April 19, 2009
During the second week of March, I headed to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) 2009. The conference itself ran from March 13 through March 17 and I arrived on March 12 and left on March 18. Since it is still fresh in my mind, as I did last year, I wanted to provide a recap of the experience. This is my epic and unnecessarily detailed and long (even boring by some standards) recap of the conference. This is the “WHY DID YOU WRITE ALL THAT? NOBODY CARES.” recap. It’s for me personally, to remember the event, as much as anything else, but if you want to read it, you are definitely welcome! Good luck.
Let’s start with this: I’m sitting in the Charlotte airport on wifi, waiting for my flight to Austin, and a guy walks by. He looks like a much older version of Kevin McCallister’s mean brother Buzz, from the movie “Home Alone,” which I loved as a kid. I tweeted this out at the time. The next day, after I’ve arrived in Austin, a girl at the convention center hands me a promo for a movie called “The 2 Bobs.”
I look at it and notice that this was the guy on my flight. And then the girl who hands it to me says that he was in “Home Alone.” So, it was the guy. His name is Devin Ratray and he was in town doing promo for the film.
On the flight from Charlotte to Austin, I sat next to Scott Brewster, the Director of Online Learning for The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and we got to know each other a bit, for the duration of the flight.
I got in town at around 5 PM and it took me an hour and a half or so to get to the hotel and get checked in and settled. After considering various dinner options, I saw a tweet by Paul Boag of Boagworld. I had hoped to meet up with him at some point, but he said he was having an informal dinner and I made my way over to his hotel lobby to meet up.
But, first, I went to the Austin Convention Center to pick up my badge for the conference. The line for the general attendee pickup was very, very long. About three quarters of the first floor – four people deep. But, the panelist registration had all of two people in line when I got there. Yes! So, I was able to pick my badge up very quickly, but not before chatting with Grant Robertson of Download Squad and meeting Victor Agreda of Weblogs, Inc.
When I made it to Paul’s hotel, I realized that I had only a hazy idea of what he looked like (basically, my best memory of his Twitter avatar, with him looking in a downward direction). But, I spotted him rather easily and joined him and a group that included Niqui Merret, Marcus Lillington, Phill Tran and John Morton. I actually ended out hanging out with Phill at various points of the conference, as well. All cool people. After dinner, they headed to Buffalo Billiards… I headed to bed.
I took my time getting over to the convention center. When I did, I bumped into David Lee King, who I’d chatted with online numerous times (and I even wrote advance praise for his book). We decided to get some lunch and had a great time chatting about random topics, including book authorship and marketing, homeschooling, conference/event speaking and more.
My first panel of the day was “The Conference Networking Catalyst,” which was put on Thom Singer. I met Thom (virtually) last year before my talk at the 2008 edition of SXSWi. I had reached out to some fellow authors who were also giving book readings for both advice and a preview of what they were doing and Thom had offered me some. I actually chased him down at last year’s conference to say a quick hello.
My panel strategy, by and large, was to support cool people. I didn’t identify topics as much as I identified people I wanted to listen to and/or support. I figure this is as good as any other methodology, right? So, anyway, I got there early and Thom gave a great presentation. Before/during the talk, I met John Maver and Cappy Popp of Thought Labs, Aruni Gunasegaram of Babble Soft and Stephanie Frost of Zero-G Creative, among others.
Unfortunately, attending “Catalyst” meant missing “My Boss Doesn’t Get It: Championing Social Media to the Man,” a presentation that featured Michael Wilson of Small World Labs.
After Thom’s presentation, I headed over to Champions for the SXSW Opening Tweetup, organized by my friend Jeremy Wright of b5media. Definitely a good time, I met/hung out/chatted with Aaron Brazell, Jason Falls of Doe-Anderson, Simeon Margolis of Nutritter, Joe Stepniewski of Skimlinks, Lucia Mancuso of The Blog Studio, Steve Theo of Pirate!, Cynthia Lux and others. It was great event put together by Jeremy.
