I started attending SXSW in 1997 as a music journalist. I ran a small indie music & entertainment rag in Florida at the time and was invited by one of my publicist friends (I’m looking at you, Rey) to crash in his room and check out the festival/conference. I scored a press badge and saw some amazing shows, but Interactive wasn’t really on my radar.
Two years later, my little publication became a media sponsor of SXSW and I got a Platinum badge, granting me access to everything SXSW had to offer. I didn’t attend any of the Interactive panels—I was far more interested in seeing Tom Waits’ first live performance in 10 years, meeting Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, and interviewing Janeane Garofalo—but I did check out the trade show.
At the time, the trade show was mixed: music, film & interactive all lumped in together. (The conferences overlapped more at the time as well.) It was an interesting time because many labels were experimenting with interactive CDs and such, but MP3s and digital downloads were still pretty uncommon. Napster had just launched that year and only one major-label band at the time—They Might Be Giants—had the foresight to issue a digital-only album: Long Tall Weekend.
Amid all of the music and film-related hubub, I made my way over to the one corner devoted to Interactive’s vendors. While perusing the wares and looking for cool swag (of which there was none), I discovered a guy hocking something called a “Content Management System”. It sounded marvelous. I had been doing static (framed, of course) HTML versions of my magazine for about two years at that point and the idea of being able to enter and maintain the content in a more dynamic and flexible format was mind-blowing. I have no idea what the software was called, but the back-end was Filemaker. I bought it, of course. It wasn’t until I got back to my hotel rom that I realized Filemaker was Mac-only. I was on Windows. Cue the sad trombone.
I never once ended up installing or using that early CMS, but it sowed a seed in my mind of the possibilities for a website and I began to take my practice of web design more seriously. I taught myself PHP and MySQL and just kept going. And I owe it all to that guy and his Filemaker CMS.
It’s hard to believe that SXSW Interactive is 20 years old. Reading through the remarks and stories in this awesome piece from Fast Company, I felt inspired to share some of my SXSW stories. This is the first.