Now that I’ve slept it off and a couple days have passed, I feel like I can start processing the past week in Austin Texas for the South By Southwest Interactive Conference. Some quick bits follow.
I’d heard this would be the biggest SXSWi ever and I certainly remember not having as much fun the last time I was there in 2007. Back in 2007, I couldn’t find my friends among the crowds and I didn’t know some good friends even attended until after I returned home. This year it was definitely bigger, but I’d have to say Twitter and Foursquare saved the day and made it manageable because they served as a friend filter and handy search device for figuring out where the 50-100 people I know and care about seeing were among the 10,000 anonymous conference attendees.
The first couple days I kind of hated the crowds and how hard it was to find friends in the halls (SXSWi from the previous ten years included years where I’d see more people I knew than didn’t know if I walked down a hallway between panels) but soon I realized everyone I knew was tweeting their location and I could use my friends list in Foursquare to figure out where to go. Heck, even though I complained about 23 things happening at the same time as the panel I was on, the simple web app SitBy.Us worked great for finding friends and panels to enjoy as well.
The crowds reminded me of how people used to say there were too many blogs, and that after a few years people just invented better search and discovery methods to help you find the few blogs that should matter to you. So I didn’t have to talk to 10,000 people and I eventually found ways to find the 100 people that mattered to me.
That all said, one rule I lived by was Never Stand In Line For A Party. When 10,000+ people hear there is a Twitter party, there will be a long ass line to get into a bar that can only hold a few hundred. That means I missed some of the big parties but after spending 45min in lines during 2007 SXSWi to get to a party I stood around in for an hour, I realized party lines are pointless. Instead, I attended nightly events that lacked lines like The Fray Cafe, The Break Bread for Brad get together, The SXSW Web Awards, the 20×2 show, nice dinners with friends, house parties, and Nerdcore Hip Hop Concerts.
Rent a House!
After having a child a few years ago, my family tends to rent houses when vacationing instead of staying in hotels and it’s been great. This year for SXSW I rented a three bedroom modern house in a nice neighborhood just a couple miles from the convention center. It was about the same price as a single hotel room downtown and Team MetaFilter (four people) got to stay in it. It was also great to make my own simple breakfast and get several quiet hours each night to upload photos, write, code, etc. I did have to rent a car and I barely drank because I was driving everyone around but it was really nice to get restful sleep in a calm roomy place. It was a nice change from the drunken stumble home to a tiny $400/night downtown room with people having sex on the floor above at 3am while I’m trying to sleep.
Panels, panels, everywhere
There were certainly a zillion things to go see presented and I have to say unlike my last SXSW visit, I came away with good ideas from the panels and discussions. I wrote a couple pages of notes of things I need to add to my web applications and ideas for new features on sites I run. It was great to come away feeling invigorated and informed instead of merely hearing the same people saying the same things I’d read online already.
I’ve been obsessed lately with what makes a good performer and given the immense rooms most SXSW talks took place in, the only memorable ones were when a speaker could really perform, especially in the cavernous spaces.
I took part in a panel that sort of went so-so because I think we were all three introverts on stage and I was mumbling my thoughts instead of really engaging the audience and speaking from the heart. I felt like we might have over prepared and the easy banter the panel enjoyed when talking beforehand didn’t come across on stage.
Gary Vaynerchuk had a similar message to the one my panel was trying to convey (work on side projects, make them awesome, make a living from them, follow your passions) but he gave his talk in the most amazing way possible — super high energy, super entertaining, and almost more like a celebration or a sermon in places. I used to ignore the Gary Vee love around the internet because I used to think it was mostly marketing types that loved him so he had to be a fake, but after I saw his Web 2.0 Keynote from 2008 online, I became a fan and seeing him give a talk like that in person is almost revolutionary. Gary is the real deal and worth following.