Afterward, I followed Jason and Aaron over to the Blue Sky Factory party at Submerged. Over here, I ran into/met fellow North Carolina residents Wayne Sutton, Kipp Bodnar and Jason Keath. Funny story. Wayne and I both headed to the bar and both asked for a bottle of water. He was glad to know that there was someone else at SXSW who didn’t drink. He even took a picture. Heh. Non-Drinkers at SXSW. #nodrinksxsw? That’s a hash tag waiting to happen.
Later, I met up with James Dasher, a friend of mine who I have known for many years, but never met in person. We went and had dinner at P.F. Chang’s. I had planned to check out the TechSet party, after ward, but with my talk in the morning, I decided to try to get some sleep.
This was the day of my presentation. I got up and got over to the convention center a couple of hours before my talk was scheduled at 12:30. I pretty much just walked around and hung out until it was time. I taped an interview with Paul Walhus for AustinCast.
James had graciously agreed to record my talk for me on my camcorder and he arrived just in time. Whew.
While I was waiting for James, I walked around, inside and outside of the room where the talk would be held, saying hello to various folks and gathering my thoughts. Thom was there. I saw a gentleman looking at the speaking lineup (I was on it) and I joked that it didn’t look very good, did it?
Then I explained that I was that guy (pointing to my name) and introduced myself. The man’s name was Prentiss Riddle, Senior Systems Analyst at the IC2 Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. We had a nice conversation covering random subjects. That’s what I love about conferences. You say hello and meet random folks.
Before I went on, I also met Twanna Hines of Funky Brown Chick. We had talked before online and she’s just a really cool person, who was also speaking at SXSW (more on that in a second). She was kind enough to come to my session, as were various friends and acquaintances like Brandon Eley, Lee LeFever, Brant Kelsey, Scott, Thom and others. I really appreciate all of the people who came out in support of me. It really meant a lot.
Right before I jumped on stage, I was able to get a Ustream stream going, so that people could hear me live online, if not see me. To SXSWs credit, the bandwidth held up.
So, how did the talk go? Well, it was my 6th time speaking at an event in person and just my 3rd solo presentation. So, I’m still growing and feeling my way through this. With that said, it went well, I thought. There were a couple of things I did that I wish I didn’t and vice versa, but I can’t complain all that much.
Brandon told me, after wards, that it was standing room only and that there was around 200 people in the room. That is pretty incredible, considering the size of the room. I received a lot of positive feedback from attendees, so that’s the main thing – that I provided something of value.
After the talk was over, I said a quick hello to Matt Mickiewicz and Luke Cuthbertson of SitePoint. I’ve been a member of the SitePoint community for around 9 years and I had been on the staff for maybe 7-8 until resigning last year. But, I’m still in the mix as I co-host the SitePoint Podcast. Matt co-founded the site, so it was great to finally meet him after all of these years, even though it was just for a few minutes.
I had to immediately head to the South by Bookstore to sign copies of “Managing Online Forums.” I sold three books, I think (as sad as this may sound, that’s not that bad!), but several more people came up to me during the signing and said hello, had kind words about the talk or said they already had – and liked – the book. It was a lot of fun. I talked to Adam Sandler (yes, I know, thank you) of Climate Culture and Sean Power, who has a new book coming out called “Complete Web Monitoring.” It’ll be published by O’Reilly.
Monique Trottier of Boxcar Marketing also introduced herself. She had previously worked at Raincoast Books, the distributor of “Managing Online Forums” in Canada. Monique told me that she had read my book and it was Lee LeFever’s praise on the book that made her want to do so. I told Lee about that later and he got a kick out of it.
I actually shared the signing with Thom and DL Byron. Thom was signing copies of “Some Assembly Required” and “Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women,” while Byron was signing “Publish and Prosper: Blogging for Your Business.” I purchased one book from each.
Thom’s slot was 30 minutes and mine was 20, but no one asked us to leave, so we just hung around until someone was there to take our slots. Why not? Because of this, we also shared time with Christina Wodtke, the author of “Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web.” They sold every copy they had of her book. Nice!
