The Interactive portion of the venerable culture festival known as South by Southwest concluded this week. I was there for much of it before departing for a somewhat hellish two days in Beijing (“East by Far East “). The event was one nerdgasm after the next. “Digital creatives” from all around crowded panels, keynotes, and the hallways to suckle the free wifi and listen to how They Too Could Be Web 2.0 or how they could design the next community app. In fact the conference was a great example of a community simultaneously inhabiting the virtual and physical realms. Attendees in the audience chatted in giant IRC rooms that corresponded to the individual panels often with the speakers on the platform chiming in backchannel or replying in the real world. As this was my first SXSW I can’t compare to previous events, but people told me this time it was more entrepreneurial in flavor, less tools-based. Sure, there were panels on CSS, but mostly topics were on community and startups or abstract concepts like convergence, a buzzword on which I blathered.
The best part by far of course was meeting people. Networking and beer-drinking is built right into the conference proceedings. You have to love that after-event parties are listed in the program. And attendees were genuinely interested in talking. You never quite knew who you’d be standing next to. Chances were high he or she had just sold a company to Yahoo or Google, but you know, so what? So might you soon. The Austin tech scene was well represented. So was the Chicago scene, such as there is one — and that pleased me. Chicago design mavens Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners and Jason Fried of 37Signals delivered the opening keynote and basically entreated the crowd to drop complexity, focus on creative entrepreneurship and then wait for the money to pour in. The crew from Threadless was there too, a great example of doing just that. (Maybe there’s a chance for a Chicago company-funded party next year along the lines of Seattle’s South by Northwest bash? South by Midwest?)
As a guy from IBM, perhaps the former paragon of complexity, I was pleased to be mostly taken on my own merits. It usually doesn’t happen that way. There’s a kind of stigma of respect when I normally tell people I work for the ‘BM. It is almost always positive, mind you, but the fact I work for IBM often overpowers anything I might offer individually. Not at SXSW. People didn’t much give a shit. I liked that. Hell, Craig Newmark of craigslist told me he worked for IBM for 17 years prior to quietly changing the world. See there’s hope.
OK, no more compass puns. That’s my direction anyway. Oh god, jetlag delirium.