Tags: sxsw2011




I’m enjoying a nice little break between conferences. I’m taking it easy with my in-laws in the warm climes of Saint Augustine, Florida where I’ve been spending my time soaking up the sun and gently freaking out about my upcoming talk at An Event Apart in Seattle.

This downtime has finally given me the chance to catch up with hundreds of unread emails from the WHATWG and W3C HTML mailing lists. I may even attempt to catch up on my RSS feeds.

This break comes at the just the right time after all the hustle and bustle of South by Southwest. I’m not the only one reflecting on this year’s event. The general consensus from just about everyone is that they had a great time, even if opinion is divided on the value of the conference portion.

Aleks writes in the Guardian:

SxSWi is in danger of growing too big for its britches.

Paul also bemoans the expansion of the conference but even he, curmudgeon extraordinaire that he is, cannot deny having a grand ol’ time as he writes in The Worst SXSW Ever Was My Best SXSW Ever:

Whilst the key reason for visiting SXSW remains being able to meet up with so many people at the same time, the diminishing quality of topics and sessions means its harder to justify the price of a ticket.

That’s a trend that Andy noticed as well, though he too had a great time:

This year I finally gave up on the conference itself, going to a handful of sessions. I met many more who hadn’t seen a single session and several who didn’t even bother buying a ticket. Instead people spent time seeing friends and maintaining the weak ties in their social graph. I say that somewhat wryly, but SXSW really has become about networking in the most real and genuine sense of the word.

John takes up this point and writes of The Evolution of SXSW Interactive:

I had a great time, once again, but only in the sense that Austin is a fine city and you can’t help but have fun hanging out with good friends from across the country (and globe) whom you see in person only rarely. The conference itself, though, is a mess.

That’s a bit harsh but then again, I’m fortunate enough to go to plenty of conferences so I don’t have great expectations for the sessions at Southby. If it were the only conference I was attending, I’d probably want to get more obvious benefit from the presentations—Jessica noticed that even the good talks she saw still suffered from being somewhat superficial, lacking a real “deep dive” into the subject matter.

That said, I made some pretty good choices and wound up at some excellent panels. On the whole I was trying to avoid panels directly related to work so I was sure to check out the superb Made It So: Interface Makers in Movies featuring Mark Coleran and other stalwarts of cinematic sci-fi. But I felt duty-bound to attend panels on HTML5 and microformats—they may as well have been titled The Politics Behind HTML5, Jeremy, The Future of Microformats, Jeremy and Browser Wars IV, Jeremy.

Good thing they turned out to be highly entertaining. In particular, Arun’s moderation of the annual Browser Wars panel was a joy to behold. I didn’t need to rush the stage or grab the mic or anything—Arun took care of asking all the tricky questions without mercy. And let’s not forget the brilliance of Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel, made all the more wonderful by the zinging wit of Mandy’s one-liners.

Still, I can totally understand why quite a few people chose to come to Austin but not attend the conference itself. The conference part definitely plays second fiddle to the social aspect. Josh sums it up nicely when he writes:

I don’t know what the future holds for this conference, but I am thankful for the opportunity to deepen old friendships and create brand new ones, all while geeking out and wandering around the beautiful city of Austin.

South by south met

South by Southwest Interactive is over for another year. Contrary to some of my expectations, it was quite wonderful.

Yes, there were plenty of social media marketing douchebags thrusting schwag and spouting pitches, but there were also shedloads of enthusiastic friendly geeks eager to hang out and share ideas.

Knowing how big the event had grown, I thought I might have trouble seeing all my friends, but I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of running around in a mad dash to see everything and meet everyone, I took things nice’n’slow and ended up meeting up with everyone anyway.

Southby is a great opportunity for me to meet up with peers that I haven’t seen in a year, but it’s an even greater opportunity to meet with new people. This year I met some of my idols in Austin, like David Baron and Fantasai from the CSS Working Group—the unsung heroes of web standards.

I also met the Jason Scott: head of Archive Team and custodian of Sockington the cat. We got together and geeked out about digital preservation with inevitable anger and vehemence when discussing the fate of Geocities or the current plan by the BBC, the technical term for which is “a dick move.”

I highly recommend that you set aside twenty minutes to listen to Jason’s talk from the Personal Digital Conference. It will entertain and energise you.

The Spendiferous Story of Archive Team on Huffduffer

Managing Southby

I was somewhat trepidatious about coming to South by Southwest this year. It’s big. Really, really big. It was already quite big last year and it was kind of hard to see everyone so I assumed that this year the problem would be exacerbated.

I have been pleasantly surprised. On the first day alone I met so many friends I was hoping to see over the course of the whole event. This makes me very, very happy. I’m also meeting lots of new people. This too makes me very, very happy. The excellent weather and delicious food of Austin, Texas is also making me very, very happy.

So far I’ve been pretty fortunate in my choice of panels and presentations. I’m generally avoiding HTML/CSS/JavaScript talks and going for material that’s only tangentially related to my work. To that end, I’ve enjoyed presentations on cargo containers, mad science secrets of DARPA and the influence of science fiction on cities.

Finding and managing SxSW presentations can be a chore. The official panel picker is pretty bad—an event site without microformats is just broken. Taylor’s project, Sched, is a much better substitute.

Figuring out which presentations to go to has been a whole lot easier this year. It’s all thanks to Lanyrd, which has a dedicated sub-site just for Southby. Putting a schedule together has been a breeze and getting my calendar into iCal onto my iPod is nice and straightforward. The grid view is particularly handy for making panel choices; a distant location can make or break the decision.

For such a well-thought out and executed service, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lanyrd has a team of team working on it. But the team behind every single part of Lanyrd is just two people: Simon and Nat. The site would be an impressive achievement anyway but it’s quite amazing when you know that it’s the work of just two people—admittedly two of the most talented and hard-working people I know.

American Odyssey

I’ve been back in Brighton for just a couple of days and now I’m about to embark on a fairly lengthy trip away to the States.

Tomorrow I’m flying to a somewhat chilly Chicago. I’ve only been there once before, but I absolutely loved it. The architecture! The hot dogs! Cheeseborger! Cheeseborger! Cheeseborger!

I’m going there for Drupalcon. I’ll be leading an HTML5 workshop on Monday. I’d love to try to Abe Froman my way into the Web Science Workshop the day before, but I’ll probably be too busy finding somewhere to print off workshop materials (a service the conference organisers are unwilling to provide …it’s like the opposite of how Sophie runs UX London).

Right about the time that Drupalcon is wrapping up, I’ll head down to Austin for the annual geek pilgrimage to South By Southwest Interactive. I should really pay close attention Tantek’s SXSW packing and check list.

This year, I’m not giving a presentation or speaking on a panel so I can relax and enjoy myself. If you’re heading to Southby, I look forward to sharing a Shiner Bock or three—one of the reasons I like going is not just to see people I haven’t seen in ages, but also to meet new people who equally geeky about the web.

After the craziness of Austin, I’m going to unwind for a while with the in-laws down in Saint Augustine, Florida, which should be nice and relaxing.

After that, I’m off to Portland, Oregon; a place to which I’ve never been but about which I’ve heard plenty of good things. There’s geek meet up planned for March 24th. Come along for a beer and a chat.

Finally, I’ll finish up in Seattle for the first Event Apart of the year. I have no doubt that the conference will be excellent, as usual. I just hope that the presentation I’ve got planned can meet the high standards set by the other speakers.

If you’re going to be in any of those places—Chicago, Austin, Saint Augustine, Portland, or Seattle—I look forward to seeing you there.