A Few Notes About SXSW 2011

I just got back from Austin yesterday and after a day of recuperating from the craziness that is SXSW, here are my thoughts about this year’s event. Quite a bit has been written about it already, so the fact that it’s getting bigger (maybe too big), very commercial and without any real news value doesn’t come as a surprise, even to those who weren’t there this year. But none of these things are what SXSW is about – it’s about the people, the networking, and the new friendships forged in hallways and over free ice cream at Club de Ville.

The Startup Fetish

Before the event, GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham rightly asked if startups had become a fetish at SXSW, and after this year’s event, I think the answer to this is a resounding “yes.” Supposedly, this year was the year of group messaging apps. Indeed, I did see quite a few of those in use this year (though I didn’t use a single one myself and didn’t feel like I was missing out), but there really wasn’t a standout hit that everybody was talking about. Actually – as Charlie O’Donnell points out so well – Twitter’s breakout year at SXSW in 2007 was an exception. Counting in Foursquare’s semi-hit at SXSW last year, these are rare exceptions and “not enough to keep watch for it every year.”

This year was also completely devoid of any real news. The keynotes were interesting enough and didn’t turn into total disasters like last year, but they also didn’t offer anything worth writing about from a news perspective.

Some Additional Observations:

Leaving all of this aside, here are some of my thoughts about this year’s event:[list]

  • I thought Yobongo would hit it big, but I did not see a lot of people using it. Beluga, on the other hand, seemed to get decent traction.
  • there was no real breakout app – indeed, there were too many services clamoring for attention to even try them all before getting to Austin.
  • the LiquidSpace bus behind the convention center was very cool. Great place to just kick back and work a bit away from the craziness.
  • the lines to get into parties are getting ridiculous. No wonder the hotel bars are now the best place to meet people. No lines, good drinks (though not free), no advertising and no loud music that prevents you from actually talking to people.
  • the spread out campus system kept me from going to quite a few interesting sessions.
  • the quality of this year’s panels and presentations was higher than last year’s (though maybe I was just lucky).
  • the trade show was a good source of free t-shirts, but generally not that interesting. Props to WordPress, though. The WP Genius Bar was a great idea.
  • the Interactive Awards show was a lot of fun (I had never been before). Host Chris Hardwick kept things on track and the surprise performance by the Gregory Brothers was the icing on the cake (though some in the audience were apparently not familiar with the Bed Intruder song…).[/list]

Bonus: The good folks at Adobe did a nice video with audience members after the panel I moderated: