My first SXSW


I first heard about SXSW Interactive on the Boagworld podcast when I was 16. Paul and Marcus interviewed some people while they were there for the show, and I thought it’d be pretty cool to go one day. I’ve had to wait an agonisingly long time because so much of the event circulates around the parties, so it’s pretty inaccessible to someone under 21. I thought about going last year but it would have meant sulking in my hotel room every evening and shelling out a lot of money for the privilege. Last month I turned 21 so very shortly afterwards I was able to enjoy the full experience of SXSW.

The photos

I’ve uploaded the photos I took at SXSW on Flickr

The panels

I didn’t go to as many panels as I’d planned. I got the most value out of talking to people between the sessions and at meet ups at the end of the day. There wasn’t a huge amount on the programme that interested me, although the things I did go to were very good. I went to a technology in education meetup on the first day and met a lot of cool people who were involved in education. I found the panel on CSS implementation very interesting as it discussed how CSS specs are written, but I was also glad I attended sessions that aren’t directly related to what I do, such as how science-fiction influences cities.

As I didn’t plan ahead much before leaving, I found very helpful, particularly the grid view where I was able to see what people I follow were going to. There was a paradox of choice with so many talks going on at the same time, so being able to see what other people were interested in made things much easier.

The parties

There were a lot of parties which were really good fun, but it did get a bit too much towards the end of the week.

Not being a big drinker, I managed to embarrass my friends by ordering half-pints or (“girly pints”) which is apparently even more of a faux pas in the States than it is in the UK. I also had a few problems with the date format on my ID which, to an American, says I’m born on the 2nd of the 12th and am still 20, rather than having just turned 21 on the 12th of the 2nd. I’m not sure how I managed to get away with that one.

The party that stood out the most for me was the Great British Boozeup. I had a really good time because all my friends and the people I wanted to meet seemed to be in one place.

The marketing

SXSW had some big sponsors like Pepsi and Chevy which I thought made the event feel too corporate. It was quite insane some of the lengths that companies were going to get their brand noticed. The companies that did it best included Freshbooks who sponsored shuttle buses from the airport to hotels in Austin. This worked really well because there was an actual need for this service. The ones that did it worst were the stalls in the trade fairs who had hired booth babes who didn’t actually work for the company they were promoting, and weren’t versed well at all in their product. It felt insulting.

The bats

Towards the end of the event, I went to see Austin’s bats. There are thousands of them that nest under Congress Bridge, and every evening at certain times of the year, they come out at sunset. I found out the times that they’d be likely to show and tweeted where I’d be. Quite a few people turned up and we camped out by the bridge. I’d got there too early and it took about an hour for the bats to finally come out, but it was really nice and chilled out. We were at the wrong end of the bridge to see them properly, but it was still really cool.

After SXSW

I really enjoyed my experience at SXSW. The majority of the people who had gone before said it wasn’t as good as the last time they went, but I guess this is because the first time you go, you meet all the people you’ve been wanting to meet but never got a chance to. Also, many complained it was getting more and more corporate and too big.

I don’t think I’ll be going next year because it’s so expensive and I don’t feel I’d get as much out of it as I did this year. Maybe I’ll go again in a couple of years if I get the opportunity to speak.

After the event, I took the opportunity to visit Washington DC and New York. I’ve been to Washington before about 10 years ago and loved it. I’d never been to New York but really wanted to see what it was like. I’ve uploaded the photos I took in Washington and New York on Flickr.