SXSW A Month Later

So, I’m sure a few (some?) of you who’ve noticed I was talking a lot about SXSW in the past years and just before going and were wondering why I haven’t written about it much since coming back. Right? There are, I’m sure, a few who figured I didn’t like it and so kept my mouth shut. Wrong.

I was going to say I didn’t like it as much as I expected (although I liked it a lot) but, come to think of it, there was no way I was going to enjoy it as much as my expectations so I guess you could say I loved it. Whatever the qualifier though, I’m going back, maybe even next year, so I guess that’s the best gauge of enjoyment.

Why then haven’t I been writing about it? Two reasons; Mexico and work. Mexico because, to use a very bad but very apt analogy, I rebooted during that week, everything turned off, start nearly from scratch on our return. So both figuratively and actually on my desktop I had no notes or specific subjects I was in a hurry to talk about. Workwise, I actually had 5 new projects in my inbox that I needed to address with quotes to clients and/or beginning work, add to that catching up on everything I try to keep abreast of and I didn’t have time to write about the conference.

There’s also a third reason I guess, which is that knowing everything was being recorded and would later be offered up online alongside the slides and podcasts, I didn’t do much note taking or even much back channeling, I just listened and talked between panels, expecting to review the online versions on my return and then give opinions. Didn’t happen, see work above.

Allllll of that to say that, here’s a first look back at SXSW, organization and experience wise.

If you look at the programming you’ll notice that for some timeslots there were 6 panels going simultaneously! Which meant choices which meant a lot of considering who’s speaking and looking at the short blurbs and trying to figure out what looks interesting, what looks cool, what’s can’t miss, what I don’t need to hear, etc.

The problem with said blurbs is that, to my knowledge, they are submitted a good while in advance when panelists pitch their subjects. I’m guessing that they then do quite a bit of emailing, skyping, meeting in person if they can, etc. Well, some panels didn’t match the blurb. I’ll keep it general and not give specific examples but a number of times we were disappointed and switched rooms, looking for something better. First recommendation/request; adjust the blurbs as late as possible to be as close as can be to what you’ll actually talk about.

Kind of in the same vein but worth a separate mention; expected audience. Sometimes beginner level was mentioned but other times not, I’m sure some people also ended up in advanced panels, thinking they could learn the subject, not stick to advanced details. Some kind of indicator should help us know what to expect.

Third and perhaps most important thing; moderators. A moderator needs to control and direct the panel, keep a certain rythm, keep the thing on topic, stop those who can’t stop talking and offer up chances to speak to those who aren’t as assertive. A moderator is not a buddy who’s simply there to name the participants and point in the room for the next question. Four days of four panels plus some “doubles” and even “triples” when I changed rooms, four keynotes and I can count on the fingers of one hand the good moderators I saw at work. Most looked like they just drew staws out of a group of four friends, not the best way to go. Two I remember right away; Jeffrey Veen on Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps, and Henry Copeland on Cluetrain: Seven Years Later. Both managed the panels properly and made them more interesting.

In the next few days, hopefully, thoughts on the social aspects and favorites panels and moments.