I just got back from SXSW Interactive 2008. It was a great experience and I had a lot of fun. It was great to hang out with friends and meet new people. That was really the main part of the conference for me. I arrived in Austin on Thursday evening, March 6 and left Wednesday morning, March 12. So, I was in town for about a week. It was my first time at the conference and my first time in Austin, in addition to the most west I’ve ever been in my life. Let’s take a glimpse at each of the days in between.
Friday, March 7
I met three of my best friends face to face for the first time. Chrispian Burks, Brandon Eley and Stephan Segraves. It was a little surreal, honestly, meeting like 10 people I’ve talked to online so many times – face to face for the first time.
I woke up feeling absolutely terrible, though. Thankfully, it was just a morning issue and not an actual bug. So, I got over to the conference and met up with Chris and Steve Shickles of 451 Press. I hung out with Chris for a good portion of everyday I was there (and Steve, as well). We went to register. As a panelist this year, I was thinking I may be done faster than them… that was not the case. At first, I got in the line for the regular interactive attendee registration. I was there for about 5-10 minutes or so and I filled out the green form. Then, a volunteer asked me if I was a panelist. I said I was and he said that I should be in this other line. So, I got out of line and got in the line he pointed me to. The sign said that it was the filmmaker registration. I reiterated to volunteer that I was an interactive panelist – was this the right line? He said yes and said I needed to fill out the white form, which said filmmaker registration. He took my green form as he asked if he could dispose of it for me since I didn’t need it.
I fill out the white form and wait maybe 20 minutes. I get to the front of the line, only to find out I am in the wrong line and they can do nothing for me. (While in the filmmaker line, I met Brian Udovich, who worked on a film called, “A Necessary Death”) They point me to the other side of the room where I finally arrive at interactive panelist registration.
I get back in line for maybe 10 minutes and guess what I have to fill out? The green form again. So, I get that done and, after waiting for the badge to be printed, I’m done another 10 minutes or so later. I met conference organizer Hugh Forrest while I was waiting. I also said hello to Darren Rowse shortly after I received my badge.
But, I realized I needed to get to a panel I wanted to attend. The way the schedule and conference are situated, you really have to sacrifice the end of something if you want to see the beginning of something else, when things are scheduled right after one another. I knew I wanted to get to the Edit Me! How Gamers are Adopting the Wiki Way panel because my good friends April Burba and Jake McKee were on it. I attended and it was a solid panel. I spoke with Jake briefly before and after (he was focused and busy) and April a bit afterward.
She invited me to a drink at Champions later that day. While there, I met other people from NCsoft (the company April works for) and also the other panelists that were on the Edit Me! panel – Angie Shelton of Wikia Gaming and George Pribul of WoWiki. Doug Kennedy, Marketing Manager for Wikia Gaming was also there. And I’m forgetting the names of the other people, unfortunately. But, it was cool to hang out with some community minded people and, especially, to get a chance to talk more with April.
I then headed to meet Chris and Steve on Trinity Street where Stephan would be picking us (and Brandon, who came a little later) up for dinner. Stephan is local and he said he’d pick a restaurant, etc. and we had agreed on one before we got to Austin. He picked us up and we ate at Eastside Cafe. It was good and, afterward, we headed over to a coffee shop across from the restaurant to talk a little more. Finally, Stephan drove us back to our hotels and that was the end of the day.
Saturday, March 8
March 8 was my brother Sean’s 19th birthday and it was the first time I’ve ever missed his birthday, so that was a little odd. I got some sleep. I had wanted to attend the Managing Communities That Work panel – another one with Jake – but I got there late and it was packed. So, that wasn’t in the cards.
I caught a late lunch with Stephan and his new fiancee, Jessica, who I was meeting for the first time. She was super nice. We went to El Chile. It was a great time and, really, it’s great seeing them so happy. What’s up with my friends and marriage?
Afterwards, they dropped me off at Lovejoy’s, a bar on Neches Street, for the Download Squad meet up. Now, I’m not a bar hopper. I don’t drink. But, I walked into the place and, suffice to say, it was a pretty dark and dirty bar. “The Leaky Cauldron” flashed in my head. I decided not to run away and instead, tried to check Twitter to see if it had been cancelled as there was hardly anyone in the bar. After doing so, I found Grant Robertson, lead blogger at Download Squad. I sat down and we talked. Nice guy.
