1 April 2009
Speaking & Events

Conferencing part 2 - SXSW

Every year SXSW takes on a slightly new dimension so it's never the same experience twice. Change is inevitable and I always have a good time at the event. However I always find myself harking back to years gone by. I guess that's age for you.

This year attendance had grown by around 30%, and numbers fluctuated between 6,000 and 12,000 depending on who you spoke to. One things was certain though—it was big. With 20 tracks spread over three floors of the conference centre and expanding into the Hilton, SXSW obviously hasn't been affected by the current economic climate. In fact I'd say that it's probably benefited from it. After all, it's pretty cheap for a 5 day event.

This year over 300 Brits attended, which was a big increase from the dozen or so who made it over in 2005. At times it was like a Friday down the pub in Brighton, being surrounded by so many UK friends. I'm not complaining, but I did find myself hanging out with the Brits far too much. I can now see why the San Franciscans always end up moving around in tribes. It's not through cliqueness. It's just very difficult not to, especially if you're showing people the ropes for the first time.

The sessions themselves were predictably average, bar a few notable exceptions. Author and previous dConstruct keynoter, Steven Johnson, gave an impassioned speech about the state of the newspaper industry, mirroring my thoughts a lot more eloquently. The session from the Obama design team was excellent, not least because they mentioned using Silverback during the campaign. I also really enjoyed Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel's talk on sexual interfaces in science fiction, aptly named make it so (sexy). The Zappos keynote was predictably good, as was Chris Anderson on the price of free. However the surprise stand-out this year seems to have been our very own Paul Annett, who gave a talk on design delighters called Ooh, that's clever.

The Great British Booze-up was back for a third year, this time sponsored by Boagworld, NakLab and Clearleft. It's always an honour to see so many of our friends in one place so I'm just sorry I didn't get a chance to speak to you all. As with previous years, the value of SXSW was more about the socialising that it was with the sessions. Speaking to the UK Trade and Industry digital mission the day before things kicked off I spelled this out, explaining that SXSW was a place to meet people and make long term connections rather than sign deals. That being said, SXSW was a lot more businessy than previous years and was awash with social media consultants peddling their wares.

Cogaoki was my favourite party, followed closely by the closing shindig from the guys at Media Temple. I also had a fun evening out on the RVIP Bus which was strangely sponsored by by fellow panel members. Definitely a novel way of driving people to our session, although I'm not sure how much affect it actually had.

SXSW for me is always about seeing old friends and making new ones. It really is the Glastonbury of Geek. Big, noisy and overwhelming, but nevertheless fun. Each year I say I probably won;t go back the next year, yet 6 months later I can't wait for March to come round. Let's see what happens in 2010.