (MakerBot), Opening Remarks; Tina Roth Eisenberg (swissmiss); Elon Musk (SpaceX) as interviewed by Chris Anderson (3D Robotics); Julie Uhrman (Ouya) as interviewed by Joshua Topolsky (The Verge); Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal); Bruce Sterling (author), Closing Remarks

Notable Speakers In Our First 21 Years

We are very proud of the many tech industry visionaries who have served as keynote speakers at the SXSW Interactive Festival over the last 21 years. We are also proud of the amazing lineup of Featured Speakers who have participated at the event. Click on the Featured Sessions page to get a glimpse of the thought-provoking leaders who have lent their expertise to SXSW Interactive since 1994.

For the full list of industry experts who have spoken at SXSW Interactive over the last two decades, click on our panelist archive page.

SXSW staff photo from 1994. Photo by Theresa DiMenno.