South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive is a special conference for those of us in this whole tech, web, social media thing of a space. For me, it’s special because the networking is great. Everyone is there. Well, not everyone. But, most everyone. It’s impossible for me to walk from my hotel to the convention center without seeing someone I know.
This is pretty much the only place in the world where I have ever found this to be true. I live on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and I go about my life, run errands, whatever… and I don’t know anyone. But, at SXSW, I know plenty of people and that is a lot of fun.
Coming in to the 2010 edition of the event, it was a little different, just because it would be my third consecutive year both attending and speaking and with that comes a certain comfort. The first time is special, but what I found was that the third year was the most fun I’d had yet and that was because of the people I was around.
I spent a majority of the time with Brandon Eley (read his great, detailed recap), Chrispian Burks, Jared W. Smith and Josh Coffee, a friend of Brandon’s that I met at the event, as well as substantial amounts of time with Deb Ng, Zack Urlocker, Thom Singer, Chris Garrett, Gregory Ng, Zach Ward, Muhammad Saleem, Darren Rowse and Julie Taylor, another friend of Brandon’s.
For those who have read my conference recaps, including my recaps of SXSW Interactive 2008 and 2009, you’ll know that they are personal (to me), detailed and long. So, here’s the obligatory warning. You may not be interested in all of this!
Thursday, March 11
I booked my flight for SXSW back in August. I did this because I wanted to lock in a good flight because I really don’t like traveling early in the morning or arriving really late. So, I booked a flight with CheapTickets that had Delta as my flight to Austin and United as my flight back.
I found a great flight going to Austin, leaving Norfolk, Virginia at 10:55 AM and, after a layover in Atlanta, arriving in Austin at 3:01 PM. Great times, short trip, perfect. Coming back, I was leaving Austin at 11:40 AM and, after changing planes in Washington, DC, I would arrive in Norfolk at 6:22 PM. Great, all set.
From September 17 through December 19, I kid you not, there were 7 (SEVEN) itinerary changes. But, the first was the most brutal. On September 17, my departure flight was bumped up 1 hour and 25 minutes, to 9:30 AM with the very same arrival time. When I was booking my airfare, I saw that flight. I specifically avoided that flight. I called CheapTickets and Delta and, in so many words, they were not interested in helping me in any way, shape or form.
After all of the dust settled, my final departing itinerary worked out as leaving Norfolk at 9:45 AM and arriving in Austin at 3:39 PM. So, not only did I have to leave 1 hour and 10 minutes earlier, but I also had to arrive 38 minutes later. Wonderful. My return trip from Austin left at 12:01 PM and arrived at 5:53 PM. So, that one actually got a bit better (well, at least, that was the idea – I’ll talk about what actually happened later).
So, I had to get up early and get to the airport. Everything went smoothly, though. Well, except for the fact that I got patted down by TSA for the first time ever. It had been a bit of a joke with my family as, with the flights I have been on, I have never once been patted down. They always seem to get patted down, but me – never. I got that back double time today as, not only did they pat me when I went through screening, but when I entered the plane, as well.
It was kind of an odd scene because there were 5-7 TSA agents lined up right at the tunnel. And I was the lucky one. Another pat down, followed by a separate agent looking in my bags. Following this, I was on the plane and off to Atlanta.
Here’s where the trouble started. When I arrived, I checked a few of the boards where all scheduled flights are listed. Some said my flight was on time, some said it was delayed. When I got to the gate, it appeared that it was on time. I even went up and asked and they told me it was. But, probably 10 minutes later, they announced it was delayed. And then it was delayed again. In all, it was probably delayed between two and two and a half hours. So, it wasn’t until 6 or so that I actually made it to Austin.
However, I ran into some people in Atlanta that were dealing with their own flight issues. They were Victor Agreda, who works for AOL as the Programming Manager for TUAW, Download Squad and the Spanish versions of Autoblog and Engadget and Courtenay Bird, New Media Strategist for TechDrawl. I also met Lisa Ann Adkins, an Interface Developer for Ithaka/JSTOR.
Once I got to the hotel, dumped my stuff down and chilled out for a moment, I met up with Chrispian and we went over to the convention center and collected our badges. We headed to Cantina Laredo for dinner with Jared and a trio of folks from ReadWriteWeb: Founder and Editor in Chief Richard McManus, writer Mike Melanson and Marketing and Experience Manager Elyssa Pallai. After some Tacos Al Carbon, we headed to Beauty Bar and hung out for a bit. I saw Jason Keath and Calvin Lee (a fixture during the entire event) and met Nicole D’Alonzo.
