XOXO Festival is an annual arts and technology conference held in Portland, Oregon. It has described itself as celebrating creativity and innovation in forms it considered alternative or disruptive to the prevailing social or professional context ("democratizing media and innovation"). The conference was founded in 2012 by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan with funding from prepaid tickets and other contributions via Kickstarter, and it was described by the New York Times as an "experimental" conference.
The inaugural event was held in Portland's Yale Union Laundry Building in September 2012 with approximately 400 participants. The first day of the conference focused on talks from independent creators from fields such as film, comics, music, art and illustration, video games, hardware design and product design, while the second centered on technology, and those building tools to facilitate and encourage independent creativity through the web. Speakers and performers included Dan Harmon, Adam Savage, MC Frontalot, Chris Poole, Bre Pettis, Julia Nunes, The Kleptones, The Limousines, and the creators of Kickstarter, Metafilter, VHX, Simple, Diesel Sweeties, Indie Game: The Movie, and World of Goo.
Associated events included live music, film screenings, an arcade of independently produced videogames, a pub crawl, a market, and food trucks.
News media and bloggers noted an "impressive list of speakers", a focus on "democratizing media and innovation", and an "intimate tone" missing from other technology-focused conferences. Ruth Brown wrote "the audience was overwhelmingly white, male, middle class and educated."
XOXO returned to the Yale Union Laundry Building in September 2013 with speakers, workshops, films, music shows, game events, and a market. Baio described it as being "about artists and hackers and makers that are using the internet to make a living doing what they love independently without sacrificing creative or financial control". Portland Monthly compared the event to the larger South by Southwest festival, quoting Matthew Haughey saying SXSW speakers are "in the business of selling technologies" and XOXO is speakers are "creating things". To handle increased interest while remaining small (500 conference tickets and 200 "fringe event" tickets), it had an application process with questions intended to filter out people who wanted to market to attendees.
Speakers and performers included Tim Schafer, Vi Hart, Evan Williams, Molly Crabapple, Marco Arment, Jack Conte, Erika Moen, Jay Smooth, Adrian Holovaty, and the creators of Cards Against Humanity, Pinboard, and Panic. The editors of Boing Boing—Mark Frauenfelder, Cory Doctorow, David Pescovitz, and Xeni Jardin—appeared together on stage for the first time to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the zine's launch in 1988. Musical performances included Anamanaguchi, Jack Conte, Jonathan Coulton, and Jim Guthrie.
An attendee, Glenn Fleishman, described the conference as having a very friendly social environment and inspiring people to change their jobs, and he noted essays by other attendees about the need for critique and not just friendliness, a lack of gender balance similar to the technology industry in general, and a harassment incident that was handled effectively. Another attendee also discussed her enjoyment of the people at the conference, and she noted the challenge of running a conference about independent creators that is inaccessible for some independent creators due to ticket and travel cost.
In March 2014, the third XOXO was held on September 11–14, 2014 at The Redd, a former metal stamping facility in an industrial area of SE Portland.
The XOXO lineup was announced in June 2014 and conference tickets were sold out by the first week of July. Conference speakers included Anita Sarkeesian, Hank Green, Gina Trapani, Golan Levin, John Gruber, Leigh Alexander, Kevin Kelly, Justin Hall, Jonathan Mann, and Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Joseph Fink. Sarkeesian's appearance was met with controversy from Gamergate supporters, with one protestor passing out leaflets.
A new evening event, XOXO Story, was added in 2014 with live performances of popular podcasts like Harmontown, John Roderick's Rendezvous, and Song Exploder featuring an interview with The Thermals. A second night of music was also added, including performances from Pomplamoose, YACHT, Molly Lewis, John Roderick and Sean Nelson from The Long Winters, Mike Doughty, and Nerf Herder. XOXO Arcade featured 10 unreleased or exhibition-only games, such as Quadrilateral Cowboy and the ten-player Killer Queen arcade cabinet, and new work from Keita Takahashi, Threes creator Asher Vollmer, and QWOP creator Bennett Foddy.
Ten films and shorts were shown at XOXO Film, including previews of the first two episodes of Natasha Allegri's Bee & Puppycat series, new animations from David OReilly and PES, and the debut of Empire Uncut, the crowdsourced sequel to Star Wars Uncut.
News media and bloggers noted a more serious tone from previous years. Boing Boing said a "darker sense of mission and meaning took hold in the event's third year." The Verge called it "the most interesting weekend in tech" that "pushes the web forward." The Daily Dot reported that 40% of attendees were female, double the rate of previous years.
In March 2015, it was announced that a fourth XOXO would take place September 10–13, 2015.
- Wortham, Jenna (September 14, 2012). "XOXO Fest, An Experimental Tech Conference, Gets Underway". New York Times Bits Blog. Retrieved December 24, 2012.
- Tate, Ryan (September 18, 2012). "At XOXO, a Counterculture Kickstarts Itself". Wired. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Wortham, Jenna (May 25, 2012). "XOXO aims to be an alternative to South by Southwest". New York Times Bits Blog. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Walker, Alissa (June 18, 2012). "Conferences Get Creative: An Art and Tech Festival Wins Over Kickstarter". Wired. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Gantz, Ryan (September 19, 2012). "The Dream of the Internet is Alive in Portland: Inside the XOXO Festival". The Verge. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Wortham, Jenna; Gallagher, David F. (September 18, 2012). "XOXO: A Festival of Indie Internet Creativity". New York Times Bits Blog. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
- Ruth Brown (2012-09-18). "Reflections on the XOXO Festival". Willamette Week. Retrieved 2014-09-28.
- Larsen, Luke (September 20, 2013). "Technology, creativity cross at XOXO". The Oregonian. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- Edidin, Rachel (September 20, 2013). "The Record-Breaking XOXO Festival Returns to Cross-Pollinate Art and Tech". Wired. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- Patall, Marty (September 3, 2013). "How the XOXO Festival Charms Cutting-Edge Thinkers". Portland Monthly. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- "Announcing XOXO Music". XOXOFest Blog. August 14, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
- Fleishman, Glenn (September 30, 2013). "In a Time of Hugs and Kisses: XOXO 2013". BoingBoing. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- Edidin, Rachel (September 30, 2013). "XOXO and the High Costs of Not Selling Out". Wired. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- Patall, Marty (September 20, 2013). "XOXO 2013: Why This Fest is Different". Portland Monthly. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
- XOXO (June 24, 2014). ""Alright, here’s what we’ve got in store for you in September: http://2014.xoxofest.com/ (You can also now submit your registration!)"". Twitter. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
- ""Conference + Festival passes are now *sold out*. Still a few Festival passes left, we’ll email the next random batch of attendees shortly."". Twitter. XOXO. July 7, 2014. Retrieved March 25, 2015.