It’s been a few days since I returned from SXSW. The trip as a whole was wonderful. I enjoy being in Austin no matter the reason; and this trip was particularly rewarding. However, the Interactive Festival itself was less than I had hoped for.
I hoped I would find myself surrounded by scores of seasoned professionals. Rather, I found myself waste deep in blogosphere evangelists. Instead of being excited by the potential to interact with people from all over the industry, I found myself slightly creeped out by hundreds of Apple laptops sending blog updates through the air around me.
The First Day…
Jeffrey Zeldman provided my introduction to the event with his keynote. I enjoyed it. From there, many of the panels were very good. I found Digital Convergence in Central Texas to be very informative, although I would have liked a little more time for questions. Social Software and Shades of Trust was probably one of the most technical panels for the entire event, but I felt a bit out of place. Both panels were well done, and got me inspired about the rest of the event.
The Second Day
About that time, my significant other showed up. She works in promotions, so we hit Open Source Marketing next. Things started to break down. One of the panelists seemed more like a used car salesman than any kind of information technology professional. Meanwhile, too many questions from the audience were preceded with a discussion of their personal blogs. But, at the very least, there was some value in the panel on the whole.
I was involved in several start-up companies, but I was never involved in investor relations; so we attended the panel on How to Obtain Start-up Funding. The panel was great, but the crowd was so thin. It seemed I’d finally escaped the blogosphere zombies, I guess they’re not interested in business. Anyway, “Social Software” was the whisper on a handful of lips in the room. The panel was one of the best panels we attened. I left feeling excited.
The Third Day
Optomistic, we took a bold step and attended a panel with “Blog” in the title. As it turns out, Blogging While Black was full of excellent panelists. I do, however, miss an Internet that seemed to be colorblind. I really enjoyed the days when online characters lacked ethnicity, race, age, or even a face. I suppose those days a long gone, and I think it’s a little sad that the next generation will never get to experience it.
Design Eye for the Idea Guy was almost good. Somehow I got the impression that it would be a live redesign, not the analysis of a redesign done shortly before the event. Too bad.
We woke up early for the last day, and we raced our ways to the biggest let down of the entire event. I was stoked about a panel called Web Design 2010. I was ready to chew on statistics and hear from educated industry professionals and scholars about the current online trends. I was not impressed. It wasn’t that the panel lacked interesting, talented professionals. Doug Bowman‘s work is a big inspiration to me and I have much respect. Just, somehow, the panel was completely inappropriate for the subject matter.
The moderator’s first question to the panel was simply dumb, “Are Web apps going to happen?” As a developer of Web apps, I was shocked by the question, and more so by the answer, “That depends on how you define Web apps.” There I was, sure that someone had defined the term “Web application” already – silly me. Eris Free dodged the topic with a comment about not having had her coffee. What ultimately followed was a horrid discussion on technology with gross misinformation. Panelists constantly referred to the Internet as the Web. They also referred to network applications as Web apps. It was obvious that the panel lacked having a single software engineer or even so much as a server side programmer. The panel did not seem to understand the basic infrastructure of the World Wide Web much less networks in general.
The panel would have been much better if the subject matter related to topics the panel actually knew a little something about. I felt bad for some of the panelists as they were obviously uncomfortable. More so, I felt really bad for the attendies, as many of them were eagerly learning horrid misinformation. In that regard, I was really upset by the panel. So much so, that I couldn’t address the panelists afterwards, even with my significant other urging me to do so. I feel better knowing I wasn’t the only attendee left disappointed.
We barely managed to dodge Blogging Versus Journalism. Whew!
We made it back from lunch just in time to slip GearboxSoftware.com in the hat for the Accessibility Shootout. When the panel tore into the first site they picked, I suddenly wanted to take mine out of the hat. It was too late, and I ended up in the spotlight. For the most part, I really enjoyed it. The panel was well informed and really dug into the details of the site – I learned a lot in the process. In the end, they told me I was doing a good job and headed the right direction. Given our target audience, I felt real good about where we were at with accessibility. Before we left, my significant other managed to get an autographed copy of Joe Clark’s new book.
SXSW in Summary…
SXSW was not what I had hoped. I must admit, for a film and music festival, they’ve worked hard to make the Interactive aspect work. However, coming from a technology background, the event wasn’t the focus I was looking for. I feel there is a missed opportunity in Texas for a gathering of information technology and Internet culture specialists.
The Trip in Summary…
The best part of the trip, for me, was catching up with two extremely talented Austin developers, Kirk and Vito. My breif time with each of them provided more depth and insight into our industry than every panel I attended combined. Mixed with a little time spent enjoying Austin with someone I love, and you have a very wonderful trip indeed.