Being a SXSW virgin, I really had no idea what to expect. Sure, you can read all the "How To Get The Most Out Of SXSW" articles until you're blue in the face, but until you arrive, it's nearly impossible to explain.
You might be able to call it the Mardi Gras for smart people (or nerds, whichever you prefer).
Our trip began Thursday night in frosty Minneapolis, where there's still a couple feet of snow on the ground. In the interest of saving some cash, we flew into San Antonio and drove an hour up into Austin.
Because of the relatively short notice, we had to book a hotel in Round Rock, TX, about 20 miles north of Austin. Word of advice for those who may want to attend in the future, book your hotel as early as possible. It would be amazingly convenient if we could go back to the hotel to recharge for an hour or so, but that's not an option for us at the moment.
And with the cost of parking at an absurd $20, you don't leave until you're done.
Day One started a bit slow -- there just wasn't much going on in the morning. We hit up the SoBe tent for some free drinks. It's amazing how much you miss 70 degree weather when you haven't felt it for 5 months. Make no mistake, the weather is perfect in Austin in March.
After reviewing the vendor booth schedule, I determined I would visit the following booths on Monday when they get here: Syncapse, Robert Half, Monster, Raven Internet Marketing Tools, Aquent, Demand Media, Expion, Google and Social Toaster.
After doing a bit of exploring, we ducked into a presentation that focused on minimalism in writing and programming. The speaker had some good points, like:
- Clear, simple, clean and direct writing is the key to successful communication
- Don't use big words when small words will do
- If a word or words can be removed while retaining the same meaning, cut it out!
- Don't try to impress people with your vocabulary
A friend of mine from Ohio then sends me a text informing me that one of his best friends, Jeffery Bennett, is here and that we should meet up. Perfect. That's what SXSW is all about.
We met at BattleDecks 2011, an event that is similar to a game show. It's sort of like PowerPoint karaoke, but the contestants have no idea what the next frame will be.
Supposedly BattleDecks was quite hilarious in year's past, but the same can't be said for this year's rendition. The contestants were about as funny as Kim Jong Il.
Jeff, a former Yahoo! employee, will be speaking at SXSW for the second time. I guess the official name of his presentation is "The Worst Website in the World II", but he preferred to call it "Worst Startup Ideas" for most of the night.
Jeff was gracious enough to take me to a couple invite-only parties chock full of incredibly talented, successful and brilliant people. Oh, and a FREE open bar.
Let me give you an example of the awesomeness that goes on:
I'm talking with a brilliant programmer, Zack, who just left Yahoo! two weeks ago to move back to Seattle. At some point the conversation turns to music. He excitedly shows me his favorite new phone app, RDIO (rdio.com), which streams music on demand.
After a few minutes, I was sufficiently sold. I will probably buy the app as soon as I get home.
Zack and I wandered around the party a little more and found an opening at a table. We sat down and introduced ourselves. Guess who was sitting at the table? The guy who built the very RDIO app Zack was showing me just 10 minutes prior. Zack could barely contain his excitement.
Crazy coincidence? Not at SXSW. That's just the way it is.
Day Two was a little more eventful from a presentation perspective. We got up early to check out the presentation on Branded Media. It was incredible. The speakers were engaging, fascinating and incredibly knowledgable.
For the most part, they didn't teach me so much as confirm my suspicions about corporate media and the fact that marketing and publishing are blending into one.
Another thing they do at SXSW that's really cool: they have an artist illustrate the entire presentation in real-time. I took some pictures, check them out below!
After that one, we headed to a CSS conference that featured speakers from Microsoft, Mozilla, Google and Opera. They mostly discussed the difficulty in achieving standards relating to browsers and how they render differently.
It did seem like the companies were making some effort to work together. The Microsoft speaker also reminded us that Internet Explorer 9 will be released at SXSW on Monday.
Then he informed us that IE9 will not run on Windows XP. The crowd groaned.
I have built a couple table-based websites and it sucks. CSS layouts are much cleaner and predictable. However the panel all agreed that floating is not the best way to approach layouts, but it's the best they have at the moment.
Did you know that CSS was invented BEFORE table-based layouts (1994)? I didn't until today.
You also run into random celebrities at SXSW. While outside we saw Rick Fox and Eliza Dushku walk by and get into a limo. I heard that Paul Reubens, Adam Savage and Dwight Schrute (I know that's not his real name) are here too, among many others.
After one more presentation that lacked anything that was moderately interesting, we headed back to the hotel.
And that brings me to the present. As the sun sets, we prepare ourselves for a night of socialization. The excitement is building. I wonder what brilliant programmer/entrepreneur/ venture capitalist I'll run into tonight!