Sean Sperte

Southbye

14 March 2007

SXSW logoOn Sunday night I flew into Austin, the site of SXSW, an annual film, music and interactive design festival. It was my first time attending, so I was apprehensive about it. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go it alone – the Great Canadian, Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain, and I were Southby Rookies together.

The laptop culture

Though it wasn’t the first thing I noticed, certainly one of the most prevalent visuals at the conference was the polarized groups of laptop users. Here were my observations of the laptop culture:

  1. There were more PC users than I expected – probably as much as 20%.
  2. Two types of users: Those that put stickers on their laptops, and those that don’t.
  3. If SXSW attendees are any indication, the transition to Intel-based Macs has definitely worked for Apple; everyone had a MacBook or MacBook Pro.
  4. There’s no place a laptop cannot be used (including the restroom).

I know Austin is claims to be the live music capital of the world, but for me it felt more like the laptop capital. Honestly, I have never so many laptops being used in one place.

Which brings me to my next observation: The WiFi sucked (for me). I don’t know if it was the amount of network activity, or my AirPort antenna, or what; but it seemed like most everyone had a good connection but me. I was able to get better speeds by using my BlackBerry as a bluetooth modem! Even at my hotel access was decent at best. Overall, I was disappointed in Austin’s internets.

Twitter

Twitter was everywhere. One panel attendee commented (over the mic) that Twitter was like crack – her question was to Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Work Week), about how to “get off the crack.” Before panels began, moderators would ask that attendees switch their mobile phones to silent, turn off their laptop sound, and “keep the Tweets to a minimum.” Plasma screens, showing a fun presentation of Twitters, donned most of the hallways.

You can imagine: In a world dominated by geeks, coders and artists, the mobile phone usage was at a maximum … the weird thing was, no one held their mobiles to their ear. Everyone was hunched over, frantically thumb-tapping and, I can only assume, answering the question, “what are you doing?

I’m glad I hopped on the bandwagon a week prior to SXSW and learned how to take advantage of the mobile functionality. I blended right in. Jesse, on the other hand–

Godbit meetup

Monday night I was fortunate to meet up with a bunch of fellow members of Godbit. It was great to put faces to names (and screen names). They were all very gracious, and although I didn’t get to personally meet everyone, the conversations I had with the few seated around me were worth the trip. I finally got to meet Rob Soule, and really enjoyed chatting (and playing Wii) with Shawn Grimes and David Hemphill.

A big thanks to Ryan Heneise for organizing it, and, of course, to Nathan Smith, the founder of Godbit.

Panels

Sessions at SXSW are broken up into smaller panels – each consisting of 1–5 panelists, with formats ranging from arranged presentation to open discussion. They were, I admit, hit and miss.

Of the panels I attended, only three really kept and held my attention, and of those, only two challenged or taught me. I don’t have attention deficit disorder, but I’m certainly spoiled, coming from a church environment where I hear dynamic preachers every week. I understand panelists are chosen for their knowledge and experience, not their ability to speak publicly, so I won’t consider complaining about the lack of presentational passion. The fact is, though, the majority of panel content lacked for substance, too.

I guess it’s true what they say: SXSW is about networking.

Meeting the greats

If there’s any reason to attend SXSW, it’s to rub shoulders with the cream-of-the-crop of web design and development. Among them was Andy Budd, Dave Shea, Dan Cederholm, Jason Santa Maria, Rob Weychert, Veerle Pieters, D. Keith Robinson, Greg Storey, Jonathan Snook, Dan Rubin, Jeff Croft, Steve Smith, Derek Featherstone … oh my word, the list just goes on! Even Jon Hicks (in some form, at least) was present!

While I didn’t get to actually meet everyone on that list, seeing and hearing them (if they spoke in a panel) was awesome. I ran into Ryan Sims in the main hall, practically cornered him, and introduced myself (and Jesse). It was as if I ran into Bono. I was giddy and absolutely unaware of what I said.

That was Monday morning – thereafter I stopped no other web-celeb.

I did, though, enjoy meeting all-stars Brian Warren and Mark Bixby of Methodarts, and Scott Boms (Wishingline). Jesse and I sat directly behind them in John Gruber and Shaun Inman’s session (oh, yeah, did I mention those guys in the list?!) and went to lunch with them afterwards. I’ve always had great respect for Mark as a designer, and last year was bummed I couldn’t take him up on his offer for a free coffee. It was Brian who provided the free coffee this year, and I’m really glad I didn’t miss out. They’re great guys and they even let me snap a few shots on their Nikon D80’s.

(Have I mentioned I’m in the market for a digital SLR?)

Next time

Maybe it was the sensory overload; or the stinky Austin water; or perhaps Twitter itself; but whatever the reason, I was a complete photo-taking failure on this trip! That’s unusual for me, since I’m typically the annoying one, snapping pictures mid-conversation. Next year I promise to do better.

Next year I’ll also try and get there on time and perhaps stay an extra day. I desperately missed my wife, though, so I’ll be sure to bring her, too.

Next year I’ll bring business cards. I had opted out of doing so this year because I’m really not available for hire. I missed the point, though. No one wants to hire me – they just want my contact info so they can follow my Twitter feed. Or something like that.

And next year I’ll be sure to bring an umbrella.