SXSW Interactive – a recap

Well, I’m finally back in Houston and managed to get a good night’s sleep today, so I suppose it’s time to review the past few days at SXSW in Austin.

First of all, I really enjoyed the conference.  Folks were very sociable, it was a nice mix of people from all walks of life, and although I wouldn’t say parties are my particular cup of tea, the ones that were happening every night weren’t bad either.  There were plenty of well known personalities at the convention, and you really were able go talk to any of them if you just got up off your duff after the panels were finished.  I got to chat with Doc Searls, the folks from upcoming.org and del.icio.us, a couple of Google folks, CNet guys, Chris Pirillo, a guy from archive.org, two of the founders of BlogHer, Evan Williams, etc.  Enough of that…what I’m really saying is that if you want to learn a little bit from experienced folks, you can do it.  If you’re smart, you can even help them in the process, which is often the sign of a really great networker.

The panels were hit or miss, as panels are wont to be. Nevertheless, when they were good, they were really good.

The most practically interesting panel, to me, was the Sink or Swim panel, which featured Joel from Joel on Software, Evan Williams from Odeo, and Joshua Schachter from del.icio.us. You got to hear exactly how these guys started their own businesses and hear what worked and what didn’t work.  Panels like this are useful because there’s a strong tendency among folks to seek out advice from their peers when it comes to asking what you should do next.  It’s a comfortable way to act, and it’s convenient too.  But to break through to the next level, you absolutely have to look outside your peer group.  If you’re only selling 1000 widgets now, don’t ask your friend who’s only selling 1000 widgets as well what to do.  Ask the guy selling 10,000 widgets.  Often, you’ll get counterintuitive, unexpected, and completely correct advice.

I think the most interesting panel that wasn’t so practical was the Bloggers in Love session.  I didn’t take a single note during the hour, but it was almost like watching a reality show to hear how these people met and how their relationships are working today.  You could sense some occasional awkwardness during the panel, which also made it slightly suspenseful. =)

I camped out at a friend’s house when we weren’t at the conference or a party.  They have two awesome dogs, a german shepherd and a collie mix, which made it hard to get any work done.  I raised a cocker spaniel when I was a kid, so I’m a real fan of dogs.  Anyway, you’ll be sitting there working, and one of the dogs will walk up to you and look at you.  What are you supposed to do, not pet it?

Blogging was, of course, a huge topic at the conference.  I think that in order to blog, one has to be slightly self-important, and you could certainly see that in a lot of panels.  (By the way, I do not claim myself to be an exception!)  One thing I found strange was how some folks were confused about what they should or should not say on their blogs.  I believe it to be somewhat odd that we can, as a community, put a new name on what essentially amounts to public writing and suddenly some people have no idea what is appropriate to say or do.

I believe that the “line” is not a new problem or even a particularly interesting one.  It is only new insofar as folks who could not publish themselves to an audience suddenly can now with very little effort.  The answer for those people does not lie with advice about how to blog; it lies with the person and their ability to assess for himself/herself all manner of social situations.

It was hard to get a full 8 hours of sleep with all the events, but somehow, that didn’t matter so much.

The wireless service was free, but pretty spotty.  Better than CES, which was nonexistent.  One funny thing…most of the folks from SnapStream were not able to VPN into the home office to check e-mail.  However, unlike the others, I had gone through the whole process of setting up OpenVPN.  And it worked perfectly.  I think I may need to deploy that across all the folks with laptops here…it certainly proved its worth at the conference.

OK, enough with the random thoughts.  In summary, SXSW Interactive gets a thumbs up from me.  I’ll definitely be coming back next year.

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