Always Be Content Creating
I didn’t intend to be doing much while I was in Austin, but I did end up talking MetaFilter inside baseball on the Slappy Pinchbottom radio show with Josh & Jessamyn, as well as my new friend MC Frontalot (his new album is great!). I’ll link to a download of the show whenever I track one down. I also just happened to drop by This Week in Google show and my part starts about 30min into this show where I talk about Fuelly, privacy, and my tumor. I took a bunch of photos while I was out and about, including the super fun Bike Hugger Mobile Social which turned into just about the most efficient group ride I’ve ever done with 700 people at once. Below is some video from the radio show, featuring Josh and Jessamyn singing the “Asshat” song about moderating MetaFilter.
From the moment this year’s SXSW started, I wasn’t sure it was going to be a good time given the size and scope of it after ten years, but I definitely came away inspired, entertained, and exhausted like the best of the previous years.
Agreed; it was a good, energizing year. Solid variety of content, generally great presenters; high levels of inspriration to be had in & out of panels.
ABCC is a fantastic takeaway. I felt the same message over and over: ideas are swell but doing is what matters. I came away with one burning imperative: stop not being awesome! Lovely to see so much faith and enthusiasm for the notion that everyone has something to contribute.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a conference with such opposing opinions from the attendees. It’s either awful or mind expanding, almost nothing in between.
but soon I realized everyone I knew was tweeting their location and I could use my friends list in Foursquare to figure out where to go.
That’s strange to me. As a man about the internet, it’s hard to believe it took you a few days to realize that foursquare would be huge. That was pretty much known going in (not being snarky, honestly thought you would have been ready to use a location service going in).
Before this trip, I’d never used Foursquare in a really crowded city with tons of friends nearby. I knew it was a useful app in SF and NYC, but I’ve never been there with the app and my friends actively using it. So it was the first time I’d gotten to use the app as intended.
Using Foursquare by your lonesome in a small town is a solitary type of service, using it at SXSW was completely different.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a conference with such opposing opinions from the attendees.
It was kind of dizzying for me, as a first-timer, trying to digest the helpful opinions of various returnees who were themselves displaying all sort of conflicting takes on stuff. As someone without many points of reference, it was definitely very big-seeming event, genuine sea of people; I was always pretty thrilled to see someone I recognized as a mefite, or from bumping into the day before somehow.
Ironically, foursquare got me hooked but was not very useful for me in a friend-finding way because (a) I didn’t know who I knew there in the first place and (b) I was fiddlingly newly with an iPhone I didn’t really know my way around at all yet for those few days.
Staying at Mod House and bumming around Austin variously with Matt and Jessamyn and Paul was huge, as far as that goes; I can’t imagine how odd it would have been to try and navigate the event as a true solo endeavor.
I had exactly the opposite experience; I’ve always been a lone wolf and being there with other people and co-orrdinating, actually going out at night and going to eat meals with people was a new change. I also felt responsible for my panel in a way I haven’t when I was on someone else’s panel.
Foursquare is ridiculous in my town, I suspect it’s like Matt’s. I am mayor of everywhere except the airport, and I mostly use it to get spots in my town on the map. I went somewhere in Austin where Foursquare said “free coffee for the mayor!” and suddenly it clicked what it must be like to live someplace where you can use it all the time with, you know, other people around.
I’m taking off my SXSWi training wheels now and deeming myself an authority on the subject now that I’ve survived my 8th year.
While I miss the times when there were just a handful of rooms with keynotes in 18ABC (adding D on as years went by) I can still say I really enjoyed the conference this year. Expanding out to more than just a couple of the local hotels and moving registration to the first floor really changed the crowd dynamics we saw in the past 3 years.
Also, mostly by luck I think: the only line I stood in this year was the massive security checkpoint line as I left Austin.
Yeah, it’s a bummer I didn’t get to see as many friends as I’d have liked, but I did get to meet a ton of new people. And if I’m being totally honest, it’s the primary reason I go. I get to climb out of my damp Oregon cave in the morning and meet new real life friends in air that feels exactly the opposite of the clammy Pacific Northwest. Technically I think that’s called “buttery”.
I think if the Foursquare app actually ran a bit snappier on my 3G iPhone I might have caught up with old friends more. But I think that slowness actually motivated me to simply say hello to more people than I would have and let events unfold as they might.
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