Exit interview – SXSW Interactive 2008

The annual Rexes in Texas photo:
Left – me, Right – Rex Sorgatz

I must admit: At this year’s SXSW Interactive, I didn’t attend half the number of sessions I usually attend. One of the problems is this: The panels have such clever and witty names, they often cloak the topic being covered. It’s similar to the way print editors attempt to come up with headlines that have snappy puns playing off accompanying art — but then when the headline is moved online without the art, it becomes meaningless. In other words, a witty “title” of a panel that becomes separated from an explanatory line or list of panelists, becomes meaningless.

So, I missed lots of friends who were on panels because I didn’t connect the title of the panel with who was on it. Perhaps in the future, there needs to be two versions of the schedule. One with the clever names and another one that is “optimized” or “translated” for people like me who’d like ‘literal’ titles. For example, here is a version I’d like: 10: AM, Room 12 – A panel about online marketing gimmicks with the following panelists: John Doe, who did that crazy YouTube thing with the table saw; Mary Smith who dressed up in ice-cream cones; Bob Jones, that person at Wal-mart who got everyone ticked off when he blogged live from the gun counter.

I’ve seen some people refer to South by Southwest as “Spring Break for the Internet.” And, frankly, it’s better enjoyed if that is the approach one takes. There is brilliance in the hallways and in the hangouts and in the evening activities (okay, well maybe not in the evening activities). I met more people I’ve known via Twitter than I ever imagined. I learned more and “connected” more outside of panels than inside.

I met and chatted with some people I’ve wanted to talk with a long time: Hugh McLeod, for example. We didn’t talk about anything earth-shattering. We just hung out down the street from the Convention Center and filled in some blanks on what we’re each involved with outside the small slices of our lives that make it onto our blogs and Twitter. I also got to meet countless bloggers and Twitter friends: For example, the crew from Hammock attending SXSW enjoyed spending time with one of our favorite small business bloggers, Becky McCray of Small Business Survival, a blog about running a business in a small town.

Some of us from Hammock used this year’s SXSW to experiment with group-covering a live event. We decided not to “over-plan” it as we would an event we’d be “reporting,” but rather to aggregate what we’d likely be posting on our personal blogs, Flickr, Twitter, etc.. Anyone could go to any panel, in other words. No “you cover this.” The results of our “cover-an-event 2.0” experiment were not earth-shattering, but they did help us discover some of what works and doesn’t. For example, if we were doing this for a client, we’d use the same tools but it would be a lot more orchestrated. And video, there would be lots and lots of video.

Looking back over the entries in the blog part of our experiment, I re-read my live blog, running notes of the Henry Jenkins, Steven Johnson keynote conversation. While not direct quotes (raw notes), I did a half-way decent job of transcribing the hour. In re-reading it, I was reminded once more how great the two of them were. Mutual respect and tremendous knowledge and insight by both of them. They were great and what they had to say was profound. Definitely my personal favorite thing that occurred on stage. (Close seconds: Kathy Sierra. Also, a presentation on visionaries whose writings and work served as precursors to the web.)

Confession: I was burnt out on SXSW after last year. Too overwhelming and crowded. However, for some reason I can’t really recall, I decided to attend once more. This year’s event turned out to be my favorite. And I don’t know exactly why, except for trying less to do it all.