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10 Random Reflections on SXSWi 2008

I’ve been back from South by South West Interactive for a few days now and am slowly recovering from the jet lag. All in all it was a pretty amazing experience to attend SXSW – I had a lot of fun and learned a lot. As I didn’t get to live blog during the event I thought I’d sum up the week with 10 random reflections for those of you that have been asking how it went.

1. Meeting Other Bloggers is Good for the Soul – The thing that I enjoyed most about SXSW this year was the chance that it gave me to interact with other bloggers. The more I meet bloggers the more that I find that many of us are lonely souls (to some degree). We sit alone in our home offices/livingrooms/beds etc and often feel quite isolated and at times misunderstood. Coming together can be an experience that is quite wonderful and a reminder that we’re actually part of something larger than ourselves.

2. The Chitika/ProBlogger Beer Bus Rocked – My trip to SXSW was sponsored by Chitika who pulled together a private little party for 40 bloggers (minus a few who couldn’t make it at the last minute). The trip was a lot of fun and drew together a great bunch of people, many of whom I’ve been interacting with for years but have never met. Thanks to Chitika for getting me to Austin and for a fun afternoon. Ryan Travis from Chitika is already talking about a bigger gathering on a boat next year! (PS: Ryan, no pressure to do it with me again next year but I do have a couple of photos that could persuade you :-))

3. Some so called ‘A-list’ bloggers are incredibly…. snobby. I hesitate to include this point because I know it’s difficult for a popular blogger to be accessible to everyone – however I couldn’t help but feel at times that there was an inner and outer circle among top bloggers. Perhaps it comes from the opportunity that many of the top US bloggers have to interact with each other personally over time – but on numerous occasions I felt and saw others feel a little on the ‘outer’.

4. Networking Leads to Amazing Possibilities – I went to SXSW with no real agenda or outcomes that I wanted to achieve. While I think next time I’d be a little more intentional having an ‘open’ approach led to some amazing conversations and connections. Out of these emerged some great opportunities to work with some gifted people on many levels.

5. Sessions – Sessions on the whole were a little more ‘beginner’ than I was expecting. Perhaps it was those that I chose to attend but I would have liked to see more intermediate to advanced sessions for bloggers. Perhaps next year I should get my act together and run one myself.

6. Panels – I’ve never really been a huge fan of panels. The majority of sessions that I saw at SXSW were panels and perhaps this is where some of my frustration came from with the ‘beginner’ level stuff. I find that panels tend to easily become sidetracked and can end up being quite broad in terms of topics. An hour is a short time really and to get depth it needs to be focussed and well moderated (luckily the panel I was on had a good moderator).

7. Frank Warren Rocks – My Twitter Followers will know that a highlight of the conference for me was Frank Warren’s keynote. Frank from Post Secret basically filled his keynote with stories and reflections from his time editing the Post Secret blog. It was a session that aimed at the heart more than the head and which I think touched a lot of people. Inspirational session. I briefly met him at the end (tough as he was very popular) and hope to feature an interview with him on ProBlogger in the coming months.

8. The b5media team are Crazy! – the other main highlight from the trip for me was to spend a week living with a significant number of the b5media team. While I’d met most of them before it was great to spend extended time with this nutty group of people. I said at one point along the week to someone that we’ve hired a very eclectic team at b5 with a real mix of personalities. It was wild to almost a week with them. Once again – it’s good to spend time in person with people you spend with ‘virtually’ every day.

9. Party Party Party – before I left for SXSW I knew that the parties in the evenings were going to be good, however I totally underestimated them. Each night there were 5-10 parties around Austin, some were official and others were not. With 8000 people attending the Interactive part of SXSW there was plenty of people to meet. I only wish we’d been staying closer in to downtown so that we’d have been able to get to more of them.

10. Twitter – I’ve been using Twitter more consistently in the last couple of months realize over the week at SXSW just how much potential it has when you’re in a place with thousands of others using it. Both in sessions (where it seemed every second person in some rooms was twittering/backchatting about the session) as well as in the evenings when reports streamed in about the parties and where everyone was. My only problem was that I could only twitter from my laptop.

