Thoughts from SXSW Interactive 2010

On Tuesday night, I got back from the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference in Austin, Texas.   It’s an amazing yet exhausting conference.

Its 5 days of late nights spending quality time with about 13,000 of your closest geek friends.   When you have that many new early adopters together in one place, crazy things are bound to happen.

I had a few thoughts that I thought I’d share…

Business Cards Are So Last Year

This year, I failed to order business cards in time so that I’d have them for the conference.  I was confident that I’d be screwed and have to be writing down my e-mail address on pieces of paper.

Well this year, on the SXSW badges, they for the first time had a QR code that you could scan with a special app on your mobile phone.  When you scanned the QR code, it would follow the person so that you could have access to their contact info later, in the SXSW system.

While a lot of people found this system super buggy, it worked for me.  It showed that there’s a better and more effective way for people to exchange contact information.  I’m excited to see this evolve.

foursquare and Gowalla are incredibly useful.

When you’re in a place where you have lots of friends around you, the ability to know where those friends are is especially useful.  At SXSW, I was at a party and knew that some other friends were hanging out at the hotel bar.  The party was dying down so we went and met up with the other friends at the hotel bar.  This ROCKS.

foursquare and Gowalla are a pain in the butt.

One afternoon at SXSW, I went to a local coffee shop for a latte with a really good friend of mine.  It was a beautiful day outside so we decided to sit outside.  I was having a blast and then I had the thought, “crap, I haven’t checked in on foursquare.”  A few minutes later I realized that I was being ridiculous and just decided to have fun and forget about foursquare.

I really think that social media (Facebook, Twitter, or foursquare) are amazing but when you have to stop life to use them, at times,  they start to get in the way of actual living.

Booth babes…  Really??? *sigh*

As I walked around the Austin Convention Center, I was kind of shocked to see that companies had hired girls in short skirts and heels to tramps around handing out fliers for a product.   A few years ago, didn’t we decide that this was pretty bad.  I was in the trade show and a woman told me that her boss told her to wear high heels to the show.  Really?!?  The boss sounds like a moron.   Seriously, if you need to use sex to sell your product, it must not be very good.  An idea… make a good product, people will use it, and tell their friends about it.

We need a Community Manager support group… or something.

My brother in arms Saul Colt organized a “core conversation” this year about the importance of having Community Managers within an organization and asked me to join the conversation.  It was awesome.  We had a small room and we packed a whole lot of folks into it.  The 45 minutes felt like it went by in 5.  It was quickly apparent that there was a need for bringing people together who were in this field of being the face of a brand, as a “Community Manager”, together.   More on this later…

Get away from the action…

The parties at SXSW are amazing.  There are so many of them going on at any given time that it’s overwhelming but it’s hard to have actual conversations.  Either, you’re running into people you know every 5 seconds, the music is too loud to hear each other, or it’s just too crowded.   You gotta find those spots that you can grab someone who want chat with and get away from the action.  I definitely found a handful of good places and no I’m not going to tell you where they are.  If I did, they wouldn’t be my nice and quiet spots anymore.

See you next year.

Unlike some who’ve decried that they’re never coming back to SXSW, I’ll definitely be back.  Yes, it’s overwhelming and exhausting.  4 or 5 days of free food and beer definitely isn’t healthy but great people are continuing to gather there each year.   I get the opportunity to have so many great conversations across such a group of people in one period of time that it’s not like anything you can get anywhere else.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts from SXSW Interactive 2010”

  1. Justin – I just had to chime in on your point about booth babes. I was also pretty shocked – it felt like 1999. As an austinite, I also found the short shorts & cowboy hat yee-ha booth babe flavor particularly ridiculous. But maybe I’m just biased because the message that booth babes send to me is “we’re targeting men, keep walking lady”. I have yet to see hot male models at an interactive show trying to tell me about what new startups do…

  2. Good piece, Justin. After two SxSWs I am iffy on going again, lot’s of business value if you approach it intelligently, but lots of juvenile aspects to it, too. As far as networking goes, I can name two conferences to attend and hit 70-80% of the folks I want to see, SNCR and NTEN. So, again, I am iffy… But I do see biz value.

  3. Justin, great post here! I’ve really got to find a way to get to SXSW next year and events like it. I really liked your mention of business cards and how they are becoming passe with the advent of mobile apps. Speaking of which, I’d love to pick your brain sometime over a pint on how to implement apps in a variety of ways, much less the programming them outright. Keep up the superb writing, and I can’t wait to stop by and visit again soon!

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