Not to restate the obvious, but SXSWi was a blast! For those who don’t know or haven’t been, I’m talking about the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival, held a few weeks ago in Austin, TX. I joined 15,000 other people to talk about things like publishing, visual thinking, content strategy, accessibility, and more. I stayed in a condo right on 6th street with 3 friends (fun AND economical) and stayed for the full 5 days. But I can’t even begin to count the number of cool, fun things that happened and people I met and (most importantly) new I ideas that I learned about.
There are really four parts to SXSWi – the official programming, the exhibition hall, the sponsored social events and lounges, and the in-between networking opportunities.
Programming is the set of sessions selected from the Panel Picker, an interactive online proposal processing system that lets everyone vote on which sessions get to be presented. The public voting, however only counts for about a third of the decision on who gets in. In general, this system worked really well. There were around 15 or 20 concurrent sessions in each time block (except for keynotes), and the ones I saw were great. My two favorites were Dan Roam (@danroam) on Visual Thinking and Robert Hoekman (@rhjr) on getting a book published. There was only one session I wanted to attend but couldn’t because of overcrowding. I’m really looking forward to the video and audio recaps and reviews on the SXSW site!
The exhibition hall was huge, with literally hundreds of vendors and other types of booths. Some surprised me at first, but then I realized it was the exhibition hall for BOTH the interactive and film festivals. For example, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was there, and the Film Offices from Montana and Florida and Georgia, and tv stations like C-SPAN. Even these were interesting, though – did you know that C-SPAN has 160,000 hours of programming available online for FREE? I’m still not sure exactly why the National Guard had a booth, but they did give me a cool USB stick.
There were hardware booths like Panasonic and Samsung and Sony, and software biggies like Microsoft and Opera. AOL was showing off their new Livestream feature, which includes a geolocation function, and Paypal was pushing a new set of APIs. I particularly enjoyed the publishing booths (like O’Reilly and New Riders) and the ones from magazines (both digital and paper). One new one I’ll be watching is called MyTekLife, and it turns out to be based here in Arizona!
Sponsored events were more than just the parties that lasted all night (really)!! One of my favorites was the blogger’s lounge sponsored by Cliqset and Windows Phone. This is where I had the most interesting conversations, met the people who work in closely related fields to my own, and felt the most welcome and comfortable. I also happened to be there when Tony Hsieh came through with Advanced Reader’s Copies of his new book “Delivering Happiness” for everyone in the room! It certainly made ME happy, and I’ll be posting a review of it soon…
The evening parties varied from hits to misses. It’s tough to get the right balance between enough people to make it interesting and not so many people that you can’t hear yourself think. But they were all definitely worth the visits! My two favorite events were the techkaraoke (fun theme, plus a large back room that was quiet enough to talk) and the Fray Cafe.
Fray Cafe isn’t really a party (we had to pay for our own drinks and everything), it’s more of a show where people get up on stage and tell stories. There are only three rules: it has to be about you, it has to be true, and it has to be under 10 minutes. Sadly, a lot of people went way over the 10-minute limit. When combined with the shorter-than-usual overall time block, this meant that a long list of people who signed up just didn’t have time to tell their stories. I hope next year we get to hear more! Among those who DID get their turn were my friends John (@johnhedtke) and Phylise (@phylisebanner). I was extra glad because I’d sort of encouraged them to come with me. And I was mightily impressed at both of their stories!
All of this was wonderful, and would have made the event worthwhile, but even more valuable to me were the opportunities I had to meet actual, real-life people between sessions, between events, and sometimes just while standing around. Sometimes they were people I’d only “met” electronically, like Alexandra Samuel (@awsamuel), or hadn’t seen in person in a while, like Kathy Jacobs (@callkathy) or the inimitable Molly Holschlag (@mollydotcom), but mostly they were new to me. And my favorite part of ALL was when I got the privilege of introducing people to each other, particularly when they discovered projects they could work on together.
So, it was an exhausting week (the condo was right above a bar, so we HAD to stay up until 2am), but also amazing, inspiring, and totally worth it.