SxSW Interactive Recap

There’s so much to say about SxSW this year. It was a huge year for me personally, and I think for AOL as a company. First of all, AOL sponsored the conference, which makes me extremely happy. This was my fifth year coming to Austin for a week of geeking out with my “tribe”, and this year, I brought my work tribe with me. In years past, other folks from AOL have come, but this year was different, because we had an “official” presence at the conference. Also, this is the first year I’ve launched something at the conference and come with swag. And oh boy, did we launch it. We launched last Wednesday, and I left for Austin Thursday. We had some hiccups getting out the door and I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to say anything because the site didn’t actually work. Well… it works, and people really seem to be digging it. The response I’ve gotten talking to people about the site has been truly inspiring, and almost all the blog posts about the site have been great as well. If you want to follow along, check out the results on Technorati.
On top of launching ficlets, and talking about it nonstop, I was on two panels, and did 20×2 for the first time this year. The first panel was Mr. McNally’s Ghost in the Machine: Spirituality Online, and I was honored to be a part of it. The folks on the panel with me were far more qualified to talk about the subject at hand that I was, but I had a great time at lunch with them, on the panel and dinner afterwards. I can’t thank James, Rachel, Gordan and Hussein enough. I was so inspired by their spirits, stories and openness. It was a truly great experience… and the panel went swimmingly. The only real “moment” I had was after the panel, a couple very neatly dressed guys came up to the table and introduced themselves, handing me their cards… “LDS Church”. I blanched for a sec, “Oh snap, they sent spies!”, but no, they’re very cool designers who work with Cameron Moll on the Church’s website. They were very nice, and I’m sad I didn’t get to ask them more about what they thought of the panel.
Our panel the next day was How to Convince Your Company to Embrace Mashup Culture. I wish I could say I thought it went well. I was disappointed in how I did and how I handled the distractions around the panel (and during, but I don’t want to talk about it here). I’ve heard good feedback from folks who said they enjoyed it, but I thought I could have done better. Alla, Arun, Greg and Steve were real troopers for agreeing to do it at the last minute.
20×2 was Monday night, and as always, Jeff, Kevin and Mike Stephens were fantastic, and I was psyched to be part of the show. Better yet, folks laughed in the right places during the movie Max and I made! It was so cool seeing Max up on the screen, and hearing the applause afterwards.
After that, I was free. I spent a lot of time in the AOL booth all week, and had a great time meeting folks, talking about ficlets, OpenID, AIM, WIM and all the other stuff that came up during the week. I didn’t attend as many panels this year as I have in the past (the four previous years, I skipped a grand total of one panel – this year, I made it to about 6 total between AOL booth time, preparing for panels or working on ficlets stuff).
There are embarrassing photos and videos imminent of just how “free” I was. I have a horrible tendency at SxSW to lose all verbal inhibitions, and I just say stuff… sometimes really really horrible stuff. It gets worse when I have a “partner in crime” with me, or a giggling audience. Unfortunately, Monday and Tuesday nights, I had both. Monday night, after 20×2 (so, not only was I free, but I was still buzzed from the reaction to the movie), I inappropriately touched my food. I couldn’t help it, that chocolate shake was asking for it.
Tuesday morning, I attended the panel Arun moderated: Browser Wars. He moderated a discussion between Brendan Eich from Mozilla, Chris Wilson from the IE team, and Charles McCathieNeville from Opera. It was a fantastic discussion, and he did an amazing job keeping all those egos in check, and asked some really good questions, that I think led to better questions from the audience. I think I’ll make him moderate next year if we do a panel again.
Tuesday night was oh so much worse. Kevin Smokler had his annual Castle Hill Cafe dinner, and I was at a table with Brad Graham (partner in vulgarity) and the giggling accomplices: the Browns, Mike Tremoulet, Kathryn Wu and Dan Budiac, Nikolai Nolan and Anne. Except for Nikolai, we all had a hard time finishing our dinners and desserts because we couldn’t stop laughing. We were all crying, holding our sides, and had laughter headaches by the end of dinner. Folks were hesitant to take bites of their food, for fear that another round of guffaws would break out. I apologize profusely in advance. I think Nikolai got video, and it’s going to be really really bad. Hysterically funny, but wrong in so many ways. There will be a price to pay for it, and well, I said all that stuff, so I guess I’m stuck with it (damn, but it was funny). There were muppets in compromising positions, twisted takes on Mark Twain stories, Jewish gay porn, and a truly disgusting act with a plate of goat cheese (that one wasn’t me, I swear). I’ll post the pictures after my ribs had recovered.
All said, it was a great time all week. I started a little slow, had one bad night, but the glee and successes more than made up for one bad day.
I’ll tell you about the adventure on the trip home later… right now, I need some sleep!
And here are all the pictures!