Notes to self for next time:

  • brush up on bowling skills before SXSW next year (geek bowling party was fun)
  • take DSLR not point and shoot – it’ll be worth the extra weight
  • pack less shirts and more t-shirts (it’s the most casual conference I’ve been to)
  • take video camera and produce a series of video interviews – so many amazing people to tap into the minds of!
  • get phone that I can twitter from next time
  • take more healthy snacks – while we ate some great meals while away the serving size and amount of fat in so many options was overwhelming.
  • break up the trip on the way home – spend a couple of nights in LA instead of going straight through to Austin – 24 hours on a plane and in airports is too much.

PS: I’ve uploaded a handful of photos from SXSW here – although didn’t take a lot of shots over the week. Instead I’m relying more upon the images that others took over the week to document it visually this time around.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Robinsun says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience in South by South West Interactive (SXSWi 2008) event.

  2. Niklas says:

    Sounds amazing. I would love to go to a convention like to meet some of the actual people behind their blogs. Meeting people just through the internet works well enough but meeting them in person seems interesting, albeit a bit awkward at first.

  3. Deb says:

    Re: portion sizes – Welcome to Texass. I am in SA – home of the Alamo, puffy tacos and the wonkiest drivers in America.

    Thanks so much for the email. The blove (aka blogger love) is always so uplifting and never fails to cheer me up when I’m blue. I am really so bummed that I wasn’t able to attend this year. My sis Chelle really is peaches. She took a few weeks off from work to come and take care of me when I first got diagnosed. She’s truly adorable.

    Hope this day finds you well!

    Cheers,
    Debs

  4. Mike Rohde says:

    Darren, it was great meeting you at SXSWi this year, you’re just as friendly in person as you are on the blog and video posts. With so many people at the event it was nice to have you recognize me as I came to the Chitika bus pickup area. :-)

    Your thoughts on the conference are right on, and as to panels, it seemed that sessions with fewer people in front (2 or fewer) seemed to have more focus than the larger panels did. I felt that Frank Warren’s Post Secret was a wonderful keynote and a highlight of the event for me.

    For those who attended SXSWi or are curious about what the panels were like, I was able to capture a bunch of notes on the sessions I attended in a Moleskine sketchbook:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rohdesign/sets/72157604109069527/

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Darren, I look forward to meeting and maybe lunching with you at SXSWi in 2009! :-)

  5. Matt Propst says:

    Darren, This comment is coming from the fact that it was about a year about I met you at FOOA, and maybe from the aspect of being a fellow blogger, but maybe as a whole, by making yourself more accessible to the conference attendees like myself, you help to make the experience of attending the conference more down to earth. I missed out on SXSW, but I’m looking at the next Carsonified event, hopefully I’ll be in attendance.

  6. Karen says:

    Sounds like it really was awesome!
    I’ve sort of been “attending” SXSW vicariously through all the big-time bloggers like you who went… With any luck, next time it rolls around I’ll be there. :)

  7. chrispian says:

    Darren, thanks again for the invite to the bus! It was very cool to finally meet you and hang out! I won’t tell people what you were watching on the plane ride ;)

    As for Ryan, if the pictures aren’t enough, I’ve got some video that might help you persuade him. Just make sure I get an invite!

  8. ericabiz says:

    Hey Darren,

    It was great to meet you at SXSW and on the ProBlogger/Chitika bus! I had a blast there. Next year I think my goal will be to do more movie premieres and fewer parties. I was really “partied out” by my last day there.

    If you’re ever in the SF Bay Area, drop me a line and I’ll get you info on where to stay, what to do, and what to eat. Perhaps before or after SXSW next year! :)

    -Erica

  9. Darren Rowse says:

    @ericabiz – likewise, it was cool to meet you too.

    @karen – yes I attended vicariously last year – looking forward to seeing you next year.

    Deb – no worries about the email, a pleasure. Your sis really is ‘peaches’ as you say :-) Get well!

    Mike – twas great to meet you too, really enjoyed meeting the designer of my logo at long last! thanks for coming on the bus!. Love your Moleskine sketchbook of SXSW too – really great record of a top week.

    Matt Propst – looking forward to our next meeting and having the chance to share another pizza with you!

