Recap of SXSW Interactive 2009

As I sit here in a daze induced by 4 crazy days of interacting with geeks the world over, sleeping little and attending party after party after party, I find myself nostalgically looking back at SXSW 2009.

It wasn’t as good as previous years, in my opinion. Maybe it was the huge number of noobs. There are always newbies, but this year it seemed to be more than ever. And that’s not a bad thing. I am happy when new groups and segments of the internet community are introduced to the wiles of SXSW, however this year seemed to be extravagantly more than normal. And it did affect the way the festival went off.

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan

Interestingly, over 7000 people registered for the Interactive festival, up some 25% from last year if I recall. However, the actual attendance seemed to be down. In the context of conversations, I think I realized what was really at play. Despite no one mentioning it out right, it was clear that the economy had people in funky moods. Last year at this time, we were discussing venture capital, web startups and Facebook’s expansion, as an example. This year, however, the tone and look on peoples faces was a little more stark. It was a very interesting dynamic.

Of course, that didn’t mean people were in sour moods. They weren’t. The parties flowed. The long lunches happened. People laughed and talked. In some cases, we sang.

Alex Hillman at Cogaoke
Alex Hillman, IndyHall

Sorry, if you missed me perform Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at Cogaoke. I did not win the karaoke competition but at least I had fun trying.

SXSW always is a must attend for me because it represents, much like Facebook does for my real life, a confluence of all of the circles of my geek life.

For instance, my Boulder peeps were there:
Jeremy Tanner
Jeremy Tanner

My Silicon Valley peeps were there:
Rick Klau
Rick Klau, Google/Blogger

And, of course, a very large (largest in SXSW history, maybe?) DC representation:
DC Peeps at SXSW

I am hardly impressed by celebrity and most of the “celebrities” that were there are not people that are anything more than friends for me. For instance, Chris Pirillo and Loic Lemeur were there. Friends doing great things, like Gnomedex and Seesmic

Chris Pirillo and Loic Lemeur

My only really true geek boy moment was meeting Drew Curtis of Fark, a guy who built his company the old fashioned way (without VC money) and is not prone to jump on technology bandwagons just because everyone says they are cool.

Finally, as a bonus, I give you Julia Allison, the woman that so many love to hate but geek guys fawn over anyway, Brittany Bohnet and Randi Zuckerberg, the Facebook Director of Market Development, and the sister to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Julia Allison, Brittany Bohnet and Randi Zuckerberg

Crash Course on SXSW

At this time next week, geeks from around the world will begin descending on Austin, TX for SXSW (South by Southwest) Interactive. This will be my third year, but I’m a bit surprised, in a down economy, how many people are going for the first time.

Believe me when I say, this will be possibly the best experience of your entire career. Each year becomes progressively better for me. I imagine that, if you return in future years, your approach to SXSW will follow a similar track as me:

  1. Year 1 – Wander aimlessly, taken in by all of the events going on. Looking around in wide-eyed wonder. Possibly returning unaware of what exactly you got out of it but knowing you got something.
  2. Year 2 – Operate at non-stop breakneck speed for the entire conference, stopping only to grab a coffee or a quick bite. Trying to meet as many people as you can and go to as many parties as you can RSVP for.
  3. Year 3 – Being old hat, SXSW is less about meeting everyone and doing everything than spending time building on the relationships that matter most. This means long lunches, and maybe avoiding the “meat market” networking parties in favor of smaller, intimate settings.

You cannot hit #3 without doing #1 and #2 first, so don’t try. :)

On a practical level, SXSW is a very busy time and if it’s your first time, you probably want to consider some things before you hit that plane and hotel.

  1. Pack Light – you will not want to carry a lot of stuff to and from the airport, hotel or convention center, not to mention the parties
  2. Do not plan to spend a lot of time in your hotel – You may have a chance to go put eveningwear on, but you very well might not. Plan to not have a chance to go to the hotel.
  3. Sessions are not all that important. In the grand scheme of things, whether you’re a design/UX kind of person (the old guard at SXSW) or a social media person (the new guard) or a government type (lots of those this year), your colleagues are descending on the place for 4 days. Spend time with them. Sessions you can get anywhere.
  4. Do not try to go to every party. You can’t and it’s no fun that way. Pick a few and leave some wiggle room in your schedule so that you can add the ad hoc unannounced party that you find out about at the last minute.
  5. Keep Your Posessions. Don’t lose your phone or Blackberry, as I did in 2007.
  6. Have a second pair of shoes. In case there is torrential rain (It can and does happen).
  7. Get sleep. It’s really hard at SXSW because something is happening at almost all hours. But you need to pace yourself and make it for the entire conference. Drink lots of water if you’re going to be consuming alcohol (who doesn’t?) and try to grab power naps if you can.
  8. Stay near the convention center. All the parties happen between San Jacinto St and Colorado Ave, from east to west. Likewise, most happen between 4th and 7th St, from south to north. In other words, everything is pretty tight in. If you can, get a hotel room (or share with someone) close to the show. Makes all the difference in cab fares and walking.

For the rest of you who have been to SXSW before, what advice can you give? Leave ideas in comments.