The Download Squad meet up was very small with five people (including me) attending in the end, but it was cool because three of the people I was glad to talk to. Besides Grant, there was Jordan Bellino from Woodbury University, who offered to help me promote the book on Second Life, which was very nice, and Sasha Rudie.
Afterward, I headed over to the Google Party with Chris, Brandon, Steve and Brant Kelsey of Kelsey Advertising & Design, the company that Brandon works for. It was at Lightbar – the first party of SXSW for me. We were in the first 20 or so to get in, so it was cool at first. Then the people… they… kept… coming. Where’s Fire Marshall Bill when you need him? Soon, any movement required five excuse mes. I don’t really enjoy that. I like meeting and talking with people, but not when it’s jam packed. Still, I hung out. As luck would have it, I met my friend Lee LeFever and his wife, Sachi, for the first time, as well as Jason Bean. I also met Monica Yoo as she was seated right next to me. She’s working on a college based Craig’s List type of thing.
After leaving Google, we headed out for some BBQ and ended up at the same place me and Chris had gone to the day before. I wasn’t feeling like it, but ate there anyway. After that, it was getting late (for me) and I decided to skip the Frog Design party and head back to the hotel, while the rest of the group stayed out.
Sunday, March 9
My decision to skip the Frog party ended up being a good one as Chris and Brandon both said it turned out to be pretty bad, due to excessive lines. Once again, I hung out a lot today, saw some book readings and walked the trade show floor. This doesn’t sound like much, but the time really goes fast and I wasn’t getting over there in the morning as there was no reason to.
The trade show was cool and there was a lot of free stuff. I brought home like 12 t-shirts and assorted other things. I walked the whole thing with Brandon and Chris in maybe an hour or so. I was supposed to have lunch with April, but she came down with something, unfortunately.
At the trade show, I picked up a freebie called “Turf ‘N Tin”. It was a tin can with two plastic bags. One with dirt, one with wheat grass seeds. At the time, I joked with the guys that this would get our luggage searched. As luck would have it, the bag that that tin was in ended up being opened by TSA.
Joined by Stephan, we then hopped onto the ProBlogger Beer Bus, a networking event hosted by Darren Rowse and Chitika (represented by Ryan Travis). Basically, it was 3 hours on a bus with about 39 other people. Among them, Alex Harris, Mike Rohde, Jeremy Wright (a long term friend of mine who I was, again, meeting for the first time), Wendy Piersall, Chad Randall, Rhea, Laura Coulter, Christina Jones, Tris Hussey, Erica Douglass and others.
After the ProBlogger event, we wanted to get some quick dinner as we didn’t have a lot of time before the SXSW Web Awards started. We went to this fondue place called The Melting Pot. Going in, I had said that fondue wasn’t my thing. I have never done it before, it… the community dipping pot just isn’t me. So, we get in there and, really, it was one of the most hilarious times of the whole trip. The place was empty. Some context: Brandon had been saying how he had watched this video where lemon wedges in restaurants carry so much bacteria and germs. We’re four guys. So, she comes out and… brings us four waters with lemons. Already in a joking mood, I can’t help but crack up and the rest of the guys follow.
We look at the menu and, honestly, it was Steve’s thing. Steve had recommended the place. So, I felt bad when the other three of us just kind of looked at the menu, wondering what we were going to do. You order this, you order this, you order this… and then you dip it in this. We just didn’t have the time or desire to learn this new system of consumption. ;) It didn’t help that stuff was termed as being “per couple”, etc. and when the waitress, who was nice, pointed us to the $76 “per couple” four course (or something) option… again, laughter. And then she had to turn the table on… again, that was funny to me. We figured out that we didn’t have time for this. I felt bad for Steve… but, we left that place and went to P.F. Chang’s. We got a good, quick meal and were on our way to the awards.
The timing ended up being perfect. We got in right before the show where we were able to get a drink with almost no line and get a table inside the award hall. We hung out for the whole show. The host, Eugene Mirman, was pretty good. I enjoyed it. I have to be honest though, as far as the nominees, I was surprised at how few I actually knew. I don’t profess to know every cool website out there… but, you’d think I’d know more than a handful. Running through the program booklet, I can see that I had heard of exactly 8 (Elf Yourself, Getty Images, Wired, Flock, TED, Sweeney Todd, Ustream.TV and Kyte) out of 80. That’s nothing against the other 72, but I know I talked to a few people and they all had similar reactions. Not that it matters. Congrats to the winners.
