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SXSW responds to Japan disasters

As the festival opens, a Web site is launched trying to get attendees to donate funds to help those most affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. But donations are flowing slowing.

The SXSW community reacted quickly to the Japanese disasters by creating a Web site asking attendees to make donations. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

AUSTIN, Texas--There may not be a more Net-connected group of people than the tens of thousands that have descended here this week for the South By Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW). And in an attempt to harvest the collective power of these digital powerhouses to help out with relief for the disasters that hit Japan on Friday, conference organizers quickly took action.

Today, SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest announced SXSW4Japan, a Web site where conference attendees are being asked to donate a total of at least $10,000 for relief efforts in Japan.

"Can the SXSW community raise $10,000 for Japan in 4 days? Of course we can," the site urges attendees. "We at SXSW Interactive can make a difference. We can raise funds for the American Red Cross to provide disaster relief in Japan. Donate now to the American Red Cross or create a fundraising page to raise support."

On the site, there's a button for creating a personalized fundraising page, and there's also a general donation button.

In the early going, it's hard to tell if the community is going to be able to meet the call for $10,000 in donations. By 3:15 p.m. CST Friday, only $530 had been pledged. But as word of the campaign spreads, it's likely that the connective power of the thousands on hand here this week will meet the challenge.

Clearly, though, people who are in Austin for SXSW are paying attention to what's happening in Japan, as a scan of the thousands of tweets coming out of the conference revealed.

"If you were able to afford to attend sxsw or buy an iPad today, consider saving a few $$$ for Japan earthquake relief," tweeted David Bisset. "Just sayin."

And Twitter user Eric Nakagawa added his own sentiment, "I just read death toll reached 1,000. I have donated my ENTIRE SXSW drinking budget to Japan Red Cross."

That may seem to some as an empty gesture, but what's evident is that many people on hand here are feeling the responsibility to do something to help out.

Perhaps the most welcome approach was a Web site someone set up to take advantage of hysteria started earlier this morning over the fake launch of a beta site called by investor Chris Sacca. As reported by TechCrunch, dozens of people tried to get in on the beta, only to discover that it was a hoax by Sacca. But now, someone has actually registered and those visiting the site to try to get in on the beta are met with this message: "There's no beta...there's something better. While we know you're probably here to try to get a beta invite thanks to Chris Sacca's tweet, we have something much better for you: an opportunity to make a difference by donating to the American Red Cross."

To which Sacca himself tweeted, "Okay, this is entirely amazing."

At the same time, Twitter user Leigh Duncan-Durst tweeted that she and others are encouraging all SXSW speakers to add the hash tag #sxswcares to "mobilize support" for Japan. There are already hundreds of tweets being posted from here with that hash tag.

If you're in Austin, or if you're watching coverage of SXSW and are concerned about the people of Japan, please consider making a donation. You'll surely be able to build up your drinking budget again soon enough.