The business tech world took a step aside from its regular agenda today to extend a helping hand to victims of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan, as well as the ensuing tsunami threatening those in at least 20 other countries.

The business tech world took a step aside from its regular agenda today to extend a helping hand to victims of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan, as well as the ensuing tsunami threatening those in at least 20 other countries.

However, while the industry continues to offer Japan all the tools at its disposal, the show must go on, and the South by Southwest festival provided much fuel to busy online conversation this week.

Google once again launched its person finder app, this time to Japan. The application, which was also used last month after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in New Zealand, provides an easy tool for those looking for people displaced by a natural disaster to connect with those who may have knowledge of their whereabouts.

Similarly, Twitter has become a go-to in response to natural disasters. So far, the site has maximum activity in Japan, according to Tweet-o-Meter. At press time, the hashtag #tsunami remains Twitter's top trending term.

The worldwide reliance on Twitter for natural disasters is one contributing factor driving up its value, which was estimated at a new high this week. Stock trading and monitoring website SharesPost raised its valuation of Twitter to $7.7 billion on Monday. The adjustment comes after investors recently agreed to purchase 35,000 of Twitter’s $34.50-per-share preferred stock, combined with the value of the company’s 223.7 million fully diluted shares. Less than a week earlier, investment firm JPMorgan Chase valued Twitter at just $4 billion, sources with JPMorgan reportedly told the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, fellow social media company Facebook was busy raising its value to businesses looking to market on the site. On Tuesday, the company announced updates to Facebook Insights for Websites. Essentially, Facebook is providing analytics tools so businesses can see how many Facebook users were exposed to a Like button for their content, compared to the number who actually clicked it.

Soon, however, Facebook and Twitter may not be alone as tech startups that have grown into international sensations. And they may have the ongoing South by Southwest festival to blame for the new competition. The event, which began today in Austin, Texas, is expected to gather as much as 40 percent more than the 14,000 attendees it attracted last year, according to organizers who spoke with CNN.

The online attention is mounting as the festival kicks off, with a constant stream of searches for “SXSW,” according to Google Realtime.

In years past, SXSW has been a prime opportunity for tech startups to get off the ground. Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder, recently responded to a common question he receives – “What is the process involved in launching a start-up at SXSW?” – in a recent blog post. Williams explained that Twitter’s initial launch, which he described as “a whimper,” came nine months prior to SXSW 2007. At the event, however, the company targeted the “critical mass” of tech-savvy attendees to gain momentum. According to Williams, the $11,000 for technology at SXSW 2007 was the only money Twitter ever spent on marketing.

This year, the same will be attempted by startups providing group text messaging services, which essentially turn text messaging into select mobile chat rooms and are recognized as one of the industry’s hottest topics entering SXSW. At the event, such startup providers as Yobongo, GroupMe, Beluga and GroupFlier are hoping to take off like Twitter. Morris Panner, CEO of GroupFlier, recently contributed to CNN Money with a detailed explanation of his company’s marketing efforts at SXSW, claiming the event is a sign of the times in the business tech world.

“If Woodstock happened today, it would be a consumer electronics show,” Panner wrote.

The trend to target the innovative crowd at SXSW isn’t limited to just small tech startups. Because the release date for the iPad 2 coincides with the start of SXSW, Apple built a temporary retail location in downtown Austin solely so attendees are not restricted from making first-day purchases. The company only leased the 5,000-square-foot retail space for two weeks, according to Austin-based newspaper the American-Statesman.

The move is important for Apple, which has long measured the impact of its new devices by sales upon initial release. Last April, more than 300,000 original iPads were sold on its first day on the market, exceeding first day success of the iPhone’s introduction in 2007.

So far, the “iPad 2” has been well received online, according to Google Realtime.

These issues will all have an impact on the industry moving forward. Keep listening, as the conversation will only get louder.

Colin Neagle is a former editor of Brafton's Business Technology section. He studied journalism, writing and mass communications in college, and has experience writing business news for a number of newspapers and online publications.