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