So Long, South By
Another South By Southwest Interactive has come and gone. This year’s conference was once again bigger than its predecessors, packed with the heaping portions of both really good and so-so content. I told myself this might be my last for a while, but now I’m not so sure; this was the best time I’ve had at SXSW in a few years, all because I avoided the parties.
Instead of braving the long lines and frustration of losing my voice while trying to shout above the the music—assuming I even managed to get in the door—I opted to get swept away with smaller groups at bars that weren’t hosting a parties. This resulted in a much more relaxed time full of really great conversation with new and old friends.
I presented twice this year, first as part of a panel on Day 1 called “Respect!” accompanying Jeffrey Zeldman, Liz Danzico, Erin Kissane (all Happy Cogs), and Doug Bowman from StopDesign and Google. I was nervous about presenting with so many co-workers fearing it would end up very one-sided, but it turned out to work really well, giving everyone a good glimpse into our group and how we work together, while Doug provided a good in-house balance to our points.
The second talk on Day 3 saw my longtime friend Rob Weychert and I team up again to tackle critiquing in “Everyone’s a Design Critic”. Battling both a time change for daylight saving, the first slot of the day, and less sleep than I’d like, we and the crowd managed to drag our butts in and pull off a really engaging conversation. There was a lot of audience participation, which helped everyone perk up. Below is the podcast for “Respect” and the slides for “Everyone is a Design Critic” (podcast coming soon).
- Respect!: Podcast | Video Clip (I love that they label me “Santa Monica” and renamed our panel. Great job, guys.)
- Everyone’s a Design Critic: Podcast | Slides (8.1MB PDF)
Perhaps the biggest eye-opener of the conference was the nature of how people interacted with one another and the content being presented. I saw very few people taking pictures, blogging, or even using laptops during the talks, and I collected far fewer business cards than ever. What I did see was an incredible amount of was Twitter action. In the past year Twitter has certainly exploded, but its presence at SXSW was palpable. People were not only using it to converse during talks as a sort of back channel, the Mark Zuckerberg interview being a good example, but also to organize flash meetups and impromptu parties instead going of the official events. Lots of people were using Twitter last year too, but it didn’t have the kind of saturation of followers to create the network it did this year.
Even stranger still are the implications of a possible drop off in Flickring and blogging. In previous years, blog posts and photos were the way people archived SXSW, you could skim through both to piece together a good semblance of the story for what occurred during the conference. I’m going to venture a guess and say that this year everything was archived by tweet, not solely, but most accurately. Twitter really became the story and storyteller of the conference. (I can’t take credit for this observation, it sprang out of a conversation with Liz). There are some pleasant exceptions to this, notably Mike Rhode’s sketchnotes, but wow.
This year’s SXSW has left me optimistic about the conference. Last year I felt like grew too big for its own good. This year it grew bigger still, but everyone seemed to find ways to make it work to their advantage. One of these years the conference will probably just turn into a large Katamari ball, but until then I think I’ll keep showing up. Actually, that might be even more incentive to show up.