The geeks at South by Southwest look docile, but online they turn against mutual enemies with ruthless efficiency. This year's victim: Umair Haque, the Harvard wonk whose interview with Twitter's CEO just turned into a virtual stoning.
South by Southwest is becoming infamous for such rebellions. The Austin internet conference's geeky audience loves to digitally broadcast their every last thought and impulse, and this hyperconnectedness turns an unhappy keynote crowd — a boring commonplace at most conventions — into an actively rebellious mob.
This year, Haque's was found guilty of the opposite crime, boring questions, directed at Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. People just started walking out of Haque's on-stage interview with Williams in a sort of organic, flashmob audience defection, nerdy passive aggressiveness at its most cold blooded. Here is a photo of abandoned seats at the talk, which was once standing room only, shot by Web entrepreneur Rakesh Agrawal.
Here's a sampling of how things looked on Twitter, where many in the live audience in Austin have been hanging out even while watching the proceedings unfold on the stage:
Internet technology and ubiquitous wifi have empowered audiences to remain physically silent while actively organizing a revolt. With its nerdy and opinionated crowd, South by Southwest has been on the forefront of this trend, making its audience perhaps the most vicious in conference-land.
But expect audience revolts to spread to other events. And while that will surely be a terrifying trend for keynote presenters, in the end an ornery and networked audience may make conferences a better value for the people who shell out thousands of dollars to attend. If only because they'll get to see an occasional rebellion.