This year was my first SXSW, although it wasn’t my first conference. As with most conferences, there was quite a bit of convoluted self-puffery by some of the panelists, quite a bit of self-promotion by the people asking questions, and quite a bit of non-academics giving academic (and therefore largely irrelevant) lectures to the attendees. There were also some nice nuggets of gold. I’ve watched a lot of the posts come online since the event about how much of a disappointment SXSW was compared to previous years. To those people, I would say: WAAAAAAAAH. Grow up.
SXSW, like anything else in life, is what you make of it. If you’re looking for a conference to fill some hole in your life, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re a business, and you’re smart, you won’t go to SXSW to party like all the cool kids do, but you’ll go to learn new things and team build (and maybe party just a little bit). Being part of a virtual company, coworking together daily without colocation (aside), SXSW was a great experience for me. The entire Crowd Fusion team was there, even the guy who is normally in New Zealand (and who brought Jackson a New Zealand onesie and bib!), and we spent a good deal of the conference working in our hotel room, ordering room service, and drawing out ideas with dry erase markers on the large windows of the hotel room. We were even fortunate enough to meet one of our beta testers in the flesh and get some one on one feedback about Crowd Fusion Open Source. As a distributed workforce, this team-time spent together is invaluable, and it’s always good to schedule such meetings around events like SXSW so that there are both distractions and learning to be had when breaks are needed.
The other thing that made SXSW very fulfilling for me was reconnecting with old friends and meeting long-time friends for the first time in real life. I finally, after 10 years of virtual friendship online, got to meet Hadley Stern and Gregory Ng in the flesh:
Hadley wrote iPod & iTunes Hacks, which I was Technical Editor on, and also runs Apple Matters, the first site that I wrote for online that wasn’t my own, and where I wrote alongside Gregory. We had lunch on Sunday at SXSW and it was great! We all hugged each other and took pictures and it was just amazing to finally meet these two guys who I have known for years. It gave me chills and we had a very excited conversation at lunch.
Also, I had an amazing blast from the past experiencing, seeing Christopher Griffin, who I knew from Mississippi College 20 years ago. He saw my tweets in one of the sessions and asked if I was the same C.K. Sample who attended Mississippi College. Then later on I was walking through the convention center and suddenly this tall, gray-haired man said loudly: “C.K. Sample”. I looked at his face, didn’t recognize him, looked at his name badge and read “Christopher Griffin”, and then looked back at his face and suddenly pattern matched the longish-haired 21 year old I knew all those years ago on this short-gray-haired man’s face. It was one of the most surreal memory experiences I’ve ever had. I said “Christopher!” in shock and shook his hand as he introduced me as the guy who introduced him to Nirvana back in 1991. Then Don Dodge, who used to work with Chris at Microsoft walked up, and we all had a nice chat for a while.
I also attended the live taping of This Week in Startups and received a warm hug and congratulations from Jason on the birth of my son. It was good to see the old Mahalo crew in town and to talk to Lon and Mark Jeffrey, who is now CEO of This Week In, which appears to be off to a great start. At TWiST, I also had another blast from the past encounter, meeting Jean Russell who looked *extremely* familiar. After we connected on LinkedIn, we realized that we both went to Illinois State University and knew each other from then, 15 years ago.
I also finally met John Biehler in person and he was kind enough to bring along the Team Canada outfit pictured above for baby Jackson. It was also good to meet up with Nicole Gustas for coffee one morning while in town, and she was kind enough to mention me twice in her SXSW LaLaWag post. Speaking of LaLaWag, I also saw Sean Percival, but then again, I always see Sean Percival. He’s everywhere. He was all full of expectant dad questions for me, the dad with the newborn. Also ran into Gabe Rivera which was brief but nice. I saw Loren Feldman aka @1938media multiple times, but never really got to hang out due to the discrepancy between my work schedule at SXSW and his party schedule, but it was nice to finally meet his lovely wife, Michelle.
In the midst of seeing all these people and kicking ass on lots of Crowd Fusion work, I managed to see about 12 panels total. 3 were total duds that I walked out of. 4 were especially good: #flamethrowrs, #GmailSXSW, Chris Messina’s talk about lifestreaming, and the Cuban vs Boxee debate. The other
panels were interesting, but nothing revolutionary.
That’s a pretty rich SXSW experience, I’d say, and one that was rich without me “n00bing it up” for all the veteran attendees. If you didn’t get a lot out of SXSW, you probably were being too passive.
Participant conferences need participant audiences, not jaded reporters who complain out of nostalgia for something they think they experienced in the past.