March 17, 2004
What I saw at SXSW

This year, before SXSW I had great plans to blog and write lots of stuff while I was there. I did none of that. Why? I mean last year I blogged up a storm while I was at the conference. This year was different, though. Two main things had changed.

First and foremost, my brother Matt had come to SXSW with me. Suddenly, there was someone around that I was coordinating with and talking to all the time. Last year, I spent much of the time between sessions quietly reviewing the previous session and making notes for blogs. Between sessions now, I was chatting with Matt and others about what the panels were like and what to do next. I really enjoyed having someone that was with me at the show. With acquaintances, you often run out of things to talk about. You both want to keep chatting, but you run out of things in the common frame of reference to discuss and you get those weird lulls. I never get weird lulls talking with my brother. If we stop talking it's usually because one of us is napping.

The second thing that had changed, was that I knew people and people knew me. Promptly as I arrived in Austin, I started bumping into people I knew from last SXSW and other interactions during the year. I was quite surprised to have people walk up to me knowing my name. I knew who they were, but I didn't know if people were going to remember me. It turns out that lots of people knew who I was and I found myself fully part of the SXSW tribe. Surrounded by friends and constantly meeting new people, I found myself with little time to write anything down.

Toss in that the schedule of events starts at 10AM with the first sessions goes until the wee hours with various parties, and I found little time to be able to reflect on what I saw and heard.

Here are a few of my observations:

The Cult of Mac is growing - Everywhere I turned, there was a little Apple logo staring back at me, unblinking, almost mocking me. I don't know what it is about the Mac Laptop, but many people are slaves in it's thrall. I suspect that Apple has engineered an addictive gas that is released when people use their Macs they renders them susceptible to Steve Job's mind control software.

Complaining works sometimes - When I got to the Austin conference center I was warned that 'they' were cracking down on people using power outlets and using cameras. After a bit of wingeing at the right people, these restrictions were removed, and there was much rejoicing. However, I was unable to get the problem with VPNs fixed. For some unknown reason, VPNs we getting blocked by part of the net access infrastructure. I spoke with the Austin Wireless people, the SXSW staff, and some of the Conf Center people, but nothing got fixed. For all my efforts to secure my wifi, I was completely and utterly thwarted in my endeavors.

The Echo Chamber is in full effect - There has been a lot of talk about the echo chamber is some blogging circles lately, where the same people are commenting on the same ideas and new ideas don't make it inside. This year I saw its effect. In session after session, the 'group think' was crowding out the new ideas and any idea that ran counter to the prevailing meme. Trying to convince people that wikis have a high barrier to entry, that they have to become simpler and more WYSIWYG, fell on deaf ears. If it made sense to them, they suggested it made sense to everyone. Similar kinds of thinking in sessions about blogging. To hear people talk, every social problem in society can be solved with a liberal application of weblogs like some sort of magic first aid creme for society. Trouble with large media companies? Use weblogs. Trouble with government? Use weblogs. Economic needs in third world countries? Use weblogs. Unhappy workers? Use weblogs. The trouble when you only have one tool in your toolbox (weblogs) is that everything looks like a nail. The SXSW tribe needs to invite some people to interact that actively challenge the weblog worldview and force them to think about it and defend it.

SXSW people are still shy - I'm a confirmed extrovert. No hiding it, I like meeting other people and don't have a problem introducing myself to strangers. Many of the people at the conference were hesitant to introduce themselves. Once you got them going, it was like a firehose of thoughts and information they had, but you had to prompt them to get them going.

More when I have time. I've been traveling for 14 hours and I need some sleep.

Posted by michael at March 17, 2004 10:31 PM