After the talk, I just kind of hung out and walked the trade show a bit, before going on Blog World Expo Radio and heading back to the hotel to get out of the dress shirt and slacks and into the normal jeans ensemble.
I did manage to go to one panel, that was part of the final panel lineup of the day. It was “Comedy on Television and the Web,” with Ricky Van Veen, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of CollegeHumor; Meredith Scardino, writer on The Colbert Report; Keith Richman, CEO of Break Media; Avner Ronen, CEO of boxee and B.J. Novak, actor, producer and writer on The Office.
I am a big fan of CollegeHumor, so that’s why I went to the panel and it was one of the most enjoyable of the conference. A lot of funny, light hearted banter and some good dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wanted to meet Van Veen, but there was a SitePoint meetup scheduled at the SXSWi Opening Happy Hour at The Madison.
But, when we got there… basically, it was packed. Music was too loud, basically a room of people yelling at each other and still only hearing half of what the other person was saying. I met people and … I didn’t even hear their name, so I can’t mention them. Brandon was in there, somewhere, but we couldn’t find him. I actually texted him to find him and the SitePoint guys were no where to be found.
James and I went and grabbed some dinner at McCormick and Schmick’s and, afterward, Brandon mentioned that there was a party at the Mohawk that Jason Falls had mentioned as Maker’s Mark (company Jason works with) had something to do with it. The guy at the door was … well, he was definitely Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde. Just about ripped my Gatorade out of my mouth. But, we got in.
I think this was my favorite party of SXSW because, once we got onto the roof, the music didn’t drown out the conversation and that’s what I enjoy the most. I saw a number of people I knew (very funny conversation with Brandon and Wendy Piersall) and met Jay Baer, who I also had a nice conversation with and who also had a business card that was a metal bottle opener. So, that’s noteworthy. Thanks for getting me searched on the way home, Jay! (Kidding).
I attended one of the first panels of the day, going to “Ditch the Valley, Run for the Hills.” It featured John Eric Metcalf of Conjunctured, Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist, Mike Maples of Hyper9, Kaiser Kuo of Youku.com and Robert Scoble. I enjoyed the session and I had wanted to meet Ms. Trunk in person.
Like Thom Singer, before last year’s SXSW, I had reached out to Ms. Trunk for some thoughts and advice on speaking. She was kind and helpful and we exchanged several e-mails and, when they were working on some community related features for the Brazen Careerist site, she suggested to a member of her team that he contact me for some advice. We talked on the phone and I helped as I could.
Funny thing is she had no idea who I was. Which is fair because she talks to a lot of people and, what, we exchanged half a dozen e-mails in January and March of 2008, a year or more ago. So, that maybe should have been expected, since I hadn’t really made a great effort to follow her work or stay in touch with her.
After that session, I headed to “Can Social Media End Racism?” Led by Latoya Peterson of Racialicious, the panel featured Kety Esquivel of NCLR, Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man and Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine. I attended the session because it interests me, but also in support of Jay Smooth as I’ve been a big fan of him and Ill Doctrine for a while now.
I actually ran into him in the halls earlier in the conference and… well, I think I had a “moment.” Basically, I wanted to say hi, but I had nothing to say. So, that’s exactly what I told him. Heh. Damn my honesty. I think I handed him my card before I even told him my name. Sigh. Not because I was promoting – I wasn’t – but just because I was probably trying too hard, which is unfortunate. Anyway, he was super cool and it was great to meet him.
The panel itself was great. They showed a video from Ill Doctrine which, upon ending, elicited loud applause from the room. I enjoyed it. While in the session, I noticed Lynne d Johnson of FastCompany was there, as well. Get this: I happened to remember that Tiffany B. Brown had added “Managing Online Forums” to her Amazon.com wish list, which was then mentioned on her FriendFeed. Guess who had “liked” that FriendFeed entry? Ms. Johnson. And, yes, I remembered all of this on the spot.