While we were there, Jared was wondering if our friend Ray Angel was in town. Ray is a friend of both of ours and has been for years, but none of us have met. So, I left him a message, he called back and we talked. Funny thing, it was actually the first time we’d ever talked on the phone. Unfortunately, I could hardly hear him. But, that didn’t stop me from trying to have a conversation (probably the most confusing conversation ever on his end) and letting Jared say a few words (as he hadn’t spoke to Ray on the phone before, either). It was a moment.
After being at Beauty Bar for a while, we headed back to the room. During the conference, Jared and I shared a room at the Hilton Garden Inn. We talked more about that semi-conversation with Ray and how we should all meet up sometime, along with Brad Kelly, another old friend from the old days when Jared ran WindowsLaunchpad.com. I think both Ray and Brad knew Jared and that’s how I got to know them. One day, fellas – one day.
Friday, March 12
Friday was pretty laid back with programming starting later in the day. So, I got some sleep and caught a late breakfast with Jared over at Java Jive, a coffee shop inside the Hilton. Mostly, we just hung out and talked to people. For lunch, we met up with Chrispian and went to Daddy’s Grill & Bar, a place that my friend Lee LeFever had took me to at a previous SXSW.
Jared ordered “The Coronary,” which is described as “A 1/3 lb. burger with cheddar, Monterrey jack, 4 fried pickles, double bacon & ranch dressing.” He ended up eating this at least two other times during the conference.
My first and only session of the day was a book reading delivered by Darren for “ProBlogger,” a book he co-authored with Chris Garrett. Unfortunately, his session was disrupted by a fire alarm. What awful luck. The party of folks I was with – Brandon, Chris, Deb, Chrispian, among others – hung around to see if it was just a false alarm. But, eventually, we all made our way outside. A few minutes later, we were given the all clear to come back in and Darren delivered the rest of his presentation.
Afterward, I purchased a copy of the book to support both Darren and Chris and had them sign it. The second edition, just released, was not yet out, so the first edition is what they had at SXSW and I now own two copies of it.
Before Darren’s talk, me and Chrispian had met up with Muhammad and had a nice chat on the balcony. We decided to get a group together for dinner. We started calling people, who had their own people they wanted to bring and it sort of ballooned. Thankfully, someone came through at the last minute with a reservation at Roy’s. Thank you to that person!
The party ended up at 13, including myself, Brandon, Chrispian, our friend Jeremy Wright, Deb, Chris Garrett, Muhammad, Darren, James Janega, Amy Vernon, Melissa Smich and 2 others. I had a great shrimp dish to go along with the great conversation.
After the dinner, we were heading to the FireFly Fandango party, hosted by Jason Falls. I really wanted to get there to support Jason, but on the way, we passed Jeremy, who had left the dinner earlier than us, and some others and they said that the party was closing. (Later, I found out that this was not the case. Sorry Jason).
The group of people, including a majority of the dinner party, along with Cameron Gawley, all decided to go to Emo’s. But, I wanted to get to Paul Boag’s presentation in the morning, so that was my day.
Saturday, March 13
It was another breakfast at the Java Jive before heading to Paul’s talk. After initially heading to the wrong room, I made it to the huge room they put Paul in, just in time for “Pain Free Design Sign Off.”
Paul did a wonderful job. I really enjoyed listening to him speak and, despite not being a web designer, his presentation was among my favorite, if not my favorite of the whole show. He posted the presentation on his website and you can check out some clips below.
He did a really good job illustrating the challenges of the designer/client relationship and why they are often confrontational. It was a great blend of experience, information and humor.
After meeting Paul at last year’s conference, it was great to be able to chat with him a bit more this year. He’s a very nice, smart guy. I picked up a copy of his “Website Owner’s Manual” (a great book that I reviewed here) and had him sign it.
Brandon’s talk got delayed and that’s never fun. Apparently the guy before Brandon was pushed back, as well, so that was part of the issue. But, unfortunately, he made it worse by showing video clips to the attendees and just standing there while they played. Even with the delay, he went beyond his time. It was uncomfortable to watch and I felt bad for Brandon. Brandon’s recap of the event has more information.
After Brandon was done, I had to run over to check in for my session at the Green Room and run back to meet up with Paul to do an interview for his podcast, Boagworld. One problem: Brandon’s presentation being delayed made me miss Paul’s time at the book signing table where we were supposed to meet. However, Paul ended up signing later, anyway, and I did manage to catch up with him. But, we could never find time to do that interview, unfortunately.
Somewhere, in the middle of all of this, I bumped into Victor and did an interview for Download Squad.
