Hola devoted readers! We’ve been remiss in bringing you the dish from the south — not to mention from the South By Southwest Interactive Conference — in a timely manner. But have no fear, your gossip needs are going to be satisfied beginning … right … now !
If we didn’t already know that SXSW is a big ol’ pumped up party, we do now. Blow by blow, here’s a glam report on our glittery digitally star-studdedly fantastic trip to Austin, hot off the presses just for you.
Thursday we flew in via Dallas/Fort Worth where we made the best of a two-hour layover by sitting in chairs … made of carpet scraps! But wait … who was that we saw back at SeaTac boarding the same flight as us? Could it have been MCDM’s own @deanero? It is a small world after all!
On the ground in the host city, we took a cab to our hotel, from where we could have seen the conference happening downtown, if only our name were Hubble Telescope! Our late-night arrival in a place as hoppin’ as North Austin just off IH35 was made even better by the generous hospitality (and portions!) offered by a charming local dining joint named Applebee’s. (Note to self: Next time, book for SXSW early to get a better location …)
Good thing we had Friday on our mind, because when we woke up that’s what day it was! Item number one on our social circuit: Get registered! Smooth and efficient at 10:00 a.m., registration was an enormous line snaking throughout the convention center by noon. Whew! Dodged a bullet on that one.
Next on the agenda: Get to a session. The organizers provided a plethora of ways to choose sessions. There was a printed program with more ads in it than a year’s subscription to Vogue, and a pocket-sized version of the same, with fewer ads. But if we wanted to know anything more than time and title for each session, it was online for us. The my.SXSW Web site provided session descriptions and panelist names as did the iPhone app version. We settled on the iPhone for most of our scheduling needs, despite the app’s surprising amount of #usabilityFAIL. Chief among our complaints was the lack of time-awareness, which meant on Tuesday we still had to thumb-scroll through hundreds of session titles starting at 9:00 a.m. the previous Friday. The icon labeled “ maps,” which we eagerly pressed when the time came to find our first session, showed us all of Austin instead of the map of the convention center we expected. And holy corporate sponsor, Batman! The map was from Mapquest!
Speaking of hashtags (did you notice we were speaking of hashtags?), no one was happy with the official tags for sessions. Rebellion filled the air as session after session ignored orders to use abominations like #rightwaytowireframe in favor of less character-hogging versions such as #rwtw. That meant that the links to Twitter searches on my.SXSW went nowhere. Between you and us, we never met anyone who cared about my.SXSW as a social hub — we were all too busy self-organizing instead. (Note to SXSW: The Twitterati can tell when the agency you hire doesn’t understand your users!)
The Austin Convention Center was apparently designed by M. C. Escher. Most of the shiny topics that caught our eye were on the first and fourth floor, but more than once we did join the wandering lost souls on the third floor. There were lots of sponsored lounges on floor three, but truth be told, we were always so busy rushing to our next session that we never set foot in one. (Note to readers: Our tweet sums up our eventual navigation strategy: “Going to the first floor so I can go to the fourth floor … #sxswi”)
Our session choices were idiosyncratic to our employer’s needs and best described elsewhere (Note to Google: Now is a good time to index Brook Ellingwood’s South By Southwest Tactical Takeaways), but there was a little something for everyone in the keynote speeches we attended (see below!).
And while we’re on the topic of keynotes and danah boyd, was there some irony in boyd standing in front of the entire population of Southbysouthwestistan discussing the future of privacy in Saturday’s opening remarks? Her appeal was a passionate denunciation of the idea that privacy is dead, and we left with the image of an upcoming generation casually using proxies to mask their locations seared into our head. Our own enchantment with Foursquare has waned more from boredom than discretion, but the good doctor is clearly onto something as she publicly shares her privacy thoughts.
