Monday, March 22, 2010

Keeping SXSW Real: What You REALLY Need to Know When You Go

So I asked Dr. McGrath if, instead of doing the Exploring Social Media project, I could blog about my experience at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. You may have heard of this event as a Music Festival and/or a Film Festival, and that’s because it’s all that, too. Sadly, I didn’t have $1,000 to drop on a Platinum Badge, or two weeks to attend all the various festivities, so I limited myself to SXSW Interactive, where I could meet and hang out with other web working entrepreneurs and techies (read: geeks, but awesome geeks) like myself.

Before I get into the specifics of South by Southwest, I want to tell you (warn you?) about the conference experience in general should you decide to make the jaunt to Austin next year:

  1. Despite the abundance of free food, you will never find time to eat at SXSW.
  2. 2010 is going to be very awkward now that SXSW is over yet everyone has friended their clients and competitors on FourSquare and Gowalla. It’s going to be hard not to inadvertently stalk the people you met at SXSW. Be warned. (“Why did my star programmer and my competitor both check into Mulligan’s at the exact same time?” And don’t even get me started on your spouse, your best friend and hotel check-ins. Ouch.)
  3. You didn’t think you could get party like a rockstar five nights in a row. Not since college, at least. But you can. You can.
  4. You don’t even have to call the conference by its whole name. Just call it “South by.” Hooray abrevs!
  5. No matter how many thousands of people attend SXSW, you are going to run into the same 20 people over, and over, and over again
  6. Everybody at SXSW is unfailingly polite. There are no entitled douchebags in the Austin Conference Center. If someone bumps into you, they apologize. People hold doors. They make eye contact and smile. And every bartender and cabbie will introduce themselves and shake your hand.
  7. …Which is what makes the fight over the finite number of available power outlets oh-so-hilarious. (“Oh, no, that’s fine. I just dismissed my ‘Below 20%’ message but please, you take the power outlet." *seethe*)
  8. Speaking of the “Below 20% message,” almost everyone has an iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, at least learn how to operate the iPhone’s camera. This will make it infinitely easier when a drunken buddy of yours tosses you his phone and asks you to make sure to get pictures of him on the mechanical bull. (Just kidding. Because they are apparently made of moth's wings and filament, nobody tosses an iPhone. And if a revered iPhone should fall to the floor, there's a moment of panic in all eyes that witness such a horrific event.)
  9. Texas Tea is not you’re grandma’s Luzianne. I believe its ingredients are iced tea, gin, rum, vodka, beer, wine, transmission fluid, ouzo, the tears of last night’s Texas Tea drinkers, and roofies. Avoid it unless you want to start a website, ask random strangers for venture capital, or buy a car. (I wish I were joking.)
  10. People at SXSW will have jobs that you have no way of understanding. When someone gives you a long job title that includes the words “visual” “digital” and “interface,” “changemaker” and “android” the circumspect thing to say is, “Oh, I’m not really in that space yet.” Don’t worry. They’ll tell you all about it.

Next up: “Saving Money Social Media Style” and “ Love it or Hate it?”


  1. Jennifer, Austin is definitely a fun city. I have been there twice, and the two things I remember most are a barbeque joint north of town-I remember the joint but not the name-and the fact that the MOPAC expressway is in almost every set of directions given by locals but does not, in fact, exist on any map.

    Well, I take that back. I also remember spending most of the day trying to find the Alamo. Finally a kindly local woman took me under her wing and explained that the Alamo was in another city. When I asked her how to get there, she said," Well, you get on the MOPAC expressway..."

  2. Hahahaha Raymond. I took the easy way out and walked around the city for the most part. But you know what... a lot of cabbies had no idea where my hotel was. Apparently, though it was only 3 miles outside of town, I was staying in Narnia or some other such similar place. I could probably still give you directions from downtown Austin to that darn hotel...