The highlight of the awards, for me, was when the winner didn’t have anyone at SXSW to accept the award. I believe this happened three times. When this would happen, the Ninja from Ask A Ninja would come out and accept it. Very funny.
After the awards were over, Brandon, Chris and I headed to Emo’s, where we met a few assorted people (such as some of the people behind Playing Here: Scott Reynen, Kevin Reynen and Jackie Rejfek) and listened to Jonathan Coulton (he really knew his audience… singing about robots from the future) and The Lemurs. When it got late enough (11:00-11:30ish), I headed back to the hotel.
(I think I met Thom Singer on this day, but I forget exactly when. Very nice guy. He helped me by answering presentation related questions before I came to SXSW).
Monday, March 10
I was going to try to get to a core conversation called “Your Blog Is A Niche Community”, but I ended up skipping that and just walking around a bit. I ended up spotting Douglas Sarine – yes, the ninja from Ask A Ninja. He was on the phone, so I did the whole “walk around and look like you aren’t waiting to introduce yourself to a stranger while you wait to introduce yourself to a stranger” thing. After he was finished, I introduced myself. Super nice guy. We talked for about 15 minutes with Brandon and, eventually, Chris coming up, as well. It was funny because Brandon was kind of walking off to the side and I was trying to motion to him like “Brandon, get over here” as we both love the Ninja. Eventually, he did.
As luck would have it, Lee went to school with Mr. Sarine and they are very good friends and I was actually going to be having lunch with Lee shortly after I met Mr. Sarine. Coincidental. I invited him to lunch with us as he hadn’t seen Lee yet, but he had somewhere to be. Anyway, we talked about all sorts of things, from the performance at the awards show to the Ask A Ninja book and our experiences with marketing our books. Great, funny conversation.
After that, I met up with Lee and we had lunch at Daddy’s Bar & Grill. I’ve known Lee for years and this was the first time that I’d actually sat down with him face to face and talked for a while. It was great to meet up with him. He’s a great guy.
Following lunch, I hung out with Lee for a while. We walked back to the conference (two men under my one, small umbrella… it was raining… no jokes!) and walked the trade show floor a bit. Hanging out with Lee was interesting because of the people that just randomly come up and say hi to him. So, I met Roland and Dave from Raincity Studios (Lee had handed me an invite to their party that night, the South by Northwest Party, and I asked Dave for two more for Brandon and Chris, more on that later), as well as Scott Beale and Randy Stewart. All nice guys.
Lee’s wife Sachi had joined us and Lee had to go do something. I felt a little out of place, so I decided to take a walk around and eventually headed back out of the trade show and who is directly in front of me but Lee, Sachi and Douglas Sarine. I didn’t really want to intrude on their convo, but Lee motioned to me and, actually, I did want to be sure I said a proper good bye to Lee and Sachi (rather than just walking away, heh). So, I talked with them for 5-10 minutes and when Douglas took a call, I had an opportunity to say bye and thanks for lunch and I headed to a core conversation called “Community & Loyalty: Gamers to Flamers, Lurkers to Workers.”
This was presented by Rebecca Newton of Mind Candy (and Moshi Monsters) and Jennifer McChesney Puckett of the Walt Disney Internet Group. It was an interesting conversation. I had spoken to Ms. Newton before through the e-mint group for community managers, so it was nice to say hi and introduce myself. I also met Michael Smith, CEO of Mind Candy as well as Michael Liskin, a social media consultant and Izzy Neis of Six Degrees Games.
It was at Cantina Loredo and was attended by probably 40-60 people. It was paid for by sponsors that made presentations during the three hour long event. They were Lijit, PicApp and outbrain. All three services were interesting and, potentially, I may make use of them on the network. Besides that, there were talks by b5media and 451 Press and a lot of networking. As I sat down, I realized that I was sitting directly across from Lisa Sabin-Wilson, author of WordPress for Dummies. I remembered that she was slated to speak right before me on Tuesday. Funny coincidence!
