My SXSW 2011 Adventures

Now that I’m back from Austin and have covered my bases as far as getting back in touch with all of the contacts I made there, I wanted to sit down and review everything that I got to see and learn while I was at South by Southwest this past weekend.  First off, this was my first SXSW and it was absolutely amazing.  That word is overused lately, but it’s very applicable here.  It was a lot of fun, but it felt like I was being extremely productive at the same time.  I met a lot of great people working on really exciting products, and getting in on that community was one of the most professionally rewarding things I’ve ever done.

I’ll talk about some of the great services I learned about in a bit, but first I wanted to cover some of the awesome panels I got to sit in on.  I had a bit of pride in myself for earning the “Panel Nerd” badge on Foursquare for having attended so many of them.  It was true that I was there to learn, and SXSW was the perfect place for me to do it.  I sat in on around a dozen different panels in my three days there, but I wanted to go over some of the most informative ones in detail here.

Google’s Marissa Mayer Presents – From the description of this keynote, I thought it was going to mostly pertain to Marissa Mayer talking about her career experiences at Google, but that was dead wrong.  This was a full blown Google keynote with product launches, and it was the best event I attended during the conference.  Google showed off some new mobile products they’re working on, most notably of which was Google Hotpot.  It’s kind of a cross between location check-ins and Twitter trends, which I think is the next evolution of those services.  I also got to speak with Marissa directly about how she thinks mobile services like this might intersect with higher ed institutions like UAHuntsville, she says that this is definitely something that they’re looking at in terms of student engagement.

How Print Design is the Future of Interaction I’m mostly a visual designer in my work, so this was a great way to learn about how the two areas I mostly work in intersect.  The speaker at this event was one of the main UI designers at Microsoft who had his hands very dirty in the design of their Windows phones, and I was very surprised to learn how much influence print design had on their work.  This made me realize how much print design can and should play into the web and new interfaces, and I was able to get a lot of creative ideas of things to use in the future.

Drawing Back the Curtains on CSS Implementation Most of the events I attended were mostly about theory, but this was the most technical.  There were representatives from all of the major browsers here, all of whom are on the W3C Working Group.  This felt like one of my local web group meetups in Huntsville, and there were a lot of specifics I was able to jot down about CSS implementation that should help me in the future.  I was also really pleased to see that they were all taking suggestions from the crowd in terms of what standards they should set in the future for CSS.

Other panels I attended included sessions about iPad design, the “death” of Flash, inclusive design, and much of the same.  I get the feeling that there were even more panels I could have gotten a lot out of, but SXSW is a lot like visiting a major theme park or city.  There’s so much to do, there’s no way you could do everything you want.

However, I wasn’t that surprised to discover that most of the value of this trip was also outside of the conference center.  Just on the shuttle on the way to Downtown Austin, I met the CEO of a new Bay Area based service called Kullect.  Kullect is an upcoming resource that will allow you to crowdsource questions and tips in a way that will let specific users of services or residents of locales become gurus of their areas.

Crowdsourcing questions and answers seemed to be the theme of new services this year, as Localmind is already doing the same thing.  I met a few of their reps there, and was really happy to find out that the service was already being widely used at SXSW.  I got a lot of great tips on where to find things around Austin using it.  If I got a vote, Kullect and Localmind would be mine for best startups at SXSW.

I was also there to make connections for our LAN Party at UAH, and I was able to hit a lot of home runs in that area.  Companies like Revision 3 and Twisted Pixel are going to be supporting us in the future, which is something I never could have achieved without attending.  I even got the chance to try out a Nintendo 3DS before it’s released to market.  (It wasn’t really that impressive, but that’s another blog post altogether. ) I was also able to talk with Brian Brushwood and start scheduling him to come do his tech / magic act at UAHuntsville this Fall sometime.

As for other things to do in Austin at this part of the year, there’s of course plenty to do.  My favorite event of the weekend was the Digg Meetup and Diggnation party on Saturday night.  Digg hosted a nice dinner at Parkside in Downtown Austin, where those of us who were invited got to speak with their CEO and bounce around ideas for the future of the site.

The Diggnation party was of course a blast with some great music and awesome new friends.  If you haven’t heard of it, Diggnation is a tech podcast that’s just as much about inside jokes and a lot of fun as it is about technology news.  It may sound boring, but the hosts practically put on a rock concert around it.

If you even remotely work in tech or design, South by Southwest is an absolute must.  After meeting so many other people who are doing awesome things in my field, I feel more pumped up than ever to be in the kind of work that I am.  SXSW is a place to go to make connections and meet people, but it’s also a place to go to get insanely inspired.  I will absolutely be back in Austin for SXSW 2012, I can’t wait.


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