Eventually, it was time for the Core Conversation I was delivering with Twanna A. Hines, titled “Shameless Self Promotion Without Looking Like an @#$%^&!” Originally, the idea for the panel was mine. I shared it with Twanna and Brandon and we molded it a bit to where it ended up, inviting Darren to join us as the fourth panelist.
When they accepted the idea, they mandated that it was a Core Conversation and a maximum of two people would be allowed. So, Brandon and Darren joined us as special guests and participated from the crowd.
The aim of the session was to talk about self promotion online and how to do it in a way that enhances your brand, as opposed to taking away from it.
photo credit: Jared W. Smith
The Core Conversation format basically means that the speaker or speakers may talk for a quarter of the time and the room talks the rest of the time. They ask questions, answer them and we kind of participate and curate the discussion, as best as possible.
All in all, I feel like it went pretty well. The room was very responsive and engaging and hopefully we added something of value. It was great to see a bunch of familiar faces come out in support. Chrispian, Jared, Deb, Thom and Rich Brooks were among them. Other attendees to the session included Brad Groux, James Paden, Cindy Y. Lo, Jennifer Kelton, Kathy Jacobs, Nick Cooper, Kiratiana Freelon and others. I would say that approximately 85-100 people attended.
Afterward, I grabbed a really late lunch with Jared and Zack Urlocker at Casa Chapala. I’ve known Zack, online, for a long time. I opened up Outlook to see the oldest e-mail I have from him. It’s from the end of January in 2002. I did a little design work for him (for Valley of the Geeks), back when I was still doing that, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.
Meeting Zack and spending that couple of hours talking with him was one of the highlights of the conference for me. He has a lot of great stories to tell and is just a lot of fun to chat with.
By the time we parted ways, it was too late to attend “From Blogger to Social Media Guru to Professional Speaker,” led by Nick Morgan and Tim Sanders. But, I got over there as it ended and was able to quickly meet Mr. Morgan, who I had exchanged a few Twitter messages with previously.
After that, I grabbed a ride with Brandon and Jared to attend the SXSW Happy Hour & Internet Oldtimers Meet Up. I was invited through Facebook by one of my friends, who ended up missing it, due to a dinner. It turned out that it wasn’t internet old timers as a description of people who’d been working online for a while, but that there was a specific group named Internet Oldtimers and this was their meet up at SXSW. Nonetheless, they welcomed anyone.
At the party, I met Michaela Barnes and Tempy Wright of VeriSign, Karen Snyder, Peter Shankman and others. Funny thing about the venue: they were shooting a commercial in one half of it and they kept coming over to ask people to be quiet. In a bar. Heh.
We got together a group of people for dinner at Finn & Porter. Beyond Jared, Brandon and myself, this included Chrispian, Josh, Julie, Lucretia Pruitt, Alli Worthington and a friend of Jared’s. Afterward, I saw Hillary Brown who happened to be waiting for Nathan T. Wright. So, I hung out, said hello and then let them all go on their karaoke way. Already around 10:30, I decided to call it good.
Sunday, March 14
photo credit: Brandon Eley
My Sunday began with a ride over to Bryan Person’s Social Media Breakfast with Brandon. Once there, we sat with Deb and Chris Garrett. Brandon took a photo of me, Chris, Deb and two others and, funnily enough, I’m the only one who is not looking at a phone. They had breakfast burritos and there were a couple of presentations. Perhaps best of all, I was able to meet Heidi Miller, who I’d spoken with online previously. Albert Maruggi was kind enough to give me, Brandon, Nathan and Rick Mahn a ride back to the convention center afterward.
Most of this day played out pretty loosely, including a late lunch at Champion’s, until Jeremy’s session with Melissa, “Twitter and Dating in 140 Characters or Less.” It wouldn’t be my usual topic, but it was Jeremy, so of course I have to be there if at all possible. And we brought some people with us, filling out an entire row of seating (7 seats or so).
It was a fun, interesting session. If you asked a question, they gave you a beer. I don’t really ask questions (I’m too shy!) and I also don’t drink, so that would have been wasted on me. But, it was a really enjoyable talk and they did a good job keeping it lively.
Afterward, I had wanted to attend a comedy show by Zach Ward, but between a few different things, it just didn’t work out. I felt pretty bad about that and apologized to Zach a couple of times (count this as one more).
After dinner at Cantina Laredo once again (this time with Brandon, Chris, Julie, Josh and Joe Hamm), we all made our way over to The Silicon Prairie Party. One of the sponsors was Lava Row, which is basically Nathan (founder) and Hillary. So, I wanted to be sure to get over there.