The people that were there, in addition to Ms. Sabin-Wilson, myself, Chris, Brandon and Steve, included Jeremy, Darren, Tris, Rick Calvert from Blog World Expo, Maya Bar from PicScout, Brian Layman from b5media, Scott Goldblatt from Sportnet, Wendy Piersall, Jim Turner, Christina Jones, Chad Randall, Arieanna Schweber, Jason Bean and many others. It was a great event: thanks again to b5media for setting it up.
After that let out, we headed over to the South by Northwest party at Iron Cactus. We had passes, as mentioned above, that were supposed to get us in 30 minutes early, at 10:30. But, when we got there, we were sent to the back of the general line. However, Chris gave it another go, went to the front door and… got in. Nice work, Chris! So, we left the line and went right in. It was probably around 10:40 PM and I was going to speak the next day at 11:00 AM (needing to be there around 10), so I had said I wasn’t going to stay much past 11. And that’s what I stuck to. I hung around for a few, said a few hellos, met Isaac Gierard of Elliance and checked out for the night.
Tuesday, March 11
For the second time of the trip, I woke up feeling like total garbage. Hoping, again, that wasn’t sick… again, I wasn’t. I got myself over to the day stage, where I would be speaking, a bit after 10 and checked in. On the way over, I shared a cab with Matt Cohen of ChoiceShirts. I caught the very end of Susannah Gardner’s reading for Blogging for Dummies, but forgot to say hello. (Argh). I then watched Lisa’s reading and it went well. Afterward, I went and set up my laptop on stage, for the slides, and got set up with the microphone.
Right around 11:00, I began my talk, titled “Creating a Positive Enviroment on Your Forums”. I talked about a number of ways that you can do that, from your members, to your staff, to you as the administrator. I had the talk down to about 13 and 1/2 minutes, but it took me about 15, a sign that I spoke slowly and breathed, which was my main objective. It was my first time speaking on stage – ever – and I simply wanted to get the words out, to speak slowly, to look people in the eye and to breathe. I think I was able to do that. After speaking, I took a question (but forgot to repeat it before answering… doh!) and my time was up.
I went off stage and met 5-7 people who wanted to introduce themselves or ask a question. It was great. Two of them were Laura Alter and John Vars of Dogster and Catster. Christina Jones, Lisa, Steve, Chris and Brandon were all in attendence – thank you to everyone who showed up. A few people told me that it went really well, for which I was grateful. I was nervous going in, but once I got started… I knew where I was going and it went fine. Chris had my camcorder and recorded the entire thing – I hope to get that video online at some point in the not too distant future.
The reading following me was for Lead Generation on the Web by Thomas Myer. I hung around with the guys and watched the presentation, which was good. Afterward, Chris, Brandon and myself stuck around to talk with Thomas. We ended up heading out to lunch with him, after picking up a copy of his book. It was great to talk and, as luck would have it, after talking for a while we discovered that we both had the same literary agent. Small world!
I had to be back at the conference center to tape a video interview with Grant for Download Squad. We talked a bit about the book and community management. I stubled a little, but it was fun. Thanks again to Grant and his camera person for talking with me. On the way to the interview, I met James Archer, whose name I had heard before… but I forget from where. Just around the web, let’s say. :)
After the interview, I took a cab back to the hotel to change as I was dressed in a dress shirt and pants and, if you aren’t talking, that’s simply overdressed for SXSW. An hour later, I returned and hung out a bit. I knew that Robert Scoble was participating in an event with HP and FastCompany. It was a BBQ with a bus pickup. I wasn’t going (too much BBQ, too late in the day), but I still wanted to say a quick hello as we had spoken via e-mail before the conference and I had hoped to meet with him and tell him a bit about the book. We didn’t get the chance, but I still wanted to introduce myself quickly. Luckily, I was able to do so before he had to go. After that, I had dinner with Chris and Steve and said good bye, calling it a conference.
I left out a number of details and people in this post, I am sure. For example, I met Alex Kirmse of Zappos.com on one of the first couple days. I forget which.
Really, the biggest part of the conference for me was hanging out with friends and having a great time, joking around. I joke by nature, but there was so much fun had. Hanging out with Chris, Brandon, Stephan, Lee, Jeremy, Jake and others was an absolute blast. Right along with the fun was a ton of networking and promotion of the book and myself. SXSWi 2008 was awesome. The cost was still huge for me, but I’m definitely looking forward to going again next year and I return home motivated to make more money, so that I am able to come back. Maybe I can get on a panel. Any ideas? :)