Now that the tweets have settled and FourSquare’s down to a dull roar (i.e. most days you’ll find me checked into my office), I thought I’d recap my experiences at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival.
First the highlights:
I guess I’m a Panel Nerd at heart. I go to conferences to listen to people I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to hear, learn things and hopefully open my mind.
Among the sessions that stood out for me were Christie Nicholson’s overview of the interface between human brains and computers. I wanted to try the EEG shower cap that non-invasively reads impulses outside the brain, especially when I saw the video of a journalist who thought of letters and saw them materialize on a screen in front of him.
Danah Boyd offered a challenging keynote on privacy and publicity in a world where we have become our own big brothers: ‘Now social media makes conversations public by default, private through effort. This is a complete shift in the way we used to act.’
Clay Shirky is as engaging and intellectually challenging in person as he is in his book. Here are two nuggets he shared: ‘Abundance is a bigger challenge to society than scarcity’ and ‘behaviour is motivation filtered through opportunity’.
I also enjoyed the networking and the opportunity to get to know new people and exchange ideas with them, as well as actually meeting some of the folks I’ve been reading/following for a while. That said, you soon realize the stars of SXSWi can only been seen from the planetarium that is the Ausin Convention Centre and not from a middle-American night sky…
SXSW is a big party scene – I know that shouldn’t be news – and some people place a premium on VIP lists, jumping the cue and hoarse throats. Now, I went to a few soirees (hey, I am social), but honestly I preferred the ones where you could actually talk to people instead of screaming at the top of your lungs at someone who can’t hear you and who you know is nodding out of politeness. (Or maybe my age is showing.)
Evan William’s keynote was a major disappointment. We were there to hear the Oracle of Tweet but what we got was a pompous interviewer and little insight. The two convention halls were overflowing at the start of the session and overflowing with people leaving halfway through. It’s too bad. I’m sure with better questions, Williams would have had something to say.
The quality of the panels was definitely mixed. I think there should be better curation and guidelines as to who can present on what topic in order to set higher standards. Maybe there should be fewer sessions, with presenters doing their talk more than once. Also, every room should have had AV so you can hear what people have to say.
For me, the two worst sessions were: A guy who took us through a deck you knew he used to pitch new business – complete with client testimonials; and the panel where one woman extolled the virtues of ‘ads that look like content’ and then rushed out to catch a flight before answering questions, followed by a guy who was so hung-over he looked dumbfounded by every slide he incoherently presented.
If you want to hear more, have a listen to Inside PR #197 where Robert Scoble answers the 4Qs. I also had an opportunity to interview Brian Solis and Chris Barger, who will be featured on upcoming episodes.
Will I make the pilgrimage next year? I think so – it’s hard to match the overall calibre and energy of the event and the fact that you have thousands of social media practitioners in one place at one time – all trying to figure out the next big social thing.