SXSW 2011

Clay Shirky
Clay Shirky, with sponsors

It’s hard to believe I started going to SXSW eleven years ago, but for my ninth trip to Austin, I decided to do it up like an adult with a family and kids and only stay a few days instead of doing a 6-7 day drunken bender like years past. I landed Friday afternoon and headed home Sunday afternoon, so as a result I didn’t get to take in as many panels as I had hoped, but overall it was a fun time. Some memories from this year in no particular order:

  • The Old Timers Ball (“Web 2.Old!” — Rex) was a great success. It was everything I wanted in a gathering: low-key, had the bar to ourselves, could hear ourselves talk, and I got to catch up with about three dozen people I never saw again in the masses. Huge, huge thanks goes out to Kevin Smokler for the idea and Kevin Newsum for organizing it, getting the bar ok, and basically doing everything (all I did was blog about it and enjoyed it). I hope this is a tradition, especially given the size of the event.
  • BIG BIG BIG. Rumors were the total attendees were getting up to the 20,000 mark. There were over 1,000 talks over five days by 2k speakers. It seemed like any time slot had about 20-30 panels going on at once, in locations all over downtown Austin. In years past, it has felt too big and I’ve felt too anonymous but this year felt like it was twice the size of last year. Holy shitballs was it a big event. I might instead go to smaller conferences in leiu of SXSW next year. I wish the 100 people I know from SXSW that I like to hang out with would choose a smaller conference with me so we could actually see each other and interact. I honestly missed seeing at least two dozen close friends completely, since the whole event was so spread out and there were just so many people around.
  • Last year I said Foursquare was a killer app for finding friends and finding my way around at nights, but this year it was all about Lanyrd (and their SXSW specific subsite). They started off by building the killer app I wanted last year, a way to see where/when all my Twitter friends were speaking, so right off the bat I could see a list of everyone I knew and what they were going to talk about, and build a schedule from it. Then using my friend network on Twitter, they could show me every panel that my friends marked off as interesting enough to track and/or attend. This whittled down the insane 1000+ options to about 2 or 3 cool options for every time slot (instead of 20-30). Thanks Leonard Lin and Andy Baio for marking off so many panels, I just filtered through their lists to find the diamonds in the rough.

    Lanyrd was also amazing because it required no setup, you just authorized Twitter and it was completely customized instantly for you. I also enjoyed their Chrome plugin to show SXSW schedules in user profiles. For the week leading up to SXSW, I could see many people’s plans and talks and it helped filter out good stuff even more. I also was amazed with Simon and co’s active development of the site at SXSW. By my second day I noticed a new mobile version of the site had a feature showing you every panel going on right now and how far away from each you were, as well as everything coming up next (if your current choice was boring you to tears). Lanyrd made this gigantic conference manageable and gave me the ability to navigate through the nonsense thanks to a couple clicks and the power of my Twitter friends.

  • I stayed at Ben and Katie’s house instead of a hotel and it was great. We got to have quiet slow mornings away from the hubub, and enjoy fine coffee and breakfast tacos without any crowds.
  • Food was pretty great this year. I got to have a huge meal at my favorite Austin restaurant Parkside, and I got to eat a ton of tacos. The truck-based food world that hit LA and Portland was in full swing in Austin and gave lots of quick simple options. Sadly, I didn’t get to hit my favorite Polvo’s and sample their amazing salsa. Oh well.
  • Bubble. Everywhere you looked around the convention center was a massive sponsored logo. You couldn’t walk ten feet without noticing several people in matching t-shirts trying to give some free shit away. There was enough free food from companies that I know people went days without having to pay to eat. It was kind of crazy, and felt more like a NASCAR event than a technology conference.
  • Pop-up shops were awesome. I love the idea of temporary storefronts and I’ve enjoyed seeing them in NYC before. I got both a Glennz tshirt and a new iPad from their respective pop-up shops. There’s something cool about taking a traditional brick-and-mortar business model and making it agile and fun and light like the Internet. I hope future SXSW events have as many pop-up shops as food trucks.

Ben Brown

That was about it. I had fun, I liked coming home before it was over, I ate well, and I enjoyed my talk. I also liked recording it and posting it and I hope more speakers at massive conferences record theirs at home so those that wanted to see it but missed it while trying to see 34 other panels at once can see what you worked on that was worth flying across the country to present. Overall I wished I got to see more talks, but I also got to sleep a bunch, but in the end the lasting memory really is missing seeing a lot of people I know because it’s a bit too big. Sorry Shawn and Hugh, I know you work hard at it and it shows in being a great event everyone wants to attend, but I think we may have a case of too much success, especially for an old-timer like me.

My SXSW 2011 talk on lessons from 11 years of community

Lessons from 11 years of community (my SXSW 2011 talk) from Matt Haughey on Vimeo.


