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SXSWi 2008 Conference Evaluation


Overall, I had a most excellent time at SXSWi this year. As I noted elsewhere, I didn’t actually end up going to any sessions, but I got plenty of work down hanging out and talking with people in hallways, bars, at day, and night. If you have some glamorous, nerd-fun vision of what I do, SXSWi was one of those rare times where I was actually living up to that total fantasy vision of what us RedMonk people do for work ;>

I just filled out a quick evaluation for SXSWi this year. I hate typing things up and sending them into a black-hole – making more dark data/content that no one else but 5-10 people will ever read. So, here we are!

The bottom line for people thinking of going to SXSWi: if you’re job is to scout-out and connect with the web’s“make-side”, SXSWi is worth going to. In return for gardening and establishing new connections (and the business that you can squeeze out of that), just get ready to stay up late and pile up about 3-4 days of email.

Porter-Novelli Austin: Yay!

I’ve been to SXSWi two years now thanks to invites from my Porter Novelli Austin peeps. As a brief shout-out, all the people in the Austin PN office I meet are great: they manage to be human and friendly, avoiding being annoying and slimy. Really, it’s rare that I encounter slimy PR people, and annoying ones are usually taken care of with a simple hit on the Delete key in my inbox. But, the PN people here in town are particularly, I don’t know, Austin-y.

These people also have access to seemingly endless supplies of fresh, hot baked cookies. If you ever talk with them, you should totally hit them up for a box. So, oh yeah: “Disclaimer: these people gave me free cookies.”

People at the Conference

SXSWi itself draws a huge swatch of Round Corner Kids to town. Currently, this is a fun mix of designers, “new media” people, and Bi-coastal web-heads. “Enterprise” is really no where to be seen (minus Sun) and, indeed, the stereo-typical SXSWi attendee is the one people write about when they freak out about “the kids” in the work-place with all their kookie expectations about not having to listen to their boss and be CEO by age 16, right after their big birthday bash at the Dubai Chili’s.

Seriously. A fun game to play at SXSWi is “SF or NYC?” as people walk by. Here’s the secret: if they have a hoodie and tight black pants, SF. Otherwise, if only tight black pants or hippie skirt of jeans, still with no hoodie, it’s NYC. Hoodie = SF, see?

More seriously, the people at the conference are citizens and programmers of the web. They’re sort of the early and seasoned pioneers of what all this web worker stuff is. And they’re the ones making the web, using the web, thinking about the web, and otherwise parenting the web to what it’ll be next.

And then there’s groupies like me who are there to observe, report, and profit off retelling and advising about all this:

The Conference

While there were many interestingly titles panels and talks, I didn’t end up going to any of them. I wanted to see a panel with Jeremiah Owyang, Tara Hunt, and Hugh McLeod just to see what that’d be like, but there was a line by the time I got to the room. I was late because I kept running into people I knew and having long conversations with them.

For example, I’d be walking down the hallway with Ryan Stewart, on the way to lunch, and we’d run into someone who I actually had on my list to intro to Adobe and Ryan for an extended conversation on using Flex (how’s that for buy-side analyst work?).

So, yeah, I’m that guy: the hallway conference person. As I always tell people, I used to hear people talking about that and think they were kind of prissy, but it’s actually both fun, interesting, and productive.

To be honest, I’d rather listen to panels as podcasts while I walk the dogs or mow the lawns. I don’t really ever ask question as panels, and having the information usually isn’t very timely at all at general conferences like this. It’s much better to wait for the podcast to come out and cherry pick the good ones to listen to.

Let’s hope SXSWi puts up those podcasts this year like they did last.

Parties and Hanging-out

Sara and Maggie

This year proved the usual, semi-tautological, demo-glow rule of conferences. People who went think it was awesome, people who didn’t think it would have been a waste of time. The second camp likes TLAs like “ROI,” so you can’t really blame them. There’s no Excel macro that’ll tell you the revenue from “got buzzed off free top-self Manhattans and free meat-snacks with SaaS and VoIP startups, along with RIA homies.”

But in truth, the parties and hanging out are where the value in SXSWi are. It’s great to build and maintain relationships from afar, but human interaction is required every so often. For example, I spent nice, relaxing swaths of time with Social Media Group‘s Maggie Fox (and her husband, who’s quite nice), Adobe’s Ryan Stewart, Google’s Sean Carlson, Sun’s Sara Dornsife and Jesse Silver, SpanningSynch‘s Charlie Wood, Bryan Menell from and many other people, like my out of town mobile-game shenanigans friend Josh Knowles. That text makes me look like some name-dropping douche, but the point is that the place is rich with people who are fun to hang out with talk with.

More importantly, for connector folks like RedMonk, these events are where the business cards and little notes to “intro so and so to this and that” fly around thicker than snow flurries at Camp O’Hare.

How to Improve

SXSWi encourages this with all sorts of official, sponsored, and unofficial parties. The thing they need to do more of is fit out the hallways of the Austin convention center to be friendly for hanging out by fitting the hallway with gobs of power-strips and comfy chairs every 15 to 20 feet. There was one such area in the convention center, but I’m talking about having 4 or 5 on every floor.

Some folks, like Dell this year, put up little lounges, but those usually seem creepy and, at best, like a spam trap. Dell had two Dell-shirted employees who were just sort of sitting in there (making sure no one jacked all the stuff, really) and I kept worrying that if I went in there they’d ask me why I had a MacBookPro instead of a Dell.

