Archives for category: SXSW

I’m writing this from seat 21D of Continental Airlines flight 251, as I fly home from South By Southwest 2011. For anyone who still follows this blog, you’ve probably done the math and realized that it’s been more than a year since I last wrote in this space. This wasn’t an intentional lapse, but perhaps more a lack of motivation to share what I was thinking, tinged by the instant gratification provided by posting to Twitter and Facebook. I’ve considered shutting my blog down entirely in favor of a Tumblr site or something similar, but I ultimately found the thought of removing 10 years of “random thoughts” from the web distasteful, and inaction would ultimately win out. Being that I generally return from SXSW somehow simultaneously renewed and exhausted, I’m hoping to resume regular longer-form posting here. (And yes, I know I’ve said that before.)

Ah, SXSW. I’ve given up trying to provide daily recaps of my exploits in Austin, in part because things move a lot faster in Austin than they did when I first attended in 2005, and in part because there’s a lot about this year’s conference that I’m still working to process. For starters, the interactive portion of SXSW has evolved from a poky little conference for bloggers and Internet types into a full-fledged extravaganza, nearly 20,000 strong. That isn’t a typo – I’ve yet to find a confirmed report (and I expect the official number won’t be published for a while yet), but buzz throughout the week places the total attendance between 18k and 20k. Either figure pushes IA well past the music festival, meaning that the geeks have taken over.

Or maybe not. While the conference still attracts a huge number of creatives, coders, and plucky end users & amateurs, 2011 may go down as the year the marketing started to drown out the message. You could test drive a Chevy, or chill out at the Pepsi Max lot, or…um, I dunno, eat Doritos and get high at the Sony Playstation house. I’m guessing, because I didn’t bother with any of these things. (OK, I suppose I might have mooched a free caffeine fix off the Pepsi people. It’s a long week.) For me, the conference is about content and camaraderie, and much of the marketing just throws off the signal:noise ratio.

(Pardon me while I have a strange interlude…

Normally when I fly, I try to sit in the window, mainly so that I don’t have to worry about having to get up anytime someone needs to stroll around or go to the lavatory. In, out, and on my way. On this particular day, I’d opted to exchange my window seat for an exit row aisle seat that, while granting no extra legroom, ensures that one of my fellow travelers won’t end up in my lap (row 20, the forward exit row, doesn’t recline). What I didn’t count on was the douchebag film attendee in the middle seat constantly leaning to the left, forcing me to lean half into the aisle just to get some personal space. Oh, and did I mention his nose picking, and the fact that he ate a bag of chips, licked each finger clean, then proceeded to touch everything in the setback pocket? Yeaaaaaah. You, sir, are the kind of person that makes me hate flying.

Back to our feature presentation…)

Let’s return to that attendee total for a moment. 20,000. The interactive conference has experienced amazing growth over the last 7 years; when I first attended SXSW, I’d have been shocked if there were 2,000 attendees. The entire conference was contained within a single cul-de-sac of a hallway on the 4th floor of the Austin Convention Center. There were, at most, 4 panels running at a time – and if none of the panels appealed to you, there were always groups gathered in the hallway, charging their laptops and exchanging ideas. At night, there was AN official event, usually sponsored by a local Internet business. It wasn’t impossible to meet, talk to, and collect business cards from the bulk of attendees.

Fast forward to this year: the interactive conference has expanded to encompass all but a handful of rooms at ACC, most of the meeting space at the Hilton across 4th Street, meeting spaces at the Courtyard by Marriott, the Hilton Garden Inn, the Radisson on 1st and Congress, the Sheraton on 11th & Red River, the AT&T Conference Center up by UT, and the Hyatt on the far side of Town Lake. (That doesn’t even factor in the official “meet ups” at the Driscoll, or the unofficial panels being hosted by sponsors.) There were several official, and about half a dozen unofficial (but tacitly endorsed) parties, plus SXSW Comedy events. The sheer number of panels is overwhelming Getting from one panel to another ranges from being a minor hassle to something approaching the Bataan Death March – and the changes of getting locked out of a panel are higher than should have been acceptable. Lines for after-hours events stretch for blocks, and the local bars and restaurants which were once late-night refuges overflow with overdressed hipsters wearing familiar-looking badges. In short, things have changed.

