Consulting, Publishing, Engineering

South by Southwest

What an amazing event!

Described by others as “spring break for geeks” or “super bowl of the tech world”, South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) is the smallest part of the SXSW trio (Music, Film, and Interactive). It’s also the only one where attendance was UP over last year. The first thing I noticed was the enormous scale (at over 11,000 registrants, it was almost 10 times the size of the largest tech. event I attend). But they’ve got some history at this level, and most things went smoothly despite sometimes lengthy lines.

The thing that impressed me most was the way the organizers used the social and collaborative media available to build a community before during and after the festival itself. It started with a “panel picker” where the submitted proposals were put into a database and anyone could vote on which ones looked most interesting. The scale was from 0 (”zilch – I have no interest in this idea”) to 5 (”amazing! this justifies my trip to sxsw”). Lots of people commented, lots of interaction. The smartest thing, however, was that they made it clear that this was a COMPONENT of how the panels would be picked, not the sole deciding factor. Brilliant!

Once registered, attendees had access to the “my.sxsw” community with twitter-like micro blogging app and the ability to search for other attendees by a variety of parameters such as name or hometown or company name or keyword.

I went to some amazing sessions (I particularly enjoyed Jared Spool’s talk on “Journey to the Center of Design”) and also to a few that… could use improvement. There’s lots of people who have written more detailed and more graphically interesting reviews of SXSWi (see Mike Rohde’s “sketchnotes” for example), and you can also see many of the sessions as podcasts from the official SXSWi site.

But the most valuable part was the personal connections I was able to make with friends old (and new!). Had breakfast with the boys from Bookmans (and tried migas for the first time), TWO lunches with convergence and content strategist Rahel Bailie and some of her friends I hadn’t met before, and a lovely Mexican lunch with Anne Gentle and one of her colleagues. I met Keith from Blue Paraboloa – he’s a Rose-Hulman graduate, and knows many of my IEEE/PCS colleagues!

And yes, I went to a couple of parties as well. Two that are noteworthy (or rather, two for which I have pictures):

The Bacon Party was a fundraiser for a children’s charity. There was a musical act, an auction, and yes, bacon frying away up on stage and at the back of the room. Late at night, dark, lots of people – but this photo does express my impression of the event!

Late night party picture
Dark, noisy, crazy lights… and yes, bacon

The Rackspace party was earlier in the day, outside (beautiful weather) and had lots of activities like belly dancers and hookahs and several women giving attendees henna tattoos. Here’s mine (both on that day with dark, chunky ink and glitter, then later after the ink and glitter flaked off):

Newly-finished henna tattoo
Newly-finished henna tattoo
After most of the tatto had flaked off
After most of the tattoo had flaked off

Lots of fun, lots to learn, I definitely want to go back again next year!!

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