March 17, 2008

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.

Commentary (29):

1. Ian says… mar 17, 2008 | 10:29 am

Santa Monica?! So punk! I like your talk, everyone on that panel is so together that I feel like a homeless wino in comparison.

2. Jason Beaird says… mar 17, 2008 | 10:57 am

I felt exactly the same way about this year’s conference. As a whole, it’s growing more impersonal, but I had my core group of friends from last year and we all broke off fairly often with our other groups of friends and new acquaintances. This made for lots of quality conversation, intamate meals and healthy competiton. Speaking of which, we really need to organize a bracketed Ms. Pacman tourney for next year.

3. Jared Christensen says… mar 17, 2008 | 11:18 am

I left my camera at home, and left pretty much everything but my phone and a pocket-size notepad and a pen at the hotel. The result was that I spent zero time thinking about my next photo op, wondering when to open the laptop and waste some time, or wishing I hadn’t carried around so much stuff. This year was more about people, and Twitter really did help me feel like a part of a smaller community at a truly massive event.

4. Drew says… mar 17, 2008 | 2:13 pm

Somehow I made it to your “Design Critic” panel in spite of the time-change, and I’m glad I did.

I’m a web designer at a university, and was pleasantly surprised that your main example was MICA.

Good stuff. Designing for a university can be a challenge. The committees and decision-makers are multitudinous, making critiques and client interaction that much more critical.

5. Matt Radel says… mar 17, 2008 | 2:45 pm

Thanks for the info dump Jason - there are a lot fewer posts like this than I expected. Mayhaps folks are still recovering…?

And Twitter has officially gone from the stupidest things I’ve ever heard of to one of the most fun things I do online.

6. Patrick Haney says… mar 17, 2008 | 3:01 pm

I completely agree with you, though I hadn’t really planned on skipping next year anyway. This year felt a lot more personal to me, whereas last year I think I got caught up in a “clique” and didn’t get to see many people (or meet new people).

I also noticed the lack of laptops open during sessions, and refused to do so myself. At this point, if I want a recap of the session I’m in, I’ll probably find it online somewhere. As far as my camera goes though, I still wanted to take it everywhere. Of course, I don’t have one of them thar fancy SLRs, so it wasn’t really a problem.

Good to see you again, and I look forward to having my ass handed to me in Mario Kart the next time we meet. Maybe I can take you in Mario Kart for the Wii when that gets released…

7. Cameron Moll says… mar 17, 2008 | 3:38 pm

Couldn’t agree more about the Twitter story this year.

Great seeing you and the gang again this year, as well.

8. Daniel says… mar 17, 2008 | 4:37 pm

Deann still wants to know where her ice cream is.

9. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 17, 2008 | 4:53 pm

Daniel: I know! I really wanted to buy her a beer or, of course, ice cream (one of my and Rob’s weaknesses), but we never saw her again. Do you know her? If so, please tell her to drop me or Rob a line, we’d like to send her something.

10. Daniel says… mar 17, 2008 | 5:35 pm

yep, I work with her! She kept looking for you that monday going “I want my ice cream dangit” (well, not those exact words). And I was upset I missed all the good stuff :( Department could only affford to send so many people and well.…bitter fruit and sour grapes.

11. Alain says… mar 17, 2008 | 6:46 pm

This was my first year to SXSW and I really had a good time. Attended your Everyone’s a Design Critic session on Sat. morning (me was sleepy), and saw lots of other good panels.

Also had good luck with the parties. Avoided the larger ones and was able to mosey into the Adobe event with no trouble.

And here’s some good advice for next year… If you jokingly ask the bartender at the Dirty Dog for a Zima enough times, he’ll make you one on the house. In my case, it was twice.

12. Alain says… mar 17, 2008 | 6:47 pm

Or was that Sun. morning?

13. yani says… mar 17, 2008 | 7:53 pm

Looking forward to the “Everyone’s a Design Critic” podcast :)

14. Mike Rohde says… mar 18, 2008 | 7:52 am

Jason, I had a great time at my very first SXSW Interactive. It was quite the experience, and I plan to return in 2009.