We heard that Spotify CEO Daniel Ek fared better than Williams in his Tuesday keynote interview, but we missed it because we had a plane to catch. (Note to @bookido: Thanks for the laugh and catch-up just before we left for good!) The European online music service is rumored to be entering the U.S. market soon, which somehow puts us in mind of this quote from SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson in an article in The Guardian, “Is the digital world eating the music world? Probably. The music people need to take more time paying attention to the business side.” But on the flip side, SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke adds “And the interactive people need to spend more time on the rock ‘n’ roll.”
Part of the mystique of SXSW is socializing into the wee hours. Every night five or six parties are open to anyone with a conference badge, and we can’t begin to guess how many private events we didn’t get invited to. Without further ado, the Chronological SXSW Party Report:
Friday night, we deemed ourself too cool for the big opening night festivities at The Speakeasy and instead partied it up big time alone in our hotel room with a bottle of NyQuil and a 10:00 bedtime. (Note to forensic Twitter detectives: This was the day the fire alarm made us leave our last session early. We did accompany @cknafelz to a bar and took ourselves to an early dinner – we highly recommend the enchiladas de mole at Manuel’s – but such activities do not a party make.)
After spending Saturday constantly blowing our nose at the Convention Center, we met our brother, who had driven up from San Antonio and hit Austin’s famous 6th Street strip for some hard-rockin’ good times! A couple of hours later, after a plate of acceptable Mexican food – we swear we don’t even remember what it was – and an immoderately swigged quantity of agua pura, we begged a ride back to the hotel where the blessed NyQuil and a 9:30 lights out awaited.
For us, the one must-do social event was Sunday Night’s shindig in Austin PBS affiliate KLRU’s famed “Austin City Limits” studio. So, devoted readers, when we woke up Sunday morning even sicker than the night before, we went back to sleep until after noon. The strategy paid off, and by late afternoon the cold was in retreat (although a week later it continues to linger as stubbornly as Internet Explorer 6), and we were ready to go meet some public media compatriots and see some live music already. Among the highlights: “Hi, I’m Liane Hanson from NPR.” (Note to the inclined: The live acts were Nicole Atkins and Band of Skulls – we spotted ourself in a video on the PBS @SXSW player (in a KCTS 9 wrapper!), which means we are famous!)
Having proven that we could get our sorry self out of the hotel for a party, no matter how sick we were, we duplicated the feat Monday night, motivated in part by the promise of free copies of Windows 7 and in part because the party was at The Speakeasy and actually we were secretly disappointed to have not gone there opening night. We mingled, noshed, and imbibed vertically, from the first floor to the rooftop, but we entered the front door ten people too late to get a free operating system. We did see some cool demonstrations of Microsoft Surface, and tip our hats in the direction of Redmond for the slickness of the interface.
Now, devoted readers, we’re certainly no conference neophytes. Our basement is filled with giveaway totebags and untouched swag from more conferences than we’d care to admit to having attended. We’ve seen conference parties before, and the parties at SXSW trumped them all. But what about the conference itself? If we were truly a gossip columnist , we would be justified if we wrote no further, but the problem is we aren’t – we are an Interactive Producer/Experience Architect. We must answer this question: Did my nonprofit employer spend hard-raised cash just so we could go have a good time (when we weren’t completely miserable with our cold)?
Our view is this: SXSW Interactive provided more substance with far less pose than any conference we’ve attended. Granted, we kept ourselves on a focused, tactical track as we navigated the enormous sea of sessions. Certainly, it would be possible to go only to conceptual sessions (and had we paid our own way, we might well have!), but our experience is that when someone else pays the bill, you’d better be able to tell them what they got in return. Of course, some SXSW veterans tell us last year was better: Perhaps it was, but if next year is only 50 percent as good as this year, then it’s still the best conference value we’ve ever seen for real-world interactive media workers.
But if we do go next year, we will give serious consideration to spending our own hard-earned cash staying after the Interactive track ends and experiencing what SXSW was started to be in the first place: a music festival. (Note to our boss: Remember what Brent Grulke said: “… the interactive people need to spend more time on the rock ‘n’ roll …”) If this is media convergence, then we, for one, are ready to converge.