By now, SXSW is no secret. In late March, 30,000 people came to Austin, Texas, to pursue new business opportunities (64%), meet clients (17%), launch a new product (14%), recruit employees (19%), or simply learn something useful. In addition, 21% arrived from outside the United States.
Despite the crowds, the 16th edition of South by Southwest (known to the faithful simply as "South By") felt intimate. I don't know of another conference where a session by a Nobel prize winner on the Unification of Physics is followed by one on User Experience followed by a CEO telling a formative story about growing up during the cultural revolution in China, and only incidentally talking about her company.
The best speakers I saw were not TED-like polished - of which there were many - but raw, authentic story tellers. The variety of content was mind blowing. The energy level all day every day was off the charts. And then there was the music. SXSW does not have a singular focus, it is an overlay of interactive, music and film tracks that runs 10 days.
Without the music, "South By" Interactive is a heady experience. With the music, it's an emotional experience, too, with a live band seemingly at every evening venue. The combination means you'll burn the candle at both ends for a week, leaving you re-charged in many ways but in need of sleep.
For the Identity professional, there was plenty to consider in a crowd where 49% of the population was between 21- and 34-years-old. One thing in particular that stood out was the apparent widespread assumption that identity attributes - everything on Facebook, matters of public record, shopping patterns - are known or can be known by application providers.
Privacy was not a significant issue per se. Instead, it was a question of control and, indirectly, identity security. Will identity holders - presumed to be individual consumers - get something in return for allowing identity providers to release certain types of attributes? Even as standards-based single sign-on becomes the technical norm with Ping Identity's help, the cultural and economic landscape for identity continues to evolve in interesting ways.
Roger Oberg is Vice President of Marketing and Product Management at Ping Identity.