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SXSW: The Cool and the Lame

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This year was probably my most rewarding SXSW experience ever. I learned a lot, renewed friendships, made new friends, was presented with some very attractive opportunities and all in all, had a blast. With that said, there was plenty of lamery to go around as well.

If you didn’t attend SXSW here’s what you missed (or didn’t miss…)

SXSW: The Cool

At SXSW ’10, one didn’t really need to purchase a badge because everything worth mentioning happened outside the sessions and panels. While I did attend a couple of excellent Core Conversations, the truth is, the highlights from “Southby” didn’t come from scheduled talks. As Chris Garrett said, “I paid $500 to hang out in the blogger lounge.” That doesn’t mean SXSW wasn’t worth the experience, just that sometimes the experience isn’t what’s scheduled in the official guide.

The Blogger Lounge: If you were looking for friends and conversation, the blogger lounge was the place to be. This is where we worked, shared ideas and caught up with those we hadn’t seen since the last conference. The blogger lounge provided tables and sockets for our laptops, food and drink, and even some entertainment. A good time was had by all.

The hallways: I learn more in conference center hallways than from listening to the same panelists say the same thing at each different conference. In fact, I think I spent more time in the hallways at SXSW than anywhere else. Lest, you think I was wandering aimlessly, I was talking and sharing ideas with published authors, bloggers, social media people, marketing people, and even a couple of filmmakers.

The restaurants: Whether it was Stubbs, Rudy’s or Ironworks, whether it was BBQ, Hawaiin or Tex Mex, Austin has something for everyone. Each night we tried something new and I’m happy to report that nothing sucked. Even better than the food was the company and the conversation…

The people: I’m not going to indulge in a festival of name droppery, but I will say this, I have terrific friends. Bloggers are the nicest people ever. No, really. There’s nothing better than a bunch of great minds sitting together and thinking alike. Or, even, not agreeing but having a terrific, respectful discussion.  I have more phone numbers than I can fit into my phone and more business cards than I have a box to hold them.

The City of Austin: Kudos to the City of Austin, Texas for handling this logistical nightmare. More than one person told me the college spring break is scheduled at the same time as SXSW so that there are thousands of people leaving the city at the same time thousands of people are coming in. Though SXSW is sure to be an income booster for shops and businesses, I’m positive most residents will be happy it’s over. Driving around Downtown is a nightmare for residents, for sure. Still, everyone is pleasant and well mannered and the drivers are the most polite I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if this type of conference could happen anywhere else.

SXSW: The Lame

Zone Bars: Every where I went someone was waving a Zone Bar in my face. While I’m thinking they were the reason many attendees didn’t starve, I’m also thinking most of us are leaving Austin hoping to never see another Zone Bar for as long as we live. Or at least until next year.

Panels and sessions: There were very few SXSW panels that interested me this year. Maybe it’s because all the panels are picked as the result of a popularity contests. It doesn’t matter if a session is necessary and timely, if it doesn’t get the votes it doesn’t get in. Someone with a lame panel and a large network of friends  has a better chance of getting picked than someone with a decent topic and not as many friends. Problem is, if those friends aren’t attending SXSW, does it really matter if they’re voting for panels?

Fire alarms: So we’re sitting in the audience at Darren Rowse‘s book reading and the fire alarm went off and we had to exit the building.  I mean everyone. There was no panic, and no pushing. Everyone was respectful and cooperative. Still, it was a pain in the butt to empty out a massive conference hall and then put it all back together again. The fire alarm was a dream for the Zone Bar people who stood in the stair wells passing out Zone Bars, but for speakers such as Darren Rowse, it almost put an end to the talk. We were back in the building about 20 minutes later, a little behind schedule, but it all worked out in the end. Oh and the alarm? It was a false one.

Drunk social media gurus: Hey famous social media people. Yes, you. People remember when you get drunk and sloppy in public. Folks can do a lot with a cell phone cameras nowadays and there are certain things you don’t want captured on film, if you know what I mean. Seriously though, some folks treat SXSW as nothing but a big party and forget that many of their peers and professional contacts are in attendance. It’s probably a good reminder not to do anything you wouldn’t want splashed across the front page of the New York Times, besides acting drunk in public is just obnoxious.

What are some of your takeaways from SXSW? What did you find lame and what did you enjoy?

Deb Ng is a professional blogger and founder of the Freelance Writing Jobs network.


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  • chrispian

    Deb, it was great meeting you in person finally! Rudy’s BBQ was amazing. And great post, wish I had a Zone Bar to leave you as a tip 😉

  • James Paden

    As with Chris, it was great meeting you Deb! I look forward to meeting up again sometime!

  • Kathy Jacobs

    Hey Deb – I think I still have my Zone bar, Do you want it? 😉

    Your post summed up SxSWi quite nicely. I do wish the Blogger lounge had been a bit bigger – it got really hard to move around in at times.

    I also have to commend the Austin COnvention Center – first time I have been at a convention center where the food for purchase was not just edible (a stretch many times), but GOOD. Prices weren’t too out of line either.

  • Rick Calvert

    I can’t comment on the panels as I haven’t been to one in two years but in all fairness, I did hear some complaints but I heard other people raving about a few sessions as well. I think the $500 was more than fair just for the access to the blogger lounge.

    There is one huge point I want to make and I think it warrants a blog post of its own. People who run extra events outside of SXSW and other events without supporting SXSW itself are stealing from the event, and stealing from everyone of us.

    The only reason these smaller events are able to even exist is because the SXSW team does such an amazing job promoting their event and bringing us all together. Just keep that in mind the next time you say “Southby was lame but XYZ company’s little get together down the street was amazing”.

  • Deb Ng

    Rick, that’s a great point and one I think most people don’t consider. I did read and share a post today by someone who was complaining about not being chosen for a panel after hosting a non-sanctioned event. This person also came into several sessions without a badge, which isn’t fair to those of us who paid. I think a post on what it takes to pull off an event would be of interest to all who attend these things.

  • Scott Stratten

    Thanks for saying that Rick. That’s one of the things about not buying a badge. If everyone did that, there would be no event to go to without a badge 🙂

    But it’s also a potential issue with the conference itself. If attendee’s don’t think they’ll get any value out of sessions, the sessions need to be better.

  • David H Deans

    Deb, I learned a lot as well. Some of the panel sessions that I attended were interesting. I blogged about my one big take-away from SXSWi this year http://bit.ly/cmsjXz

  • Linsey Knerl

    Great observations, Deb! While I saw SXSW from another side this year (I moderated a Core Conversation, but didn’t make it to any panels myself), I have to agree that the networking is the best part of the convention. The weather made it a worthy mini-vacay, and the food put me into a mild but wonderful coma. Definitely enough good stuff to warrant a conference pass! It felt like a family reunion (but with only the “good” family members, you know?) I’ll keep going until I find a better way to see everyone I love in one place 🙂

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