SXSWi: Fear the audience. Fear it!

Ah, Web 2.0. You give people the power to talk back, talk loud and talk often. Take the SXSW Intereactive conference. It's a yearly gabfest dedicated to new media creation, attracting bloggers and podcasters and various camp followers to five days of generally interesting conversation. But this year, the 'interactive' part really got a run for its money.

Thanks to Meebo and Twitter, conference attendees were able to instantly compare notes and rate sessions in real-time. And, like most web-based communication, it got a little snarky. This all culminated during the keynote event, an interview with Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The audience, apparently discontent with the comportment, body language and questions of interviewer Sarah Lacy, used IM to organize a mini-revolt. Things got so bad, Lacy was forced to surrender the mic and let the audience ask question directly. Sensing the conference's zeitgeist, Zuckerberg organized an impromptu Q&A the following day, allowing the feistier participants to pelt him with non-approved queries without the benefit of a host/filter.

While mildly amusing, this episode demonstrates that passivity in entertainment is done. Gone. Finished. People, particularly the 'prosumers' of the new media world, won't accept being talked at. They want input, and they want participation. This means that creators- from the written word to film, TV and the Internet- will need to be responsive to their audiences or risk being flamed into oblivion.

So, start listening. Really listening. The SXSWi debacle shouldn't be viewed as a sinister mob-jacking, but rather a portent of things to come. Audience talkback is ultimately an opportunity for savvy producers to leverage the insights of their fans to improve their product. And those who embrace interactivity most fully will see the greatest rewards.

Also, if you are ever asked to moderate a discussion for a bunch of webheads, bring a laptop. Monitor Twitter and Meebo. At least you'll see the revolution coming.