We got in pretty easily (a rarity at SXSW when you arrive well after it opens) and had some good conversations. Among the people I met were Erin Rauk, Andy Drish and Dusty Davidson. I also had an opportunity to chat with Greg Swan, which is always good.
A funny thing happened, after we were already in the venue. Gary Vaynerchuk decided to do a secret wine party. And then, that’s where everyone wanted to be and it got packed, with a huge – huge – line extending around corners and across streets.
I like Gary a lot, I have two copies of his book (one signed) and I want to meet him one day. But, that is no way to meet him. People are insane, jockeying for positions in a crowd. No thanks. So, shortly after he arrived, I headed back to the hotel.
Monday, March 15
Before my first and only session of the day, I hung out in the Blogger’s Lounge a bit and had a great conversation with Brandon and Rohit Bhargava on professional speaking.
I then headed to Wayne Sutton’s “Becoming a Real-Time Video Blogger” presentation. Wayne was responsible for a Future15 track on video blogging and had a ton going on, so we really didn’t get much of a chance to hang out during the show at all, except for a 10 minute walk to a party that he was co-hosting. He’s a leading figure in what I call “the North Carolina connect” at these events. There always seems to be a healthy contingent of folks from the state.
The OCR (Online Community Roundtable) LunchUp at Iron Works was my next destination. It was great to see Bill Johnston, leader of the group, and to meet some new community professionals, such as Annie Lynsen, Tim Walker, Toby Richards, Tyler Welch and more. Mark Williams was there, as well.
I dedicated some time to walking the trade show floor, being that Monday was the last day that it would be open. I had a good conversation with Rick Calvert of BlogWorld Expo. I spent a good amount of time at the Portable presents Plus Six booth where 99designs was showcased along with 5 other groups.
99designs was launched out of SitePoint and I have a long term relationship with them. It was good to see Jason Aiken again, as well as to meet Leni Mayo and Lachlan Donald. Always looking for new ad partners, I checked out the Image Space Media booth and spoke with Tad Davis.
Brian Solis and Gary Vaynerchuk hosted a party to celebrate the release of Mr. Solis’ book, “Engage.” They also had a set of other hosts, which included Wayne and Jason Keath. Wayne invited me to come and I walked with him and Jason to the venue, on the top floor of the Frost Bank Tower. Very cool spot. They recorded an episode of Wine Library TV during the party. I met Sloane Berrent, Erik Wolf, Robert Michael Murray (introduced by Rick Calvert) and Wei Yang at the party, among others.
I grabbed dinner with Brandon, Chrispian, Josh, Julie, Jim Caruso and Jacqui Chew at Sullivan’s before making my way to The Paramount Theatre to watch the premiere of “MacGruber” with Zach Ward and Gregory Ng. The movie was based on the Saturday Night Live skit of the same name. When I saw that it was going to be premiering at SXSW, I decided I wanted to see it. When you speak at SXSW Interactive, they give you a Gold pass good for both Film and Interactive. I had never taken advantage of the Film side, though, despite speaking at the last two SXSWs.
photo credit: Rogue Pictures
Unfortunately, I had a tough time finding people who wanted to go with me. But, I linked up with Zach and Greg and met them in line. It was quite a long line and it actually began to rain at one point. Luckily, it wasn’t a complete and total downpour, but it was enough to be annoying.
Something funny happened while we waited in line. Supposed theatre employees, all in a uniform, walked down the line, asking for people to put their cell phones, digital cameras, Flip cams and other camera type devices into United States Postal Service boxes. And I don’t mean USPS style boxes… I mean, actual USPS boxes. The kind you get from the post office when you have to pick up a large quantity of mail.
Why was this funny? Well, who in their right mind is going to dump their gadgetry into this cheap box with other people’s stuff, giving it to supposed theatre employees (realistically we don’t actually know if they’re employed by the theatre or not) in the rain? I have a cheap pay as you go phone with no camera and I wasn’t giving it up. So, suffice to say, they walked back with empty buckets.
We made it into the theatre and had some solid seats. We were on the upper level, but at the very front, so there was no one seated in front of us. Some of the cast and crew attended the screening, including “MacGruber” creator and director (and member of The Lonely Island) Jorma Taccone, Will Forte (who played “MacGruber”), Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer. Check out the clip below for Taccone’s pre-film introduction.
The version of the film that we saw was unfinished, including the cut itself, the visual effects and the sound.
We had a good time. A lot of laughs. Half of the fun, I would say, is simply being in the theatre with a group of people and laughing with them. If I had been watching it by myself, I would have laughed much less. But, the same can probably be said for any comedy, so that’s not really a slight on the film. It’s a fun movie to watch with a couple of friends.
