IMG_1345.jpgI’ve been trying to figure out exactly what I’m going to say to sum up my first trip to SXSWi. I’ve been reading some of the other recaps (Messrs. Smokler and Greenberg do a nice job of summing up the conference as a whole), but I think JessaJune managed to nail it for me with Ian’s Fray Cafe quote:

“It’s like summer camp, but without the inhibitions.”

(Although, come to think of it, I don’t remember too many inhibited people at Stagedoor.)

I can say without exaggeration that I have never met a nicer, more welcoming group of people than those I met at Southby. (A ‘who I met’ list will follow. I promise. That, and I’ll update the links in the sidebar.) In fact, the last time I felt quite this welcome in any environment was…well, at Stagedoor. Honestly, driving down from Dallas on Friday morning, I wasn’t really sure what to expect – I was afraid that I would end up following Bry and Lyn around all over the place, and I’d end up hovering in corners like I usually do at social events. My fears were dismissed almost immediately, as I found myself assimilated into the blogeratti collective – alright, that sounds more sinister than it really is.

But let’s use Break Bread with Brad as an example. Coming in, I’d say I knew about 5 people who would be there. (If you’re playing along at home, that’s Bry, Lyn, Leia, Alex, and Amanda.) By the end of the evening, I had talked to countless people (many of whom I would get to know better over the next few days – advise to future first-timers: it pays to sit by the nametags) and struck up lengthy conversations with Kristin, Katie, Tim and Mike from EchoDitto, and of course, the man himself, Brad. Suffice to say, when Bry’s boss called him back to Dallas a full day early, I wasn’t the least bit concerned about finding my way around.

I’m not normally one to gush, but I could go on and on like this. So I’m just going to close this segment by thanking everyone I’ve already mentioned, plus the dueling Kevins, Smokler (I’ll make that dinner next year…) and Lawver (I Buy Local!), Dinah, JessaJune and Esin…oh, geez, I know I’m going to forget people, so I’m just going to stop namedropping now…but thank you, everyone, for being so open to this Southby newbie.

As far as the conference itself – I approached the panels from the POV of a blogger and hobbyist, so much of the code-speak went over my head. That said, I still got a lot out of the ‘official’ SXSW – I’m still processing all of my panel notes (and tracking down more notes and podcasts from the web to supplement my own). I still need to figure out how to implement some of the things I picked up in everyday life, but it’ll get there. Although I did find out that, apparently, I need to tag EVERYTHING (although I haven’t the foggiest idea how or what to tag), and that you’re not friendly if you’re not hip with XFN.

The one real lesson to take away is this: get plenty of sleep before Southby, because there’s no chance to make it up once you’re there. I made one major mistake heading down to Austin, and that was not getting enough sleep the night before my trip. I was fine during the day (and if you know me, you know I’m NOT a morning person), but I ended up fading out at night much earlier than I would have otherwise. Now I know better for next year.

I’ve got more to share – I’ve got some photos to upload, and I haven’t even broken down the day-by-day yet, but it’s starting to get late, and I’ve got a budget meeting in the morning. I’ve been back on my semi-normal routine for a few days now, but I still haven’t quite readjusted.

And somewhere, in the back of my head, there’s a countdown clock running for SXSWi 2006. You’d better believe I’ll be there.