SXSW 2008 Highlights

Post SXSW, I’ve thought about some of the inconsistencies highlighted by the event:

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. By now few people haven’t heard about the Zuckerberg/Lacy keynote. For those unfamiliar with the details, Jeff Jarvis does a fair write up. At its core, the crowd’s reaction wasn’t about actively joining a conversation, but about disruption. I didn’t realize that heckling the person on stage was acceptable until I started attending tech conferences.

I totally understand why the audience was frustrated with Lacy’s interview, but please explain me to how yelling at her from the audience accomplished anything. Rachel Happe perfectly captures the disconnect between the positives we normally associate with social media versus what happened in the keynote:

I’m not disturbed that there was a great deal of criticism of the interview – that is completely fair. What I am very disturbed by is that the audience aggressively heckled Sarah during her interview….based on the social validation they got through Twitter to do so. Ironically in this case, social media is enabling people to be extremely disrespectful and anti-social. If people didn’t like the interview, why didn’t they quietly leave?

Sometimes revolutions are called for…over the lack of civil liberties, economic freedoms, fair wages. But not over a poor interview. We all need to remember that what makes for good social experiences is a little respect —for everyone. (link)

The best things didn’t always happen in panels. Unlike my first year at SXSW where I went to a panel 95% of the time, I only made it to panels about 50% of the conference this year. I did have some client work that demanded attention, but the rest of my time was spent talking to people. While SXSW probably offers one of the most diverse and talented panel options, I found that creating my own mini-panels was as, if not more, rewarding.

Part of this experience was enhanced by the Bloghaus, a meeting room set up with wi-fi, plug-ins, food, and great people. My very good friend Chris Brogan, who spent even less time than me in panels, twittered, “The BlogHaus is worth $500 to me. You?” (link) The tweets in response were generally positive. I’ve decided that while panel options are important for determining which conferences to attend, the other attendees are just as important.

Technology doesn’t always provide the answer. I suspect most everyone knows this fact. However, given how excited we get by the latest gadget or gizmo, I think we sometimes forgot how often humans solve the problem. For example, the previously mentioned Chris had his site crash during SXSW, right after he and Julien Smith published a Change This manifesto, Trust Economies.

After fighting with customer service reps who kept saying everything would be fixed in an hour, we ran into Scott Beale of Laughing Squid in my hotel lobby. During our conversation, the website issue came up, and Scott offered some options not previously suggested by Chris’s many interactions with customer service. While the advice didn’t correct all the hosting issues, the relief that Scott had some helpful advice made a huge difference to Chris.

For all the power of groups, sometimes one on one matters more. I spent most of my lunches having great conversations with Dave Seah. We met last year at SXSW and became friends when I gathered up the courage to approach him after recognizing him from his blog. While we’ve communicated frequently throughout the year, there was something extra special about spending time together in person, sharing ideas and talking about current projects.

I also had time this year to reconnect with Rachel Clarke, the person responsible for getting me to SXSW in the first place. Then, I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Quigley (she blogs here and here), a classy lady who took the time to share her insight of the industry. These quiet conversations were absolute bliss after the sometimes loud and chaotic interactions that can happen at SXSW. All told, as much as I enjoy the varied and interesting back and forth within a group, sometimes, one on one matters more.

I think that’s what drives SXSW success: each attendee ultimately determines their conference experience. The inconsistencies I’ve noted don’t take away from the experience, except, perhaps, for the first one. The first inconsistency focuses on something necessary to make conferences work: respect.


If panelists believe that they’ll be yelled at by the audience because they aren’t “delivering,” how long until people say, “no thanks?” If attendees didn’t feel confident that they could approach each other without being blown off, how long until they stop registering? (BTW, hypothetical @SXSW. I haven’t seen or had this happen).

Each of the things I like most about SXSW hinge on respect, respect for the individual, respect for his or her work, etc. Perhaps the people who heckled during the Zuckerberg keynote believe that they were in the right or that they wouldn’t mind if someone did the same to them. However, I think the other things we take so much pleasure in are put at risk when we forget the basics. I think the old but true saying still applies, do unto others as you would have them do unto. I sometimes wonder why this community appears to forget it.


Postscript: During the next two weeks, I’m in the process of moving into a new house. Between my business and painting, posting might be a little light, so please be patient. I’ll post pictures of the finished project.


5 Responses to “SXSW 2008 Highlights”

  1. March 14, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    Hi Britt,

    Congratulations on the new house and best of luck! I don’t envy your upcoming tasks – I’m terrible at painting and I’ve sworn I won’t move again unless I can afford professional movers.

    As usual you’ve stated a couple of my thoughts much more eloquently than I can.

    I agree about the value of one-on-one interactions, but I REALLY agree with the whole respect thing.

    To heckle presenters at a technical meeting is unprofessional, unacceptable, and does indeed raise questions about the value of attending.

    I typically attend chemistry meetings, where this simply would not be tolerated. If this is the norm at all tech/blog conferences, then we may need to “reboot” if we are to be taken seriously. I made similar comments in writing to the organizer at the tech conference where I first saw such behavior.

  2. March 15, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Britt – thank you so much for the kind words! You were one of the highlights of SXSW for me. It’s fun speaking with such a mature, curious and spirited young woman – someone who gets it!

    I’m looking forward to keeping in touch.

    I agree with Jeff Jarvis’ write up on the keynote. I think another mistake was not realizing that people might have questions sooner. This might be the last time we see him at SXSW.

    Hope your re-entry was smooth! Talk to you soon.

  3. March 15, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I think that’s just because Scott Beale is cooler than any 3,084,887 humans. Glad we got that advice.

    Great wrap-up, Britt. : )

  4. 4 Britt
    March 17, 2008 at 7:57 am

    @Shannon: Like you, prior to attending tech conferences, I hadn’t ever seen someone heckled at other conferences I attended. I’m not 100% sure why it happens.

    @Jane: You know it’s too bad that it went so poorly for both given from how many areas the audience draws from. With the positive response at Zuckerberg’s offsite interview afterwards, it’s clear things could have gone much better.

    @Chris: I wouldn’t have had such good stories if I hadn’t been circling in your orbit. 🙂

  5. March 21, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    I had an awesome time chatting with ya during lunchtime, and the time was all too short. On a side note, my strategy of eating a lot of breakfast in the morning seems to have paid off by skipping the crowded lunch scene and not being able to hear anyone talk 🙂 Catch up again with ya soon!

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