[Scene change – it’s now late night Wednesday, and I’m at home, unpacking and doing laundry.]

So in rereading what I wrote while on the plane earlier, I think I may have been focusing a bit too heavily on the negatives…in part because of the constant discomfort I was in for the whole plane ride. After I stopped writing, Film Douchebag asked for some help getting his MacBook Pro to boot. The solution, as it happened, was to make sure the computer actually had power. So maybe he wasn’t a douchebag after all, just an idiot. That doesn’t forgive the nose picking, but…let me try closing this post in a more positive light.

Anyway, changes – they were many and numerous. Thankfully, some things stay the same. Through SXSW, I’ve had the good fortune to develop an amazing group of new friends, and that group grows larger with each passing year*. I got to connect with people I’ve only known through photos and Twitter streams. The important traditions of ‘old skool’ SXSW Interactive remain – Fray Cafe, 20×2 and Smokler’s closing dinner to name a few. And through the marketing, and the endless walks to too-small panel rooms, and the innumerable parties, hopefully somewhere in there the spirit of ‘old skool’ SXSW remains alive too – people exchanging ideas and forming lasting, meaningful relationships. Everything else is window-dressing.

*Many members of that core group were absent this year for various reasons, and they were sorely missed…

Yep, it’s that time again. I’m in Austin, TX for South by Southwest Interactive (a/k/a “geek spring break”), trying to get my knowledge on about all things tech.

The conference is a bit of a different animal this year. For one, it’s a LOT larger than its ever been. I know I’ve said that before, but this year’s growth is just insane. The conference now spans three hotels in addition to the Austin Convention Center. The lovely young woman manning the registration booth told me on Thursday that the registrations have doubled from 2009, which means we’re talking in the neighborhood of 8,000-10,000 attendees. Lines for parties are now wrapping themselves around whole city blocks. I’m thrilled for the success of the conference, but I miss the more intimate feel from when I first started attending. So many unfamiliar faces. The introvert in me wants to hide under a large rock.

Of course, this year’s conference is also remarkable, at least for me, for the people who aren’t here: Esin & Jessa, Kevin Lawver, Anitra Pavka, and of course, The Brad. In many ways things feel…just sort of off without them here.

On the upside, I’m 5/5 on my panel selections so far, but with so many panels on this year’s schedule, I’m bound to hit a clunker eventually.

As they say in the news, more updates as the news warrants…

Brad L. Graham

Brad L. Graham at Fray Cafe 9 (SXSW 2009)

This isn’t what I thought I’d be writing about tonight. This is about the furthest thing from what I thought I’d be writing tonight.

I had planned to write about the end of the Russell T. Davies/David Tennant era of Doctor Who – specifically the two-finale, The End of Time. Then I saw this…

Tweet from @weegee re: Brad's passing

…and it felt like I’d been sucker-punched.

A bit of background – in 2005, I attended South By Southwest Interactive for the first time. I knew practically no one. And the ones I did know (save for a certain Jersey refugee and his wife), I didn’t know very well. I was stepping WAY out of my comfort zone – so much so that I didn’t sleep the night before traveling, and thought, albeit briefly, abut calling the whole trip off.

Brad Graham wasn’t the first person I met in Austin that year – that distinction went to Kristin – but it was Brad, through his annual “Break Bread…” opening night soirée, that I met so many of the people with whom I would spend the following 4 days and remain in contact with over the following five years; in no small way, he helped build the SXSWi family. And in that time, we bonded over our shared obsessions – theater, web geekery, Doctor Who – and I’d felt like I’d found something of a kindred spirit.

Brad passed away sometime over the long New Year’s weekend. He was 41 years old. I think James may have said it best: “The glue of SXSW for the past decade is gone.” And I never got a chance to thank him for welcoming me, with open arms and a cold beer, into that amazing family.

