The final XOXO is a go

The final XOXO is a go
Me at XOXO 2014, photo by Daniel Agee

About 15 years ago, I'd say I was at my high point of weird internet fame, where a few thousand people online knew who I was. When you run a big community website, you get to know thousands of people and they got to know me too.

The one weird perk of internet fame that I miss to this day is a specific one, and that's getting to go backstage.

I met a lot of comedians, musicians, and other internet weirdos like me and whenever anyone was in the Pacific Northwest doing a show, I'd get tickets to their thing and let them know and they'd invite me backstage after or tell me to meet them in the green room before. Often, we'd go out for drinks or dinner later.

Backstage is a sacred place with a special aura about it and a small part of it was nerding out on the mechanics of how show business actually runs, but the bigger thing was the vibes of being among fellow creative folks.

Picture yourself in some old building built back in the art deco era—but also there’s 4-5 other somewhat famous people too and I really miss the easy camaraderie you get when a half dozen creators of one sort or another who all like what each other is doing get to meet for the first time.

There's a shorthand—a sort of ease of interacting because you're not meeting total strangers, you're getting to meet a favorite author or musician or a writer you love and you can tell them about the obscure thing they wrote years ago that you still think about often, and they can tell you all the things they learned from reading the websites you helped create.

Every time I got the opportunity to go backstage was like getting invited into a secret mutual admiration society. I really appreciate every chance I got to experience it.

Since COVID started, I haven't been to a single conference about tech or culture. The events industry naturally ground to a halt after 2020 and barely started coming back in the last year or two. Lots of my favorite past conferences are long gone, never to return again.

I miss obvious stuff like talks and hallway conversations at events, but the thing I miss more about events is accidentally bumping into someone I've always wanted to meet at a long lunch table or getting introduced to someone that is a friend of a friend that you've always admired or the person in line in front of you that you start small talking with who turns out to be the creator of your favorite iPhone game of all time.

I realize that's the niche that conferences used to fill in my life and what I've been missing these past few years. That kind of easy meeting of strangers that make you instantly want to root for them and love their projects feels a heck of a lot like meeting people backstage at a concert, who also happen to create fun things I've enjoyed before.

This year's XOXO Festival is on and it'll be the final edition. I've already put my name on the list and hope to go just to get the chance to experience another temporary mutual admiration society of strangers-but-not-really-strangers one more time.