Blue Flavor

Vegetable Stand by Nick Finck

SXSW 2007 Roundup

March 21st, 2007 at 2:08 a.m.

As many of you already know we spent the last week in Austin for the 2007 South by Southwest Interactive conference. We wanted to share some of the learnings and perspectives on this year’s event so we had each member of the Blue Flavor family give a few bullet points on what they walked away with, here is what they said:

Keith’s thoughts:

  • Being at SXSW really hammered home how technology is changing the way people interact with each other. SMS, for example, especially those with access to Twitter and Dodgeball, while fairly useful, has a somewhat disconcerting effect. It is nice to be able to chat with folks and coordinate via SMS, however it also interrupts quite often natural human face-to-face interaction. It really struck me during the music portion of the conference when I saw how often “non-techy” people would open their phone to text. I think there is quite a bit of work to be done to make mobile devices easier and less obtrusive to use. I found Twitter, for example, to be down right annoying and kept wishing everyone would just stop so we could hang out more.
  • Microformats were a pretty hot topic. To me they’re kind of a no-brainer and while I find them interesting, I’m content to let people smarter than me and more engaged work it all out. I do love the potential for standard information formats they bring and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more in the future.
  • There was quite a bit of talk about process. It’s pretty clear to me that the community is thirsting for better ways to get good work done. This is an area that, in my opinion, Blue Flavor excels at and it’s nice to see that others realize that a good, solid and no-nonsense process can make a big difference.
  • The creative culture is going mainstream. Much of what we’re doing on the web and in the mobile space is facilitating expression and communication. We’re enabling people, through technology, to share their lives with each other and through that we’re seeing that everyone has a desire to create. I feel like we’re going through a bit of a cultural revolution and those doing interaction design and those providing tools and services to enable expression are right in the middle of it all. It’s pretty exciting.

Read more about Keith’s trip at his blog.

Tom’s thoughts:

  • We’re being bombarded with new technology so quickly it’s hard for even the elite geeks to keep up. At the “Getting to Consistency” panel I was reminded on just how important it is to constantly be striving to make things consistent. We don’t need to make things consistent just for consistency sake but making things different or new is just as bad of an idea.
  • Features is the dreaded F Word.” This had to be my favorite quote of the conference. Give me customer goals and not a giant feature list and you’re on the right path to a great product. If you’re after features you’re putting solutions before the problem and you’re doomed from the start.

Nick’s thoughts:

  • I went to several sessions but the best session was Luke W’s design patterns session because it was pretty well thought through, covered a lot of good information in a short time, and has substance.
  • There were several sessions that I felt either didn’t stick to the topic at hand or didn’t cover what most people were expecting them to cover in on form or another. So a note to future SXSW panelists; don’t get clever with your title and stick to the meat of the topic.
  • Even though this was my second time seeing Brian giving a Mobile presentation he kept it real and covered a lot of ground. I felt like I was still learning new stuff and got more information the 2nd time around. I know he spent a lot of time on his presentation and it really showed.
  • Some comments were made in other sessions about .mobi and how it was the wrong direction for the web. I strongly disagree with this statement and felt it was out of line to make those kinds of comments during one’s own session. I feel that there is a big difference between what is ideal and in line with the philosophy of the web vs. the reality of the mobile landscape today. I know Brian can talk about this in a lot better details, but for the most part, before blurting out blanket statements about what is and isn’t ideal it would be good to actually read the document and do your research on what is practical and realistic before doing so.
  • The parties were pretty crowded this year vs. years in the past. The conference space itself felt really crowded and it was often difficult to get from point A to point B without going against large herds of people. The logistics of the event seem to be staggering. I am not sure how they plan to orchestrate things next year but I imagine crowd control and RSVPs are going to be in the cards.
  • There seemed to be too many people to meet this year and that is a good thing. It means there are new people coming into the industry. At the same time I found myself missing opportunities to say hello to some colleagues who I have known for a long time and only typically see in Austin. I guess it’s impossible to say hello to everyone now, the industry is growing in spurts and I think it has moved beyond the everyone knows everyone phase.
  • I really enjoyed the Great British Booze-Up party and of course had a great time at South by Northwest this year. We were way beyond capacity of the venue so I know a lot of people had to either wait outside or simply skipped the party once they saw the line. We’re going to try and solve that problem next year but I can’t imagine we will be able to get a large enough venue to accommodate everyone. I hope those that did attend had a great time and were able to get quick service from the bartenders and didn’t feel too crowded. Suggestions for next year are always welcome.

Kevin’s thoughts:

  • There is a definite push to improve our typography skills on the web. The old “web type sucks” excuse is starting to go away as people begin to embrace the limitations and push within them. It’s a topic that needs more talking about and working through. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where we will be at in the next year. Probably the most profound thing said about this topic is that we are all responsible for the current state of web typography.
  • Grids are hot and a great design tool.
  • Lots of nods to the history of design in several panels.
  • I haven’t bought off on the power session. They seemed to just get going when they ended. There was also no time for discussion afterwards which is kinda of sad.

Garrett’s thought:

  • There are a lot of people who are on the fence about spending the time/money to travel to SXSW. People who are in the development/design community but don’t know a lot of people or haven’t done a lot of conference-hopping. To them I say: Go. Absolutely. SXSW provides an unheard of opportunity to meet, quite frankly, EVERYONE. There’s no better way to network, to get your name out there, to talk to people you admire, et cetera. Bring a load of business cards and talk to everyone.

Brian’s thoughts:

  • It was big! I can’t believe how much bigger SXSWi was this year. It felt that Austin wasn’t prepared for it at all. Lines seemed to be the norm. If it doubles again next year, I’m going to have to brown bag lunch each day in order to make the afternoon sessions.
  • Dan Rather was a big highlight for me. While arguably one of the worst interviews ever, Mr. Rather was able to look past poorly formed questions and bad audio to provide some of the best insight and advice to the web community I’ve heard in a long time. I would love to hear his views on web publishing and technology under better circumstances.
  • I felt pretty guilty skipping Daniel Appelquist’s mobile session in favor for seeing Will Wright (really, I’m sorry Daniel!!) but it was amazing. Forget about Spore, the 100 or so slides he showed in like 20 minutes was incredibly stuff. I thought I went through a lot of slides, Will has me beat! It was like a direct tap into my brain, which he filled with fantastic information about interactive story telling.
  • While this years SXSW Interactive had many more mobile sessions and panels, it still felt more bolted on then baked in. I would like to see more case studies on how people integrate mobile technology with traditional websites. It happens a lot more than people think and it would be nice to provide the web community more practical advice.
  • I was surprised how few business sessions there were. It would have been nice to see a few more. I think there is a lot of opportunity here.
  • Content also seemed to be missing. One of the most crucial elements of what we do and there were only a few sessions on the topic. I would like to see a lot more sessions on writing and editing next year.
  • Panels suck! I would hate to see SXSWi become synonymous with the panel format. In my opinion the value one gets from a panel is pretty low to begin with. I would like to see a lot more solo speakers get more in-depth into topics of their expertise. If forces the speaker to be a lot more prepared and gives the audience a lot more to take home with them.

A few of us were also interviewed by Marjorie Kase from MeeVee about SXSWi.

Nick Finck

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