This past Saturday, I gave a talk at SXSW Interactive on some lessons in moderation and growing a community that was sparsely attended (I was half a mile away in one of the outlying hotels, no biggie — it happens). People liked the talk and plenty of people that missed it asked for my slides but I use minimal text in my slides. 

So this is me doing my presentation in my home office. I miss the benefit of an engaged audience so I might sound kind of low-energy doing it alone and I do miss the live Q&A afterwards I’d get at a real conference, but if you have any questions feel free to ask them on Vimeo in the comment thread.

Here are all the tweets archived from the live talk, marked with #RWModeration:

come break bread with us at the Old Timers Ball

SXSW is coming up and as it has gotten bigger, it has gotten harder to find friends, so Kevin Smokler, Kevin Newsum, and I thought it would be nice to throw an “Old Timers Ball” for ye olde school webloggers to meet, greet, and catch up with each other on the first Friday night. It’ll be at the Side Bar in Austin (map below) from 5-8pm. It’s a no-host cash bar (you pay for your beers, basically) and we welcome friends new and old to come hang out.

RSVP at Upcoming, if you like, but we look forward to seeing you there.


Side Bar (602 E 7th)
Friday March 11
5-8 pm


(Featuring a UB the DJ set: bring your iPod, iPhone or mp3 player and we’ll spin some of your tunes at the party)


SXSWi 2010 recap


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.

Huge Crowds

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.

Our lovely Austin rental house

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.

On stage #codingforpleasure

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.

MC Frontalot doing "I hate your blog..."

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.

Break Bread for Brad

Mark your calendars for Break Bread For Brad at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival. Friday March 12th, 5pm-8pm at the Mohawk.

It’s not a wake, but a celebration, and hopefully we can continue the welcome gathering to open SXSW in future years. All who knew (or even knew of) Brad are welcome.

SXSW 2007 recap

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #666; } .flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; } .flickr-caption { font-size: 10px; margin-top: 0px;color:#999; }

The big room, originally uploaded by mathowie.

– SXSW was huge this year. Word on the street was 5,500 interactive attendees filled the halls. Due to this, a lot of the big public parties were full and required lines.

– The subject matter felt like a perfect mix of various subjects. Sometimes a SXSW feels like every panel is about blogging, or money, or mobile apps, or CSS, but this year felt like it had something for everyone. Kudos to Hugh and the planners for getting that just right.

– There was almost no hallway time! I think it was the crowds, because when panels would get out, it was like a flood of humans taking up every inch of the halls and you’d be swept up if you were sitting on the ground with a laptop. So all my schmoozing was at parties instead of the convention center.

– Having half the talks on one side of the convention center, and half a ten minute walk away on the other side seemed like poor planning. I felt like I was back at college, running across campus during a short break.

– This was my seventh SXSW but the first one that I truly enjoyed stress-free. In the past, I’d wake up early and hit the first panel and motor through the entire day, but I’d eventually reach exhaustion early in the evening and have to retire early. This year I stayed on west coast time and only saw one panel before noon the entire time. It was a great vacation, and it’s all about staying out until 2 and sleeping until 10.

– The panel I spoke on went alright, but I think what held it back was that I never met two of the participants before. My favorite panels always include people I’ve known and can joke with. I’m afraid the unfamiliarity came through to the audience and we would have been a lot more fun to listen to and watch if we were looser around each other. Lane Becker’s panel reminded me of this, and I always love Lane’s panels because he can keep things jovial and everyone seems to be old friends (without being chummy)

– There never seemed to be enough time for questions. Talks either ran too long or questioners rambled. If I were to redo this year, I would have brought a wind-up egg timer and convinced our moderator that after every 5 minutes of the panel talking to each other we’d stop and take a question (and those asking questions would have 1 minute to get it out).

– There were a lot of parties, but they weren’t outrageous. There was no imported sashmi platters or fire dancers like in 2000, this was simply a bunch of rented bars with free drinks (a party at SXSW this year seemed to run about $5k which isn’t an insane number, especially compared to whatever people did during the bubble of 2000).

– I heard a lot of advice on how to run a business online, both good and bad. I decided on the flight home that I’ll be starting a new blog talking about the lessons I’ve learned building and running a business. More on this soon.

– Wil Wright’s panel blew my mind. He talked a mile a minute, but not so fast you couldn’t understand or keep up. It was like a full 40 minutes of total laserbeam concentration for me. His slides were great too — revealing his points in several layers as he shotgunned us with his thesis — you barely noticed that he probably made them in Microsoft Paint using cilp art from the 1980s. They almost had a handmade quality to them.

He played Spore for about ten minutes and it was an incredible simulation game. It was a perfect mix of SimCity, The Sims, and the basic principles of science. It looked quite fun (a bit cartoony and Wii-like) and I could see it being immersive without consuming my entire life like I bet World of Warcraft would. I can’t wait until that game gets released.