SXSW: All your Interactive are belong to us

SXSW baggie I know what you're thinking: she went to all of those movies; no way could she have hit up a bunch of geek panels, too.


Overall, the interactive panels/presentations portion of SXSW was a mixed bag. There was far less actionable information than I'd hoped for, but since I was mainly interested in how you turn something hopelessly unmarketable (i.e., this blog) into something that might bring you a comfortable living, a national forum and self-actualization, I was pretty prepared for finding my hopes unaligned with reality.

Unfortunately, after the first panel we attended, Podcasting 2.0, at my insistence, both The BF and I were ready to forego the interactive part of the proposition and slum at the film fest, where we at least stood a chance at being entertained. The entire proceedings felt thin, weak and hastily thrown together, which, it turned out, was the truth: the panel was a last-minute addition to the schedule, most likely because someone at SXSW realized (or had pointed out to them) that in the age of the podcast explosion, there was zero podcasting presence at this supposedly forward-thinking conference itself.

In stark contrast to the podcasting panel was the Daniel Gilbert Presentation: How to Do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times. Desperate for the schwag, an advance copy of Gilbert's forthcoming book, Stumbling On Happiness, to the first 100 attendees, I dragged the insanely tolerant BF to the next conference room. Like a scene from a movie starring ME, I made a beeline to the schwag girl, watching her hand off book after book from her dwindling supply, a sea of smug recipients peeling off to either side of me. When she handed me the 100th copy, I was certain that this presentation would be a winner; I was not disappointed. Gilbert, a Harvard professor and grampa when he is not giving presentations and writing books, is a smart, funny, engaging speaker who has honed his presentation to a fine edge. But in addition to the interest factor Gilbert for me, pundit-in-training, his material, an exploration of the evolutionary roots of decision making and its effect on the happiness of modern decisionmakers, was fascinating and compelling. I suspect this talk will not show up on the SXSW podcast page, but if you get the chance to hear Gilbert speak, I highly recommend it.

So I'm figuring that the dealio (for me, anyway) is to hit the solo presentations and skip the panels. With that in mind, I trucked on over to the James Surowiecki Presentation: The Wisdom of Crowds, the New Yorker writer's live presentation of his book's content, which was...disappointing. Curses! And so much for my ingenious ferreting out system. Granted, some of the difficulty stemmed from the presentation being held in a large, high-ceilinged ballroom with dreadful acoustics, which itself was adjacent to another ballroom serving as a band's daystage, but Surowiecki himself was clearly at a stage where he's more comfortable as a writer than a presenter, and having no slides or other media to distract from his slight awkwardness didn't help. This is one case where I'd rather have read the book, and to be fair, because the talk's content was pretty interesting, I just might.

I had no idea what to expect with Sunday's Keynote Conversation: Heather Armstrong / Jason Kottke, except for a very large crowd in attendance. Since I've a mild obsession with both dooce (a mommyblogger who went nationwide!) and (I became a micropatron after only being a short-time reader), I made sure The BF and I got there early. We met a charming young localblogger who was a freak for dooce and fought over the 12" (PowerBook) until the show started. Again, no real actionable information, but I was there to hear about how they blogged and how blogging affected them and they didn't disappoint. Even The BF enjoyed this one. Podcast available for download here.

Immediately following in the same room was one of the liveliest panels I attended, DIY Now More Than Ever. I'm a huge fan of Gina Trapani from Lifehacker, and she's just as sunny and energetic in person as she comes across on her sites. And humble. Humility was sort of the watchword here: every one of the panelists seemed genuinely grateful that s/he had achieved whatever quantifiable measure of success s/he had. Again, not huge amounts of actionable information, but since I'm not really looking to start a web business or sell a piece of software, I doubt I would have found much more than inspiration and encouragement, which the panel provided in spades.

Personality was my main reason for attending Cluetrain: Seven Years Later, as well. I stepped on the internest bandwagon rather late (not counting my early obsession with epinions), so most of these rockstars don't register for me. I'd heard of Doc Searls, though, and was curious. He's a cool dude, is Doc, laid back and just into doing his own thing. Which, by the way, was my biggest takeaway from SXSWi: do your own thing and whatever will follow, but at least you'll be doing your own thing, which presumably should be reward enough.

DL Byron ran my favorite panel at the conference, Does Your Blog Have a Business? He took his role as moderater seriously and had excellent questions prepared. Not that I have any information to share, I was basically there to see CSS god Jeffrey Zeldman, and wasn't planning to take any notes. I am pretty shy and felt extra shy at my first SXSW, so I didn't actually meet any of these superstars. I did run into DL at the Austin airport, though, and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his panel. He, in turn, gave me a sample of his new product, clip-n-seal. Damned thing is simple as hell and works like a charm (that's me in the photo above, holding up the new communicatrix cards I had printed up for SXSW, in a clip-n-seal). I hope he makes a bazillion dollars and can quit all his day jobs.

The last two panels I attended were about vlogging, although no one seems to call it that: How to Add Video to Your Blog and Video Blog Business Models. I was astounded at how many people crowded their way into the first panel...and how sparsely attended the second was, by comparison. Especially since, as Michael Verdi from FreeVlog put it, there's an online tutorial that explains the entire thing in detail...for free! There was some useful information, mainly along the lines of length (keep it under 3 minutes), choosing the right medium for the message (blogging vs. podcasting vs. vlogging) and what makes for good subject matter (your hilarious, quirky family members, from the looks of things), but really, the first panel was just fun to listen to. I mean, hell, they're good at presenting live, right?

My takeaway on videoblogging business models echoes my takeaway from SXSW, period: you will most likely get paid because of your presence on the internet rather than because of it. None of the people I saw speak at SXSW, not one of them, started blogging or podcasting or vlogging to make money. Well, I suspect one person who kept cropping up on panel after panel did, but he's the anomaly, and so fucking annoying and full of himself I cannot believe anyone listens to his podcasts, much less that he gets paid for them.

The other great takeaway info I got was this: if you want to do something on the web, see who's doing it now and figure out how you can 'kill' them. Time and time again, I saw that it wasn't necessarily the first person to get there, but the one who did it best. In that way, I suppose all this geeky internutty stuff is like writing (all the stories have been told, you're just telling them a new way) or acting (no one can do Hamlet like you do Hamlet) or anything else (build a better mousetrap, etc).

I guess I went to the oracle expecting something, and the oracle told me I should look first in my own back yard.

Actually, I told myself that...

xxx c