AUSTIN, Texas--A couple of days ago I wrote a story suggesting that the Twitter saturation level here at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) festival was so high that the service's value was being affected.
Now, after four full days here, I think that conclusion is worth a reality check: Twitter is out-and-out dominating SXSWi.
To be sure, the massive numbers of tweets that are being posted using the "#sxsw" tag is making it more difficult for those using Twitter to find specific information than was the case at SXSWi 2007 or SXSWi 2008. But the reality is, if you're part of the conference this year, it feels very much like you simply cannot do anything, go anywhere, talk to anyone, see any panel or have a meal without Twitter having played a role.
From the 32bit party Monday night to people's reactions to science-fiction author Bruce Sterling's annual SXSWi rant to alerts of free ice cream being handed out on the streets of Austin, the collective agenda is being directed in 140-character bursts, even if it takes a little more work to find out what you want to find out.
Add that to the fact that the iPhone has proven a magical and nearly ubiquitous device on which to conduct that 140-character orchestra, and you've got a seriously hard-to-topple-off-the-throne combination.
Of course, there are many other communications media at play here. Besides the introduction of FourSquare, the launch of iPhone interactivity for Facebook Connect and other social networking services like Britekite, Whrrl and Meebo, there's certainly been no shortage of e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging and, believe it or not, phone calls.
But through it all, Twitter is the backbone. It is the organizing principle of SXSWi. And while the SXSWi crowd would seem to be the vanguard of this level of all-encompassing Twitter devotion, it is clear that this is just the proving ground for what will be coming for many other parts of connected society.
After all, just a year ago, nearly all of the most-followed Twitter users were members of the digerati. Now, it's nearly all mainstream celebrities or personalities. Can Twitter handle this? I don't think anyone knows.
But what I'm seeing here at SXSWi is that the service, even without a developed revenue stream and even with a recent history of functional instability and even with so much traffic that it can simply be overwhelming, has become indispensable. Take Twitter away from the crowd here suddenly, and I think the conference would grind to a halt.
It would recover, and pretty quickly. This is an resourceful group of people. There are other options. No one should believe for a minute that the advent of Twitter or other social media neuters the digerati's ability to communicate with traditional analog tools. But if Twitter were suddenly gone, there would be one heck of a hiccup.
And despite my misgivings about what is clearly a saturation problem, I have to conclude that here in Austin, in 2009, Twitter is once again the new Twitter.