My first instinct was to thank her, in person, for liking the book. Was that slightly creepy? Perhaps. But, I did want to thank her. So, what I did was pull up the FriendFeed entry on my Nokia N810 Internet Tablet and, after the panel, I approached her, introduced myself, explained why I was holding up my tablet and thanked her. Talk about a “geek” moment. But, she was nice and we had a very quick conversation, where we agreed that the panel’s discussion definitely had applicability to online community management.
I ended up skipping lunch because I had a 1:40 PM interview with BlogTalkRadio at their booth in the Pepsi Podcast Playground. As luck would have it, I ended up going on later, so I could have had lunch. But, it worked out well. I shared the time with Alan Weinkrantz of Alan Weinkrantz and Company. Deborah Ng, BTR’s Community Manager, served as the host. The discussion went well and you can listen online.
I had connected with Deb online before the conference, so it was nice to meet her in person and to talk both before and after the session. Once I got something to eat, I met up with Krist and we had an interesting conversation.
I then attended the “From Flickr and Beyond: Lessons in Community Management” session. It was led by Heather Champ, Director of Community at Flickr. It also featured Mario Anima, Director of Online Community at Current; Matthew Stinchcomb, VP of Community at Etsy; Jessamyn West, Director of Operations at MetaFilter and Micah Schaffer of YouTube.
I enjoyed the session and wanted to meet Mrs. Champ after wards. Not just to say hello and introduce myself, but also tell her about the policy we have on my communities related to hotlinking and how we’ve defended and supported the Flickr Community Guidelines time and time again. I actually wrote about this and a hilarious conversation where someone attacked one of my staff members, because we did this. She appreciated it and was very nice. I had also wanted to meet up with Mario, but we didn’t get a chance, unfortunately.
My next session was “Beyond Blogging: Using Your Skills For Bigger and Better Things.” Deb and Christina Jones, who led the session, have both been supportive of me. So, I definitedly wanted to support them. It was interesting and it was good to see them.
I ended up skipping both the SXSW Web Awards Pre-Party and the live taping of Boagworld, instead opting to head back to the hotel, drop my stuff and take a breather. After that, I hung out at Champions with Grant Robertson and Christina Warren and met some Weblogs Inc./AOL bloggers and Jason W. Reneau of MindBites.
We got some dinner and then headed over to the Facebook friends.get party, starting at 9:30 PM. I was supposed to meet Ray Angel, a friend that I’ve had for a while, but he had to rush home due to some unfortunate circumstances. The Facebook line was really long, so we decided to go to the Google party. Well, actually, it turned out to be the Blogger/Google Reader party. It was alright. But, that was the end of my night.
The first panel of the day was “Shift Happens: Moving from Words to Pictures.” My friend Lee LeFever was one of the panelists, along with Sunny Brown of BrightSpot, Tom Crawford of VizThink, Dave Gray of XPLANE and Dan Roam, author of “The Back of the Napkin.” Overall, I enjoyed the talk, congratulated Lee and got out of the way.
“How to Protect Your Brand Without Being a Jerk!” was my next session. I wanted to support Twanna Hines, but I also have an interest in the subject, of course. Twanna led the talk, joined byElena Paul, Executive Director of the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts; Oren Bitan, Intellectual Property Litigation Associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP; Eric Steuer, Creative Director at Creative Commons and Danny O’Brien, International Outreach Coordinator at the EFF.
While I was waiting for the session to start, I met up again with Matt Mickiewicz and Jason Aiken from SitePoint. We talked about “Managing Online Forums” and Matt wanted to do with a video interview with me for SitePoint, which was awesome, so we agreed to do that after the panel.
Twanna’s session was great. She’s a really engaging speaker and it went well. After taping the SitePoint interview, we (that’s Matt, Jason and me) all decided to sit down for coffee (in their case) and lunch (in my case). We talked for a couple of hours about business, SitePoint, 99designs, the industry and all sorts of things. It was a great chat.
The next talk for me was “Curiosity Marketing: Using Secrets to Create Engagement,” led by Rohit Bhargava, the Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy & Marketing at Ogilvy and author of “Personality Not Included,” along with Kaitlyn Wilkins, Senior Strategist of the 360 Digital Influence Group at Ogilvy.
