I’m writing this a few hours after my return from Austin. As usual, SXSW was whirlwind of knowledge, brilliant minds, trial of new technologies and a lot of socializing.
It’s getting bigger and bigger
It was merely impossible to see 20% of the panels/keynotes I was interested in. The conference is now so spread out that you really have to limit yourself to 1-2 panels and go with the flow the rest of the day. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better but my experience was much better than last year. Maybe it was my overall attitude, my focus on networking or the conference felt more elevated and improved from last year.
With one exception, the keynotes weren’t good
Blake McCoskie, CEO and Founder of Tom’s Shoes, stole the keynote show by a huge margin. His story was inspiring and conveyed the passion he feels for his brand. I wish all keynotes would have been of that caliber but it gave me more time to network and learn by talking with fellow attendees.
SXSW’s content: It’s what you make it.
SXSW has turned into a huge farmer market. You have to walk down all the stands, try out some fruit, bite into a few sour apples until you discover something sweet. It’s up to you to do all the legwork in advance, have Plan B and C for each session in place and leave as soon as you feel the session doesn’t meet your expectations. I went to 10 or so sessions and 5 of them were fabulous.
It’s about the people
In a cab, in line, at the Allhat party, at the DraftFCB event, at a local restaurant, on the street: SXSW is about connecting with people. Replacing the Twitter avatar with a real person. Meeting strangers and parting as friends. Connecting friends with other friends. That’s the real story of SXSW.
Big brands are moving in
Samsung hosted the blogger lounge (Ironically more Apple than Samsung products inside the lounge) with interviews, book signings and a lot of Pepsi. Chevy really made an impact with their car service for attendees, test drives, charging stations, the Volt lounge and party sponsorship. Pepsi was basically everywhere, sometimes the only drink you could get was a Pepsi Max. They sponsored a lounge and a stage, sometimes manned by my friend @schneidermike. (He should just legally change his name already.) American Express partnered with Foursquare to launch a form of a loyalty program. Should be interesting to see the results. And, once again, Apple was the marketing king without spending any money on sponsorships: They opened a “pop up” store and geeks lined up for hours to get their hands on the new iPad2. Just to show them off in the next day and do the marketing work for Apple.
More importantly, more executives of large brands and enterprises were present, trying to figure out how to transform their business. I had more discussions about social business and less chat about bright, shiny tools.
Oh boy, so many apps and not enough screen real estate
Situationist, Hurricane Party, Beluga, Ditto, Yobongo, LiquidSpace. And I’m barely scratching the surface. It was fun to try them out and evaluate their worthiness to remain on my iPhone. Unlike other SXSW’s, this year there was no break-out technology. No Foursquare or Twitter. A lot of hype surrounding SMS group chat tools like Beluga and GroupMe but I didn’t experience a high adoption rate in my graph. It felt more like a new feature than an innovative tool. The LocalMind Q&A tool looked interesting and could become quite helpful over time.
Would love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m busy deleting some of the apps I downloaded a few days ago.