Tags: sxwi08

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Southby gone by

South by Southwest is over for another year and once again, I had a great time. Yes, it was overwhelming. Yes, it was even bigger than before. But I went in with expectations of an overwhelmingly big conference so I wasn’t constantly comparing it to previous years and muttering It’s not like the old days.

As always, the most valuable and rewarding aspect to SXSW is the people. Sure, I didn’t get to see everybody I wanted to but rather than running around frantically trying to connect with everyone, I decided to savour the time I had with people in the moment. It was wonderful to spend some time with old friends and it was equally wonderful to meet new people, all of them smart, passionate and just plain nice.

In between the geek breakfasts, the hallway conversations, the BBQ lunches, the geek bowling—superbly overseen by Cindy—and such great parties as The Great British Booze-up, there was even time for an occasional panel or presentation. These can be fairly hit or miss (remember, no-one gets paid to speak and with 10 simultaneous tracks, the quality is bound to be inconsistent) but I got pretty lucky with the panels I attended.

I did some panel-hopping, invoking the law of two feet and remembering that if you’re not really enjoying a talk, it’s more insulting to stay than to leave. I also made a point of trying to get outside my comfort zone so for the most part, I steered clear of CSS and JavaScript discussions in favour of topics like High Tech Craft.

I really enjoyed the What Teens Want panel. If this had been a bunch of adults talking about what they think teens want, it would have been excruciating. But because this was coming straight from the young horse’s mouth, it was absorbing.

Jim Coudal’s presentation on Creative Relativity was engrossing but I must admit that I ducked out half-way through: just about everyone I follow on Twitter was raving about the Worst Website Ever comedy revue managed by Andy Baio that was on at the same time. I ducked into the back of the already-packed room and sure enough, it was absolutely hilarious—possibly the highlight of this and every other SXSW.

There was one presentation I really didn’t want to miss. Even before the final schedule was announced, the talk at the top of my list was called The Web That Wasn’t based on the new book Glut by Alex Wright. It was a fascinating look at the alternative histories of hypertext from Paul Otlet to Doug Engelbart. It made me kick myself even more that I had to pass up David’s invitation to meet in the flesh at Saint Paul’s a couple of weeks back.

All in all, I had a great time filling up my brain whether it was at a panel, in a hallway or at a dinner table. I’m sure the conference will be even bigger next year but that’s not going to stop me from coming back. South by Southwest is the one event in the geek calendar that is truly unmissable.

But I hope that next year the organisers will heed Jeffrey’s remarks and provide some kind of daycare facility for the children of geek parents. Not only would it earn good , it strikes me that there’s a great sponsorship opportunity there too.