    Chrispian – it was great to catch up with you! LOL on the video of Ryan – that could be very useful one day!

  10. Shawn Farner says:

    Hoping to hit this next year once I graduate! =)

  11. Nicole Simon says:

    I was extra happy that you could made it to Austin, because my chances getting to Australia are slim. A suggestion to your next years party: pretty please nothing moving.

    As much fun as it sounds, just a place somewhere is great and can be restricted easily and allows people to enjoy it way more. I would have loved to go on the bus but even some others coming back (like the normal non motion sickness ones) said that they where a bit sick. :))

    Regarding the snobbines – it is hard to pay attention to everyone and I found that part of the snobby is that they are usually not as excited as the other part, but are more enthusiastic with people they already know and like.

    I have seen more than one ‘celeb’ to do the rounds and then just flee to an area where they will not be bugged all the time.

    Panels – a lot of people agreed that it was beginner level which is one the one side good but on the other side very bad: if sxsw is supposed to be geek haven, it cannot be basic beyond a certain point. It has to be more challenging than that.

    Looking forward meeting you next year. ;)

  12. I’m sorry for missing the bus trip, I kept getting stopped in the hallway and didn’t want to turn anyone away.

  13. Darren, about twitting only from your laptop: twitting from a cell phone with text messages is easy and convenient, but it may not be cheap. You can do it on the field with no room for a computer and no Internet connection. For example, I twitted live reports with my cell phone from Cape Canaveral for a Space Shutlle launch.

  14. Bisco says:

    pretty disappointed that Scoble didn’t show up to either of the stops on the bus trip but I guess that’s life. Getting to meet Muhammed Saleem on the bus was my highlight though.

  15. Rhea says:

    Darren, your party bus was one of the highlights of my trip to SXSW, even if I was probably the oldest one! Your B5 group is kooky, but entertaining. Thanks so much to you and Ryan for the fun! Well, guess I’ll just get back to my lonely, misunderstood experience of being a blogger. Ha!

  16. Shama Hyder says:

    Hi Darren,

    I had a great time on the party bus. Thank you so much for doing that.

    I hope to see you at SXSW next year. = )

  17. Peg Thompson says:

    Hi. Sounds like a wonderful conference. I have a hard time visualizing you as a beginning blogger, but I am one. I feel constantly over my head and can’t figure out how to get help with something. For example, I wanted to install an SEO program to my WordPress site. It had several instructions, none of which I could begin to understand. Can you suggest a source or book where such things are explained? I am experiencing a high degree of frustration. Thanks for your blog. I keep getting new ideas and inspiration from it. Peg

  18. Ryan Travis says:

    @Darren and Chrispian –

    Hey – What happens in Austin, stays in Austin! ;)

    Unfortunately for me though, it appears that “What happens in Austin goes on Flickr/Youtube”

  19. Hey Darren,

    Ryan is still shaking his head about some of the video and photos you and others are now holding hostage :)

    Oh and welcome to the wonderful over-sized portions of the US- its terribly great.

    -Karla, Chitika Inc.

  20. Rob Cooper says:

    Point #6, it’s always possible that “snobbyish” is actually fear. The A list blogger might have poor social skills when dealing with people one on one.

    I know quite a few people who are brilliant when they write, or speak to large numbers of people, but have difficulty with one-on-one situations.

    (not me of course)

  21. Kristen Meek says:

    Hey Darren,

    It was really great to hear you speak at SXSWi. (I was the volunteer working in your panel room.) Volunteering at the Interactive festival, I saw 4 full days of panels, and I agree completely with your point #6. Those that had fewer speakers and a good moderator were the best at staying on track and offering valuable information. Who the speakers/moderator were and the rapport they had with each other also had a huge effect on the discussion.

    Hope to see you back in Austin next year!

  22. Anne says:

    It was great meeting you on the Beer Bus, Darren! I’m even more behind than you in getting caught up. I agree that a lot of the panels were beginner — I’m fortunate in that I went to a couple on subjects I knew zero about, so I had a net gain from the experience.

    I’m glad I won a trip on the bus — I also won an XBox 360 and Guitar Hero at the Phizzpop party. All in all, the parties were great!