After the movie, the rain had worsened. Zach went one way and me and Greg went the other, getting drenched along the way. He ducked into a pizza place and I went back to the hotel.
Speaking of Greg and pizza, he’s the man behind the popular Freezer Burns video show, focused on frozen food reviews. During the conference, I tagged along with Wayne to one of his live shows in his hotel room along with an assembled group of folks, including Mike Schneider. It was fun to see him in action.
Tuesday, March 16
The last day of SXSW was pretty laid back and I only attended one session, in support of Nathan and Greg Swan. It was “The State of Music Blogs in 2010.” The other panelists were Tessa Horehled, Nicole Poulos and Jesse Ervin. I met and sat next to Avi Ghosh and we had a nice chat.
I had lunch with the regular group at Champion’s, plus Jeremy Wright, who was heading home. After that, I was interviewed by Abby Johnson of WebProNews. It’s actually the third time I’ve been interviewed by Abby at one of these conferences and it’s always a pleasure because she is just so nice. Check out the interview below.
Along with Josh and Chrispian, I made my annual pilgrimage to P.F. Chang’s for dinner. Chris was nice enough to buy some lettuce wraps for the table, it being my first time having them. Good stuff.
After that, I went to the closing party at Mohawk, presented by Media Temple. I hung out with Calvin a bit more and also met Brad Groux, Scott Allison, Wesley Faulkner and Chris Lorenz, plus others. And then I was back at the hotel, getting ready for the flight home the next morning.
Wednesday, March 17
Jared, Chrispian and myself had decided to catch a ride over to the airport together. Initially, we had some trouble getting a cab, but right at the front door, we found a van run by J&E Sales and Services and piled into it. Chris graciously picked up the bill.
After checking bags at the airport, we all were headed the same way, so we grabbed some breakfast. I am pretty sure that the place where I got my bagel from was counting money on the same surface that they cut my bagel on. I think I was too in shock and/or not awake to say something. I try not to think about it.
After chatting for a while, it was time for Chris to head off. I talked with Jared until it was time for me to go. And then, my time in Austin came to an end.
I sat down next to a gentleman and we didn’t talk much until I pulled the ultimate ice breaker by, yes, spilling Coke, with ice in it, all over both myself and him! Wonderful. We asked one of the flight attendants for napkins, but that only helped a little bit. Embarrassment and apologies aside, his name was Brian Batchelder and we actually had a good conversation for the remainder of the flight.
I arrived in Washington for my connecting flight with what I thought would be enough time, but what turned into the closest I’ve ever been to missing a plane. I went the wrong way for 5-10 minutes and that really cost me. I jogged for the last few minutes and even then, I was the last or second to last person on the plane and they shut the door within a minute or two of my arrival. Wow. But, everything went smoothly after that.
There are some moments and people that I could not place in specific days, but still wanted to mention in this post.
One constant was bumping into Thom Singer, which was great because I really enjoy talking with him. We had a couple of extended conversations, one including Brandon, about speaking and other matters. Conversations like those are one of the biggest highlights of the event for me. It was great to talk with Thom.
Other people that I met, not already mentioned in this post, include Shaun Haenes, Evan Carroll, Mary Henige, Nathalie Lussier, Dave Evans, Karen O’Neal, Ryan Kelly, Paolo Sambrano, Jim Storer, Ernie Mosteller, Abe Schwartz, Jeremy Porter, Elaine Fiolet, Neel Sus, Carol Farrar, David Storey, John K. Bates, Shari Bare, Stuart Kaiser and Martin Whitmore.
I also said (at least a) quick hello to Ryan Boyles, Jeff Cohen, Kipp Bodnar, Ken Yeung, Chris Hogan, Scott Brewster, Paul Stamatiou and Shama Kabani, who was kind enough to present me with a copy of her new book, “The Zen of Social Media Marketing.”
photo credit: Calvin Lee
I’d like to thank everyone who made my trip fun and beneficial. Brandon, Jared, Chrispian, Jeremy, Josh Coffee, Deb, Zack, Thom, Chris Garrett, Gregory Ng, Zach, Muhammad, Darren, Julie and a majority of the people mentioned in this post. Brandon and I talked about how it was the most enjoyable SXSW Interactive we’d attended thus far (we’ve both attended the event for the last three years) and the people are a big reason for that, as well as our familiarity with the event. It was a great time. So, thank you.
As funny as it may seem, the SXSW PanelPicker opened before I finished this recap. So, if you’re looking to speak, go ahead and submit something. (If you think I’d be good on your panel idea or something along those lines, I’m definitely open to that, as well). With any luck, I’ll see you there again next year.