19 March 2011

Summing Up SXSW

This is a repost of an article that I originally wrote for Technorati and was published there.

South By Southwest Interactive is (finally) over and we can all get back to our normal lives (unless it's normal for you to go out every night, meet hundreds of people, and get free food and drinks everywhere you go).
For those who don't know, South by Southwest (SXSW) is a set of interactive, film, and music festivals and conferences that take place every spring in Austin, Texas.

Here's the rundown for this year's SXSW highlights, disappointments, winners, and losers. These are all based on both my personal experience there and on feedback that I got from talking to tons of other geeks and techies there.

  • Klout party - Klout rented a house, had food, drinks, and a live band (Audio Runner). But what made it stand out was that they had a good crowd and the timing: noon on Saturday, which is kind of a downtime in terms of events. Just a good time talking to cool people on a Saturday afternoon.
  • 140conf party - Tons of great people at the Lanai + open bar = great time. Jeff Pulver really knows how to draw in a crowd and everybody enjoyed themselves.
  • Lean Startup party - SXSW is all about people, people, people. Dave McClure and Eric Ries got a great group of people together, that's what this event was about. After a few hours at the Lean Startup party, the group I was with that night actually left to go to the foursquare party, and then came back to the Lean Startup event since it was so much better.
  • Conduit pool party - obviously I'm totally biased here so I didn't want to include Conduit's party in this list. The only reason I decided to include it was because other people kept saying it was one of their highlights. So for those who missed it, Conduit had a pool party BBQ on Sunday afternoon. The setting was quite different from other events: it was held at the pool of the prestigious Ashton Austin condos. The setting, timing, food and drinks were great and lots of people actually got in the pool despite the cloudy skies.
  • SVB - SVB packed the two floors of the Parkside on 6th with top notch people. Everything from investors like Tim Draper to bankers and entrepreneurs were there. And they had a live 80s cover band, great dinner, and surprise show by Andrew Mason (CEO of Groupon) playing the piano to top it off.
  • Pud meetup - this relatively small meetup (probably about 30 people) was organized by Phillip (pud) Kaplan founder of Blippy (among a ton of other things). Forget the pizza and hotdogs, just chatting with cool people like Alex from Million Dollar Homepage, Aaron founder of Urban Dictionary, and Bram from Bittorrent was awesome.
  • Foo Fighters surprise show - for those who got in (the lines were LOOONG) was a fun way to end the SXSWi craziness.

Biggest Disappointments
  • The conference itself - most people I know didn't even bother to try to go to the sessions. A surprisingly large amount of people actually didn't go pick up their badges. The best parts were all the events around the conference, the actual conference was not an attraction.
  • Fousquare party - tough time getting in so you'd expect it to be killer (and lots of people were talking about it) but checking in here was not worth it.
  • Mashable Billiards - a lot of noise around this one. The people at the door were REAL a#@holes. Not what you'd expect from Mashable
  • Twitter retreat - this was a weird one. Expected it to be big and fancy since Twitter was hosting. Was very small, secluded, and not that interesting.
  • Facebook developers garage - a bunch of people I know tried to find this event but couldn't. Either they canceled last minute or Google maps is WAY off, because nobody I know managed to find/hear anything about this (and we looked a lot).

  • Hashable - forget business cards, Hashable is the way to go when you meet somebody new. I would say 3 out of 5 people I met at SXSW were using Hashable, especially people from NYC. Hashable rocks but I do agree with what my friend Nate Lustig wrote, the only downside is that Hashable strips the personality of your business cards into about 100 characters available in a Hashable tweet. I enjoy seeing the creativity in business cards each year at SXSW.
  • GroupMe - there were tons of group messaging apps trying to push themselves at SXSW. For some reason GroupMe caught on. If you managed to get on the right GroupMe group you'd get insight to where the hot spots are (and get a lot of junk messages).
  • Plancast - one of the hardest things at SXSW is to know about all the different events. Plancast are awesome at tracking where people are planning to go and letting you follow people that are in the know.
  • Foursquare - another method of tracking where everybody is going: just follow the right people on foursquare and see where they checkin. Gowalla were surprisingly quiet even though they are based in Austin.

Best Giveaways
  • Squarespace - free food. Good food. Every day.
  • Sobe - had an outside bar with both cocktails based on Sobe and just free Sobe lifewater drinks. Lifesaver. Plus always a nice crowd there.

A Squarespace lunch: bacon donut

Best Hangout
Driskill Hotel lobby - at the end of every night (and beginning actually) the Driskill lobby was always packed with TONS of very interesting people. Really can't beat that.

Biggest Pain
  • Cellphone battery life - With all the checkins, Hashable, Google Maps, Plancast, etc… you'd be lucky if your iPhone lasted through (free) lunch. Some companies tried to help by giving away free battery packs but only a small elite group managed to get those.
  • Craziness - just trying to keep up with all the craziness was hard. So much going on there was no way to really keep track. And forget about trying keep up with the real world and answer emails.

One thing is for sure though: see you next year South By...


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