I’m not going to pretend that I knew him as well as the folks who were with him at that first SXSWi 11 years ago, but that doesn’t make his death hurt any less. I knew him well enough to know that he was a sweet, funny, passionate man. He had no shame (I mean that in the best way possible), and heaven knows he never missed an opportunity for an ribald comment…and that’s one of the reasons why we loved him.

I’m not sure I can write much more right now, and to be honest I’m not sure if what I’ve already written will make much sense unless you’ve taken up residence in my head. I will get around to that Doctor Who post soon – I think Brad would have liked that – but somehow I think it’s only appropriate to let Brad have the last word.

From Fray Cafe 9 at SXSW 2009, I give you the story of Brad’s ‘second time’.

Thank you, Brad. Godspeed, you magnificent bastard.

Edit (2:50AM) – there’s a memorial page (of a sort) up on Metafilter.

My daily updates from SXSW were largely relegated to Twitter this year, so if you want the blow-by-blow, you can always look at my updates going back to last Thursday. I’ll be posting a full recap later on (no, really, I will!), but in brief, here’s What I Learned at SXSWi 2009:

  • Intimate dinners trump massive parties with thousands of strangers, without question
  • Kathy Sierra is a freakin’ genius (actually, I already knew that, but I thought I’d mention it anyway)
  • Twitter is still the social networking king, at least amongst the SXSW hive mind, although some new applications like FourSquare crashed the party with some serious potential
  • The conference is HUGE now. As in ‘over 9,000 registrants’ huge. It’s more than a bit overwhelming. (I’ll expand on this point in a later post)
  • I really need to read Designing the Obvious
  • I need more exciting shit to happen to me in the next 11 months so I have a good story to tell next year at Fray Cafe
  • Put simply, I have amazing, astounding, wonderful friends who I don’t see anywhere near often enough

I’m currently at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, waiting on the flight home that ends this marathon of travel. The flight has been thrice-delayed, as though someone or something doesn’t want me to sleep in my own bed anytime soon. With luck, I’ll be home tonight, and it’ll be back to reality tomorrow.


Yes, this is the annual, now almost ritualistic, pre-SXSW Interactive post.
Read the rest of this entry »

Thanks to Nikolai Nolan for the video. Please, don’t spoil the shock ending!

For five days every March, the geeks of the world are the rock stars in Austin.  Those five days are over, and the actual (and wanna-be) rock starts are starting to invade the Texas capital.  As for me, I’m sitting in Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, sipping on a crappy latte, sorting through a few hundred photos and trying to process all of the good stuff from the last few days.  I’ll be posting photos over the next few days (no, I won’t wait 6 months like I did last year).

I just wanted to take an opportunity, while I have a moment, while it’s still fresh in my mind, and while I’m not distracted by work, I just want to say thank you to all of the veterans at SXSW who always make me feel so welcome; to all of the folks I’ve met over the past four years, who make the trip worthwhile (perhaps almost as much as the conference itself); to all of the newbies and the new-to-me-bies, with whom I hope to speak again soon, either over Twitter or IRL; and to everyone who stuck around for the marathon at Fray Cafe on Sunday night and cheered my semi-embarrassing story.

Soon, I’ll be back in New Jersey, trying to figure out how to rawk after SXSW.  And sleeping in my own bed…which is always nice.  And scheming ways of making sure my schedule is clear for SXSW 2009.

Today is the International Day of Awesomeness. Go forth and be awesome to each other.

Image lifted from (currently down)

withbadge2008.jpgI’m on the ground in Austin for SXSWi 2008. I’ve already run into a few familiar faces, and will most likely catch up with the rest at dinner tonight. Updates as events warrant.

Reminder to those of you who are here – find me and get tagged!

(You can also follow me on Twitter, although I should warn those of you not in Austin that Twitter becomes less about what you’re doing and more about where you’re going. That’ll make more sense starting tonight.)


What the hell is this, Austin?  You and I usually have a pretty good arrangement – I visit you for five days or so, and you make me forget it’s winter.  This is nigh-unacceptable.  *grumble*