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SXSW: Cat videos, crowdsourcing, taking online communities offline

March 09, 2013|By Andrea Chang
  • A panel at South by Southwest was devoted entirely to viral cat videos and bringing online communities offline.
A panel at South by Southwest was devoted entirely to viral cat videos and… (Andrea Chang / Los Angeles…)

AUSTIN -- Cat videos got a major boost last year with the first-ever Internet Cat Video Festival, and its success is leading to a number of, ahem, copycat events.

An entire panel at this year's South by Southwest festival, which kicked off Friday, was dedicated to all things cat videos. Hundreds packed into an exhibit hall at the Austin Convention Center to listen to panelists Katie Hill and Scott Stulen discuss how they organized and curated the inaugural video fest in Minneapolis last summer. (And yes, many, many cat videos were shown, to a chorus of "awwwws" and uproarious laughter. It wasn't a panel for dog enthusiasts.)

Among those in attendance: Will Braden, the director behind the viral cat video hit "Paw de Deux," which won the festival's "Golden Kitty" award last year. 

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Hill and Stulen said that at first they only expected a few dozen people to attend the event on the lawn of the Walker Art Center. But 10,000 people showed up for the festival, which was covered by major news outlets around the world. 

Submissions poured in from all across the U.S. as well as Japan, Russia and other countries, which Hill whittled down to 79 videos. 

"Now that the technology to capture a cat on video is equally ubiquitous, the cuteness is unlimited and readily accessible at our fingertips," Hill, a self-professed cat lady, said.

"Cats have always been popular subjects; the Internet has just improved distribution," Stulen said. "There's a social aspect. One goal of the festival was to see what would happen when we took an online community offline."

Now there's the Copy Cat Festival, the Catdance Film Festival and other similar events. And the Internet Cat Video Festival is returning for its second event this summer, but moving to a bigger venue: the Minnesota State Fair.

There were some larger takeaways, the duo said. The first was that crowdsourcing needs an editor. The other was that the rise of sites and apps such as YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest have made everyone a curator of interesting content. In other words, cat videos and other seemingly silly works of "art" are here to stay.

"People want to connect and they're really hungry for something real," Hill said. "This is not ironic, we're not making fun of anyone and this is why it works."

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