It was great to see you presenting in “Respect” and I really enjoyed your panel with Rob on “Everyone is a Design Critic” because you guys seemed like a great team up there, having lots-o-fun!

I already find Twitter useful and it was even more useful at SXSW, since I could get a vibe on what was happening and where to go.

As for parties, our small Milwaukee crew went to a few, though we preferred hanging out in a restaurant or hotel lobby with a smaller group of friends (where we could actually hear each other!)

Thanks for the SXSW Sketchnotes mention! I had a blast creating those at the event, so it’s very pleasing to see them having value for other attendees and even those who didn’t attend.

It was great to talk briefly with you on Tuesday in the hallway. Thanks for taking a little time to chat on the way to a panel. :-)

15. Jason Beaird says… mar 18, 2008 | 12:56 pm

Everyone keeps mentioning the lack of open laptops at the panels. The obvious reason for that is the iphone. I definitely wouldn’t have lugged my laptop around all day if I had the pocket version. Gadget lust.

16. Deann Graham says… mar 19, 2008 | 4:55 pm

Great panel like always. I was searching for the ice cream, but alas, I was denied the frozen creamy goodness. On another note, I felt this year of SXSW was more participatory than last years. People talked to each other more. I loved it.

17. Jonathan Sultemeier says… mar 20, 2008 | 10:22 am

This was my first year to attend SXSW. A little overwhelming due to the lack of knowledge on my part, but great nonetheless. I would have to say that your panels were about the best I attended. You guys kept me awake and entertained (Oh! and great information too).

Thanks for the tip on westciv. I have learned a lot already.

Hope to see you again next year!

18. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 20, 2008 | 1:06 pm

Deann Graham: Thank YOU for making our talk such a good participatory experience, you were great! I believe Mr. Weychert is getting in touch with you about sending you a nice thank you gift. :D

19. Matthew Griffin says… mar 21, 2008 | 7:47 am

I agree, Jason. SXSWi was better this year (all partying aside). I went to both of your panels and they were two of my favorite. Thanks for sharing and I hope you’re back next year.

20. Mike Stickel says… mar 21, 2008 | 1:40 pm

I was surprised at the number of people attending SXSWi for their 3rd or 4th (or more) time and expecting it to be a let down. I was much more excited that all of those people had changed their tune by the end of the conference.

It was great seeing you again, as brief as it was, I look forward to next time (maybe a trip to NY is in order?). Oh, and I’ve already been practicing Mario Kart for our next meeting.

21. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 21, 2008 | 3:20 pm

Mike Stickel: I’m always up for some Kart action!

22. Daniel K says… mar 22, 2008 | 2:47 pm

dangit, I’m bouncing off the walls here waiting for the design critic podcast to be up.

23. George says… mar 26, 2008 | 7:06 am

Jason Santa Monica ;-) what a treat! I’m now more interested in surfing via iPhone!

Best regards from Germany


24. jim says… mar 26, 2008 | 2:35 pm
25. Jason Gaylor says… mar 30, 2008 | 9:04 am

Jason, really enjoyed your presentation at SXSW “Everyone’s a Design Critic.” Are you still planning on releasing the podcast for this? I’d love to share it with some peers.

26. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 30, 2008 | 10:20 am

Jason Gaylor: Thanks very much! The podcast resides with SXSW, so it’s up to them to release it. I think they released most of the podcasts from last year within a month or two, so hopefully you won’t have too long of a wait.

27. Jason Gaylor says… mar 31, 2008 | 9:58 am

Jason, thanks for the response. That makes perfect sense. I’ll be watching for it.

By the way, have you considered adding a “notify me of responses to this post” checkbox when submitting comments? I almost forgot to check back, and I think it would be a nice feature. Unless I’m not seeing it.


28. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 31, 2008 | 11:31 pm

Jason Gaylor: I have indeed thought of implementing that feature, and hope to do so in the near future. Thanks!

29. Deann Graham says… apr 2, 2008 | 4:39 pm

To all. Let it be known that Jason and Rob are truly men among men. They have delivered upon their promise of great frozen treats. :)