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SXSW Interactive 2010

April 4, 2010

2010 was my first year going to SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX.  I had always heard great things about the event, and it lived up to most of those expectations. I’ll definitely go next year– the people you meet alone make it worth the trip. The innovative technology, interesting sessions and BBQ also make it worth the trip.  Since I’ve been back, people who’ve never been to SXSW have been asking me: “What’s it like?”, so I created this video to answer that question as well as highlight some of the great people I met:

I showed up without a gameplan really for SXSW and things worked out great.  Of course, there are some things that I wish I had done differently.  Here are some thoughts on the good & bad of SXSW and tips for what I’d do next time:

The good

  • the people & networking- As I already mentioned, the people is why you go to this event.  It’s one thing to connect with people on Twitter and elsewhere on line, it’s another to connect with them in person.  From the airplane ride down on the #nerdbird from Boston, all the way through the event, a young, energetic college like atmosphere reigned.  I’ve captured some of the folks I met (and already knew and hung out with) while at SXSW on my Twitter list SXSW 2010 friends. All good people worth following. Tips for next time: RSVP for more of the parties & networking events. Unfortunately, I got locked out of some of the parties since I did not RSVP ahead of time, and consequently didn’t get a chance to link up with some people I had hoped to.  I think the strategy of “RSVP for everything, decide last minute” is perhaps a sound one.
  • the blogger’s lounge- I spent some time in the bloggers lounge, but not nearly enough.  It’s a great place to get some work (blogging) done along with meet some really great people.  I had the good fortune to meet the folks at Awareness Inc. and got a personal demo of their new product they just released at SXSW from Mark Cattini, CEO of Awareness, Inc..  Where else would you be able to meet the CEO of a cool company and get a personal demo?  Their product, the Social Marketing Hub, looks great by the way- check it out.  (I used to compete with Awareness in a former job and admire the how far they’ve come with this product).  Tips for next time: Get there early and stay a while.  You never know who you’ll meet.
  • the sessions– As with most sessions, there are good ones and bad ones.  I didn’t make it to as many as I thought I would, but I did make it to a few good ones:   How to Create a Viral Video (who knew best viral videos were all about boobies and kitties), PayTV v Internet- The Battle for Your TV (with Mr. Mark Cuban), the keynote by Evan Williams of Twitter , among others.  Tips for next time: There are just too many sessions to choose from.  Find the 4 or 5 sessions you really want to go to and forget about the rest.  Your time is better spent networking.
  • Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator– This is an awesome thing at SXSW which most people don’t plan for (myself included) and it’s a shame.  SXSW is all about discovering and promoting the best young talent and creative new ideas and the Accelerator helps do this for web technologies– from entertainment to social media.  Each company in each category gets to present their product and company and then is subject to questions by judges. It’s an awesome way to experience new innovations and meet up and coming entrpreneurs.  Daily Grommet, MobileRoadie, Bump, and Siri were just a handful who presented.  Tips for next time: Spend a few hours at the Accelerator.  If you’re into innovative web technology (and if you’re not, why are you attending SXSW Interactive), block out some time to come to this.
  • Austin– I had been to Austin once before about 10 years ago, and this was my first time returning.  It’s definitely a great city to visit.  Being an avid cyclist, Lance Armstrong‘s bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s was great to check out (see Tour de France jerseys in the video).  And man, the music and BBQ.  I avoid eating red meat (hadn’t had any for about 8 months prior to SXSW), but ate it every day while in Austin.  It would have been a shame not to have experienced Texas BBQ, especially Iron Works, The Salt Lick Restaurant, or Stubbs BBQ.  Tips for next time: Bring a bike (or rent one).  Austin is supposed to have some nice riding.  Forget about the no-red meat diet.  You’ll miss out. Order extra brisket.
  • the parties– There were several parties happening every night.  Most of the good ones are the unofficial parties, which thanks to services like Riotvine and Plancast, it was easy to figure out where they were.  The most fun I had was on the Social Media Clubhouse going from party to party on Saturday night.  The bus is supplied compliments of the Social Media Club and came decked out with a full karaoke set and psychedelic colors (it had a bit of a 60s throwback feel– be sure to check the pictures).  Tips for next time: find the bus.

Honorable mentions: the expo floor (blew in and blew out, but looked good), and Screenburn Arcade (worth a peek), waffles at the hotel shaped like the state of Texas (yes, it’s true)

The bad

  • way too many people- Not sure why, but I was expecting fewer people and a more ‘tight knit’ feel to the event.  There were thousands of people spread across all of downtown Austin. Attendance was up  40% from 2009.  I’m sure it’s going to continue to grow next year as well.  I’m not sure what the plans are to manage to the larger crowds (expand space?  higher prices? cap the attendance?), but they’re eventually going to have to do something otherwise it’s just going to be too big.  Tips for next time: Not sure what you can do about it other than write a letter to the editor (event organizer).
  • missed people– With the sheer amount of activity and people, it’s easy to miss connecting with people you would have liked, including old friends. Tips for next time: arrange meet up times ahead of time instead of trying to figure out a time to meet at the event.
  • too much fawning over social media celebrities– Don’t get me wrong: I love all the ‘big names’ of social media, but there seemed to be a rush to make folks more than who they are when in the end, they are just people.  After all, that’s what social media is all about: being accessible and one of the ‘crowd’.  Tips for next time:  Try to be one of the social media celebrities (I have a lot of work to do).
  • staying too far away– My hotel was about 3 miles from the convention center and that was too far.  The sad part is that I actually had an opportunity to stay at one of the hotels next to the convention center, but opted not to.  In retrospect, that wasn’t the best decision since the money saved on the hotel I stayed at was easily spent in the time wasted shuttling back and forth between the convention center and hotel.  Tips for next time: book early and stay near the convention center.
  • food choices and coffee lines- The poor food choices in and around the convention center and long lines for coffee wore on me.  I don’t think I can eat another bacon waffle cone for a while.  Tips for next time: pack food from grocery store and pay someone to stand in the coffee line.

Honorable mentions: the waste of paper in the registration bags (is it really necessary?), long lines (yes, worth repeating)

If you were at SXSW Interactive this year (or in the past), share your favorite moments and some tips for next time!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2010 3:16 am

    Awesome job Gary! Great to see so many of what I know from SXSW in your video, but also many of the things I missed. I’m looking forward to next year!

    • April 4, 2010 2:44 pm

      Thanks, Rachel. Glad you enjoyed it. It’s the people who starred in it that make it great 🙂 And thanks for bringing me on the social media clubhouse!

  2. April 5, 2010 12:37 pm

    Nice overview Gary, was a fun time no doubt. I am looking forward to next year already, but I would also say that a visit to Whole Foods is a must, it is their Flagship store and at 80,000 square feet something that is a must not miss.

    Mike P | @mikepascucci

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