SXSW 2008 Recap

magnolia cafe

It’s been two weeks since I left SXSWi and while I had a fantastic time again, the intensity of this year’s festival was somewhat muted (at least for me) in comparison with the last time I was there in 2006. Why? A couple of reasons, two of which were:

  • Size. SXSWi was on three levels of the Austin Convention Center (ACC). I knew things were bigger in Texas, but I had no idea how much this applied to the ACC. The place is massive. So massive in fact that it felt like I spent most of my time roaming between levels, searching for people I knew and barely making it to sessions on time, unlike in 2006, where the festival was restricted to a single level and serendipitous meetings and conversations in the corridor outside the sessions were often the most interesting parts of a day.
  • Capacity. The number of people attending this year has skyrocketed. Take a casual glance at the number of parties in 2006 and 2008 to see the difference. It’s noticeable. Parties filled up quickly and stayed that way until after the open bar ran out or the last band went stopped playing, whichever happened first. I’m not sure what the solution is here for the organizers, but for me – next time there’s a party I want to get to, I’ll be getting there 15-20 minutes early. Shout out to Tim Shey‘s Next New Networks party which was one of the best ones I got to. [sadly, my band – Lacy & the Books didn’t get a chance to debut on Rockband :)]

Many of the same issues and concerns that I had were also raised by Leonard and Jay. Go read their posts – they’re far more eloquent.

As far as the panels go, my only complaint was that I couldn’t clone myself and be in multiple sessions at the same time. Here’s a daily breakdown:

Battledecks II – Powerpoint meets Karaoke actually turned out to be a really fun way of kicking things off. Takeaways: Ebola, Amy Winehouse, Wood-based Keynote graphs, lots of meat, Mike Essl’s Pickle Podcast invading the asses of chickens everywhere and other highly relevant interactive bits and bobs.

Filching Design: When the Shoe Fits – loved this one. Takeaway: steal shamelessly when you need to, but be prepared to face the music.

You Are Here: Gaming and User’s Geolocation in Web 2.0 – Ryan Sarver invited me to be on this panel at the last minute and I’m so glad I went. Jeremy Irish from had some stories about geowanking, I talked a bit about some projects I’ve done with area/code and continued the tradition of making sure I’m always on a panel with Dens at SXSW.

Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Great Design Hurts – this was one of my favourite sessions at SXSW. Michael Lopp and John Gruber make a great tag team. Takeaways: make pixel perfect mockups, hold pony meetings, be willing to get called an asshole.

Worst Website Ever: That’s So Crazy, It Just Might Work – hilarious. And a lesson in pitching, courtesy of Mr Productivity himself – Merlin Mann.

The Science of Designing Interactions – Andreas’ session was good, but perhaps a bit too dense for first thing in the morning. (10am is the crack of dawn at SXSW). Ming Yeow was a good complement to Andreas presentation.

Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users – I really enjoyed seeing Kathy Sierra speak, but her typography hurt my eyes. Fantastic content. Takeaways: practice seductive opacity – keep the mystery alive.

The Supercollider: A Hero of the Social Network – use Twitter, Dopplr, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr extensively. Make lots of friends. Love life. Takeaways: super colliders are gorgeous.

Mobile Phones: International Devices of Mystery – my panel – was plagued with numerous lineup changes from the start and unfortunately Neil and Jonathan (welcome to the world, Calliope!) couldn’t be there – but I managed to rustle up truly fantastic stunt doubles in the forms of Matt Jones and John Poisson who kept the conversation about some of the more interesting, exotic and obscure uses of mobiles around the world flowing freely. One of my favourite insights was hearing Jen talk about why video calling is so successful in Italy (they sell phones in pairs and encourage you to give it to older family members).

PMOG: The Web as a Play Field – walked into the tail end of this one. Love the idea.

Managing Creative Teams – good practical discussions. I love the theater analogies. Takeaways: rotate creative leadership, cross training gives people a sense for what is possible.

Bio-Networks: Using Mobile Technology to Impact Healthstyle – another one that I walked into during the Q&A. I wish I’d seen her entire presentation.

Billy-Bob Thornton. Awesome. Love this guy. Loved the sunglasses indoor. Takeaway: “once you start testing things – it becomes like toothpaste.”

Tuesday Keynote: Jane McGonigal – I really enjoyed this one, but disagreed with some of her bold sweeping assertions. She’s a great speaker/thinker regardless, if you get a chance to see her talk – don’t miss it.

Conversations and meeting people are some of the highlights of the festival for me. Here are just a few of the people that I got to spend time with (in no apparent order):

New friends
Jen Bekman of 20×200 fame, Raul Gutierrez, Bre Pettis, Aaron Straup Cope,
Micah, Matt Jones, Nathan Eagle, Rick Webb, John Poisson, Jeremy Irish.

Old friends
Daniel Raffel, Cameron Marlow, Amanda Kelso, Omar Elsayed, Buster Mcleod, Molly Wright-Steenson, Jennifer Bove, Karin Klein, Leonard Lin, Andy Baio – MC Frontalot ruled!, Danny Newman, Nora Abousteit (too briefly!), Ryan Sarver, Manlio Loconte, Dens Crowley, Alex Rainert, Karen Bonna, Ron Goldin, Christine Brumback, Alli Mooney, Andreas Weigend, Will Carter, Kevin Kearney.

See you next year, SXSW.