SXSW: interactive 2010


SXSW Interactive 2010 is over. I spent most of that time in Austin, and came away with some surprising impressions. On the flight down from Seattle, I’d say 80% of the passengers were headed to SXSW. Lots of “design-y” folks, obscure t-shirts, spools, mustaches, tats, hats and obligatory hair. It was a cool crowd, not the hyper let-me-prove-myself-to-you vibe one finds in crowds headed to purely tech events.
Still, SXSW Interactive has a lot of tech to it. Which made it surprising that the tech side of the event seemed like it needed life support, or at least a triple espresso. The website was a bit tangled, the official SXSW iPhone app never fully synced with the data on the site (twitter hashtags never made the jump). And there was the “profile merge” problem: if you set up a my.sxsw account before you actually registered, the photo you uploaded never made it to registration, and your account via the iPhone app never recognized you as an official attendee, meaning no QR scanning, or messaging, or any of that coolness. To fix this took asking specifically for a “merge” wherein your data were munged together. Then manual account setup at 1-2 other external sites to get the QR stuff online. Argh.

Once at the event, there were lines for everything.  Coffee, bathrooms, swag, entry into talks, drinks, dinner, clubs, music. Granted, a lot of these things were worthwhile, but you get tired of waiting. At the same time, the constant thrum of thousands of people circulating in the same space to talk about design and tech is intoxicating.

Content-wise, SXSW Interactive was a mixed bag. Few of the talks made much use of the big screens, leaving them to roll through the sorts of advertisements one normally finds when waiting for a movie to start. Speakers ranged from the awesome (Clay Shirky rocked it) to the mundane. And while I’d expect a some level of lack of preparation from newbie speakers (the zero waste panel had a member who actually said “what the fuck”), it was surprising how flat the keynote speakers were, people you’d normally expect to bring it.


  • Again, Clay Shirky kicked ass talking about changing the systems to enable changing our paradigms.
  • Robert Fabricant inspired with his examples of world-changing processes in action right now like Project Masiluleke (full disclosure: I’m a frog, but I think Project M is cool).
  • Making snow outside the convention center.
  • Sampling single malt Macallan at the frog party.
  • “Is WordPress killing design? No, lack of imagination is killing design.”

Further thoughts:

  • “Futurist” presentations should be 45 minutes rather than an hour – and no Q&A; these sessions seem especially prone to the “do you actually have a question?” phenomenon.
  • People posing as having questions when they’re standing up to promote themselves/their companies should be gently encouraged way from that  (LifeSize).
  • Biofeedback is not a form of mystical kinesthetic awareness.

Favorite quotes:

  • “augmented mindfulness” – Robert Fabricant
  • “believability is an extremely ductile process” – Bruce Sterling
  • “rainbow unicorn mode of sharing” vs “jackhammer sharing” – Clay Shirky
  • “abundance breaks more things than scarcity” – Clay Shirky
  • napster == “bit torrent that didn’t work very well” – Clay Shirky
  • word for “not sharing with someone when it would make their lives better” == “spiteful” (in relation to the recording industry institutionalizing spitefulness) – Clay Shirky : working against themselves

Last fall we got a Roku player. Pretty cool – Netflix, Pandora, Amazon Video and more right on the big screen (well, our sort of big screen).
Part of the “more” was for $14.95. Access to games, stats, “compressed” games and such. Seemed like fun. Seemed like a great deal. Seemed almost too good to be true.

It was.

Six months later, I discovered a charge for $109.95 on my credit card from After a lengthy search on their web site, I found a contact link. No response. I searched the web and found that I’m actually part of a sizable group of people who are pretty pissed off about this surprise.

And that it’s our fault. If we’d only read the fine print (on a later page), we’d have known that MLB reserved the right to charge us 8 times the original price at a later date for a year’s subscription. Without any notice. We’ve dealt with this before, scams that opened our credit cards up to sleazy followup charges, and I make a point of chasing them down and making them go away. Especially when they post those charges days before they’re supposed to, on a Saturday when they’re closed and unreachable.

But it’s tough to fight an opponent who isn’t actually there, who doesn’t engage except with canned responses. So I tried calling them.

As of this date I have about 35 minutes invested on hold to MLB. Only to find that, when taking the option to leave a message, their mailbox was full. Now, this isn’t some mom-and-pop shop we’re talking about, its Major League Baseball. You know, the ones who go make gazillions of dollars on television rights. Oh, and claim copyrights they aren’t entitled to claim – even after being told that by the courts. Oh, and go after children’s groups to protect their trademark. I have to believe they have more than one fricking voicemail box on their system.

So my rhetoric escalated. And their responses remained canned. They indicated they’d honor all requests for refund if submitted no more than 5 days from the date of charge, but then never seemed to get around to actually refunding that money.

Until I suggested that I was considering creating a Facebook/Twitter campaign to see if there might be class action potential here. Ended my message with “remember, you asked for this.”

Suddenly, I was getting emails and voicemails and claims that my refund “was being processed.” And an actual refund!

The thing is, it didn’t have to go this way. We’re baseball fans, and love to watch the games. We might have received a notice from MLB telling us something like “hey, we told you we were going to charge you, but didn’t want you to be surprised ’cause we’re an up front sort of company and we want you to be happy with our product.” The resulting conversation in our house might’ve been something like “well, we like to see the games, $110 for a year is probably okay, don’t you think?”

But it didn’t go that way. Instead, our attitude is now more along the lines of “we will never, ever do business with in any way. Period.” lost a customer, a subscriber, because they didn’t think about customer satisfaction over revenue. I like to think that’s a sign of the times, that we’re all becoming more sophisticated, more willing to require good business practices.

I remain ever hopeful.