When I entered the room, 20 minutes early, the first thing that struck me was: “hey, this is a small room. They know Rohit’s going to pack some people in, right?” Somehow, I managed to get one of 4 chairs at the table. I arrived with Natasha Oliver of Fun 4 The Brain. We met randomly in the hall way and ended up going to the same session, talking all along the way. Sure enough, 5-10 minutes before Rohit’s session was due to begin, the room was packed and people would open the door… and then leave, not seeing anywhere to sit. It was wall to wall people.
It’s tough to estimate how many people would come to a given session. But, what I suggested when I filled out the SXSW survey (at least, I hope I remembered to suggest it) was that they use some sort of social media monitoring to try to gauge someone’s presence online because that will be a good indicator of what type of turnout they will have at SXSW. And then use that data to assign rooms. Maybe they are already doing this.
At any rate, the talk went well and it was good to see Rohit, after meeting him when we shared a book signing at Blog World Expo 2008.
In the next time slot, I had a pair of panels. It was between “Dad is the New Mom” with Chris Brogan and Bonin Bough of PepsiCo or “Digital Urbanites: How to Become Part of the New Social Capital” with Wayne Sutton.
I opted for Wayne’s session, which was led by Angela Benton of Black Web 2.0. Along with Wayne, the other panelists were James Andrews of Ketchum Interactive, Theda Sandiford and Navarrow Wright, founder of Global Grind.com. Wright had been the President and CEO, but on the final day of the conference, Benton broke the news at TechCrunch that he no longer held those positions at the company.
It was an interesting session and I went up and met Mr. Wright, afterward because I had been noticing some referral traffic from Global Grind.com. He encouraged me to add one of their “Grind it!” buttons on to my blog, to encourage my readers to submit my content. I mentioned how I had been added as a channel without submitting myself.
I grabbed some dinner with James at Champions and ran into Thomas Myer on the way in. I had, unfortunately, missed his session earlier in the conference.
Wayne Sutton and Kipp Bodnar had been recording a video podcast on Talk Social News every morning at the convention center, but I never got over early enough to get in before they started recording, even though Wayne had invited me. Because of this, on Monday night, I made it a point to get to bed early and get up early, to be over to the conference before 9. And that’s what I did.
Like I said, I got up early and got over to the convention center and had a great time recording a live video podcast with Wayne and Kipp. I met them at the Pepsi Podcast Playground, where they recorded their show. You can watch it online. During the show, my friends Jared Smith and Ray Angel hung out in the chat room. It went great and it was a lot of fun. Thanks to Wayne and Kipp for having me.
After that, I met up with Suzanne Minassian, the Product Manager for Lotus Connections. On Saturday, she had arrived toward the end of my talk and had mentioned on Twitter how it was brief. Not really a criticism, but I still wanted to reach out. So, we talked on Twitter and she had been expecting something different, from the panel description (which is basically a description of the book, so that’s fair). She wanted to hear more about the book, so I asked if we could meet. We had a nice chat and she wrote about it.
My next destination was the “Building Strong Online Communities” panel, led by Ken Fisher, the Editor-in-Chief at Ars Technica. The other panelists were Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder of Reddit; Drew Curtis, Founder of FARK.com and Erin Kotecki Vest, Producer of Special Projects for BlogHer. They talked about general community management issues and I met Fisher afterward. Truth be told, when I saw the panel, I wanted to be on it, so I e-mailed him, but it was already full. No SXSW panel for me! But, they did a nice job.
The second panel of the day for me was “Rebuilding the World with Free Everything.” It featured Doc Searls, Senior Editor of Linux Journal; Katherine Druckman, Webmistress of Linux Journal; William Hurley, Founder of the evil genius project; Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine and Dave Taylor of Ask Dave Taylor and FilmBuzz, who I wanted to support. It was an interesting discussion.