Last year, Verizon has a little lounge area hidden away as well. If you think about it, utilities would be great sponsors for this kind of lounge: “come charge up your laptop at the Con Edission lounge just like back home!” or “get super fast wireless from the people who always you bring you super fast internet, [Verizon|AT&T|etc.].” Of course, any sponsor will do as long as they’re not creepy or spammy.

The Expo and Sponsors Schwag: Gloves!

Every conference has an exhibit floor, and SXSWi has one of the funnest. Probably because it’s a lot of consumer stuff in there, but also because people gave out lots of free booze, stickers, and other useful schwag (video upcoming!).

It was weird that people like Adobe and Apple didn’t have booths. I don’t remember Microsoft being in their either. To be fair, Silverlight was a high level sponsor of SXSWi (note that it was Silverlight, and not Microsoft-proper), but I didn’t really see them much outside of their own party except a free (?) copy of Expression in the big bag of killing the earth. Adobe had a rotating stage show off somewhere. But, it was weird that they didn’t really have a booth setup.

Apple – We Love You! We Hate You! (Call Me!)

Most shocking was the lack of Apple there. I mean, what are they, too good to come visit and give free stuff to their core audience? While Apple is popular and they make great products, the last generation of fan-boys and fan-girls – including myself – are starting to grumble that this Apple company is, you know, kind of a jerk-off when it comes to just showing up at the nerd’s party.

In an weird episode, I actually encountered Apple in a different way. While sitting in the hallway, two ladies with a camera came up to me and asked if I’d do a short interview about SXSW. It turned out they were Apple ethnographers (I’m guessing) who were filming a “for internal use only” research video for Apple. They asked about the most new and exciting thing I’d seen (nothing really), details on how I used some Apple products (Final Cut Express stops play when you Apple-tab from it: what up with that sickness?), what I thought about Apple (they’re like the jocks and cool kids at high school who everyone loathes and wants to please/be), were really obsessed with how I would exchange contact information with people I’d meet (email or phone number), and of course asked which collaboration tools I used (in summary: everything).

BarCampAustin III

Unicorn at BarCampAustinIII

For the third time, BarCampAustin III ran during the Saturday of SXSWi. For some dumb reason these two conference are still separate meaning that each of them leech off one another. whurley and crew do an excellent job of planning and running BarCampAustin which was larger this year than the previous 2 years. It was a great, free conference both for panels and hanging out.

SXSWi would totally “profit” from working with BarCampAustin instead of not working with them. I have no idea if either side cares. My sole, greedy interest is that it’d much more convenient to have the two alongside each other than 10-12 blocks from each other. SXSWi is a powerful and successful enough event that there’s really no danger of loosing money. And, in fact, I think they’d pick up a few attendees and positive PR from the BarCampAustin crowd. It’s a classic tri-divsion of customers: people who pay you, people who might pay you, and people who’ll never pay you. Many of the people at BarCampAustin are in the first group, but there’s even more in the second and third – meaning that I don’t really see that bad 4th group we don’t talk about much: people who’ll stop paying you.

The Rest of SXSW

Once the 80’s lovin’ computer nerds leave, the 80’s lovin’ music nerds come for the rest of SXSW. I’m purely a consumer of SXSW Music and have nothing really constructive to say except that, yeah, them lines are long for us wristband peons. See here for some notes on my personal blog about SXSW Music.

If you can spare the change, though, and the PTO, it’s worth it to stay to see the music. While it skews towards white-people indie (nothing wrong with that), there’s a fair amount of hip-hop and other music to see. As I tell people, my wife Kim and I usually find some of the top bands we enjoy listening to over the next year at SXSW Music. So check it out if you can ;>

Disclaimer: aside from the free cookies recieved (and breakfast tacos from Josh), Adobe, Microsoft, and Sun are clients.

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Categories: Conferences, Marketing, The Analyst Life.

Comment Feed

6 Responses

  1. Thanks for the shout out dude! It was awesome hanging out with you, as always. As PR peeps we are, as always, big fans of "lobbycon" too;)

    On another note, we totally agree re: SXSWi and Barcamp, and have been pushing hard for the same. It's been more difficult than you'd think, but all parties remain determined to make it work in the future. Stay tuned.

    P.S. If readers of this blog want cookies, just send me a line!

    P.P.S. Did you hear me? I said COOKIES!

  2. I want some cookies.

  3. Completely agree on the "gather spots". It always depresses me to see people who probably get paid decent money sitting on a dirty floor trying to get some power or a spot to just relax for 30 minutes.

    On another note I still think I suck for being in Austin and not getting together for beers and/or bbq.

    Good rundown on the conference and everyone from IdentityMine thought it was incredibly valuable. If it wasn't for the MIX event right before hand I would have loved to stay for Music.

    Kurt Brockett

  4. maggiefox: tragically, I think cookies are only available in if you're in the Austin area. Maybe next time you're down here, we'll hit up PN for some hot cookies 😉

    Kurt: indeed, I was pretty bad at making sure to hook up more with everyone, though I did see your fellow IdentityMiners at the Silverlight party. We'll figure sometime to get that BBQ in the future 😉

  5. Leave it to Cote to tell it like it is.

    It was good to consume mass amounts of protein with you!

  6. My first year not going to SXSW in 10 years – man, did it hurt! The PN party is always the best way to kick it off. Beck, will be seeing you this summer when we move back from PA.

    Katy RothMarch 26, 2008 @ 3:56 pm