It was. And now it's over. Everyone else flew home yesterday or today, having experienced a whopping 8 square blocks of Austin. Sure, I'll take 8 blocks of Austin over your whole city any day, but I'm glad I'm sticking around for awhile to collect some thoughts and do some other Austin-ey things along with my usual work. As for the conference itself the first day I attended some panel about how to get the most out of SxSW and someone on there compared it to summer camp. Something about that analogy really put me off at the time, but it was actually fairly apt: For one thing, despite unseasonably chilly weather, it was still warm here compared to New York. It was also a break from real life. And just like at summer camp, you meet a ridiculous amount of people, all of whom you think you'll stay in good touch with (you know, like: "let's be pen-pals we'll write every day,"). And then just to extend the analogy a little further, on the last day of the event, watching the music people stream into town, it felt like at summer camp when your session was over and the new group came in. A couple other thoughts:
-- Not (just) a nerd conference: A lot of reports about SxSW describe it as a conference for a bunch of nerds. This is seen as a reason why the audience reacted to negatively to the Zuckerberg keynote interviewit didn't touch on many of the nerdier aspects of running Facebook. That's only partly true. Yes, there were a lot of technical people here, but that's not everyone by a long shot. A lot of the most talked-about panels didn't have any technical aspect at all. Sure, most everything revolved around digital stuff in one way or another, but obviously you can come at that from a ton of different different angles. The fact that the tools to create digital media have gotten so easy to use, whether you have a technical background or not, is a major aspect of why the interactive portion of the conference has become such a cultural force.
-- Not a business conference: As someone used to covering more business-ey events, covering the content of the conference was a challenge. Most of the panels had nothing to do with money, business models, deals, fundings, etc (and that's good). There were a few, but most of the business wasn't happening or being talked about at official events. On the other hand, there was obviously plenty of business outside of the conference centerarguably, that's what every conversation and party was really about. We may not learn the real news that came out of SxSW for some time.
-- Here come the ad people?: On the last day, someone complained to me, and this is paraphrasing: "In the old days, man, it used to be all about the bloggers, man and now it's all about the advertising people." I thought this criticism seemed totally hackneyed, like something they came up with before they got here. If "the man" had really infiltrated so thoroughly, they seemed pretty discreet about it.
-- Signs of a bubble?: For the most part: not really here. I did observe one glaring red flag: for the most part, it seemed like the interactive crowd was a little fitter and better looking than the people walking around with badges for the film festival. That's really weird and disturbing.
-- Takeaways: It would be easy to say that tons of people are doing new stuff with online video and social networking. Saying that doesn't offer much insight into anything. Having spent five days here, I can see why people say that voice and email are dead. I don't think it's true for plenty of reasons, but I can see why it's said. Also, when you pack people together in a tight space and give them social technologies, things can go "viral" in a flash. A couple times, heard stories of parties going from 5 to 250 attendees in a matter of inutes, once the message got out. Also, everyone was using a site called Sched.org to manage their itinerary during the event. A week ago, I don't think anyone had heard of it. No idea if the site will gain any more traction after this week.
-- Missed meetings: Personal note: a few of the meeting and barbecue plans I had fell through. Sorry if we tried meeting but didn't
I'll throw you some brisket on Facebook. Let's try to meet next time we're in each other's city, or if nothing else, then next year.
By Joseph Weisenthal