Before my next session, I hung out with Krist and her two daughters, Lita and Anya, who were nice enough (thanks!) to have made cards for me for St. Patrick’s Day (everyone else at the conference suspiciously forgot that it was my day).
My last panel of the conference was “The Convergence of High-End Design, Fashion and Technology,” led by Christina Warren of Download Squad and The Unofficial Apple Weblog. Definitely wanted to show my support. She was joined by Cristina Sanz of Parrot SA, Reena Jana of BusinessWeek, Alison Lewis of Switch and Karen Meena of Ron Robinson. Another interesting panel, outside of my usual scope of knowledge.
Funny thing was, with 15 or 20 minutes left in the panel, I realized that I had lost my cell phone. I debated, for a second, whether to stay or go, but I figured it could wait 20 minutes and I didn’t want to rudely leave in the middle of Christina’s panel. I was sitting next to James and I remarked that as soon as we got out of here, I knew where I was going to go (essentially, I was going to retrace my steps).
Nik Fletcher, who blogs with Christina at Download Squad, was sitting directly in front of me and he turned back and laughed, thinking I had said that I couldn’t wait to get out of here, as if I was bored with Christina’s panel. I tried to whisper a correction and I hope it made it.
After the panel ended, I immediately retraced my steps, spending about 20 minutes looking around, with the assistance of James. He called it, I looked. I had it on vibrate due to always being in panels, so it was unlikely I’d hear it, but you never know. Finally, we headed to lost and found and they didn’t have it. I left my information in case it turned up.
Meanwhile, I see a SXSW volunteer walk by on a phone that looks like mine. So, I told James to hold on a sec because I wanted him to call it as soon as she hung up. He did, she picked up and… I had my phone. She had tried calling Krist, who I had spoken to shortly before losing my phone. So, I have to give a big thanks to the SXSW volunteers at the lost and found booth as I was quite happy to have recovered the phone.
All that was left to attend was the SXSWi Closing Party at La Zona Rosa, sponsored by Media Temple. They had food, so that was my dinner, as I hung out with Brandon, Brant, James and Phill. I finally got an opportunity to talk with Nathan Wright of LavaRow, who I had been bumping into during the conference, but we never had a chance to chat. So, that was great. I also talked a bunch with Greg Swan of Weber Shandwick and Andy Brudtkuhl of 48Web.
The party had a mechanical bull. I had no interest in riding it. And none of my friends volunteered. Brandon, especially, said that he wasn’t going to, because he could hurt himself. So, I bid my final farewells and headed back to the hotel to finish packing and to get ready for the morning flight back home.
What do I learn the next day? That Brant (video), James and Phill ALL rode the bull. Unbelievable. I hate you guys. (Update: true to his word, Brandon did not ride the bull. Thanks James for pointing this out).
Long story short, everything went great, my flights couldn’t have gone smoother and they were early.
Funny thing, though. As I said, on my way in, I saw the actor who played Buzz in “Home Alone.” Well, on the way back, I shared a flight with T.J. Jagodowski, an actor and comedian who has appeared in a number of things. David Lee King was also on my flight from Austin to Dallas-Fort Worth.
Along with the people already mentioned in this post, I also saw or met Aliza Sherman, Chad M. J. Kim, Donald Mason, Seamus P. H. Leahy, Laith Dahiyat, Tim Hayden, Liehao Su, Anne-Marie Nichols, Chris Heuer of Social Media Club and Ad Hocnium, Bryan Person of LiveWorld, Mark Williams of LiveWorld, Shama Hyder, John Havens of New Media Havens, Amber Naslund of Radian6, Bill Johnston of Forum One, David Berkowitz, Vik Duggal, Rick Calvert of Blog World Expo, Dave Cynkin of Blog World Expo, Katja Presnal of Skimbaco Lifestyle and Chris Hogan of BlogTalkRadio, among others. It was great to talk with every one of you!
In conclusion, as you can probably tell, the conference went great. I met a lot of great people, reconnected with a lot of friends and had a good time. Thank you to everyone who helped to make that so. Hopefully, I’ll see you next year (or, sooner, at Blog World Expo)!