Loose Notes, SXSW 2011

Keyboard Cat Three Wolf Moon Lightning Eyes Enjoying my sixth annual pilgrimage to Austin, TX for South by Southwest Interactive, 2011. Once again, I’m renting a bike from Barton Springs Bikes – fantastic way to get around, especially now that the conference is much larger and more spread out. It actually makes it feasible to attend sessions 10 blocks away, given the 30 minute break between sessions. Unfortunately, the excellent mountain bike they gave me was stolen from in front of the hotel on Saturday night – cable lock clipped. They cheerfully delivered a replacement bike to me later the same day. Since my hotel is right on the river, I’ve got the luxury of riding all the way to the convention center along Ladybird Lake (which is actually a reservoir that “flows” through town). Weather was high-70s/low-80s all week – shorts weather in March, so lovely!

As soon as I arrived, rented a kayak and spent a couple of hours boating around on the “lake.” Next day, had a few hours before sessions started and went bicycle geocaching along the water. Frabjous day! You’ll find my photos on Flickr or by following @shacker on Instagram.

Ate lots of great Texas BBQ and TexMex (thanks Chuy’s, Stubbs, and IronWorks). Didn’t do a lot of partying, but did manage to squeeze in a visit to the Museum of the Weird, where I got to see a woman drive a 30-penny nail straight into her nose (a move called “The Blockhead”). And of course my annual pilgrimage to Tears of Joy hot sauce shop – had another box of excellent sauces shipped home. Was treated to an evening of hilarious comedy with John Oliver of the Daily Show (and four others, each more funny than the last). Met tons of cool people, got my brain filled with inspirational and challenging new ideas, and ran myself ragged. Halfway through, gave up trying to stay caught up with email or anything going on back home, though we were very much aware of the earthquake/tsunami disaster going on in Japan – it was very strange to try and stay focused on the conference while that was happening. The enormity of it is still sinking in. There were many disaster-relief fundraising efforts going on during the conference, and SXSW did what it could to pull together and help.

Spent most of the week attending dozens of sessions on interactive media and taking notes, which I’ve posted here as “Loose Notes” and have tagged here at Birdhouse under #sxsw2011 (though that link won’t get you to all of them – pagination is currently broken, sorry). While every session had something useful to offer, some are obviously better than others. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d give the honors to Jeff Jarvis’ amazing talk Let’s Get Naked: Benefits Of Publicness V. Privacy, which crystallized a lot of the thoughts I’ve had on the public vs. the private vs. semi-private web over the past year. The other big one for me was Jane McGonagil’s talk Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better, which challenged a lot of my notions about the effect of gaming on kids’ minds, and its potential benefits to education and to improving the world. Truly inspirational.

As for hands-on sessions, the most inspirational/useful was Creative JavaScript and HTML(5) Visual Effects – a double-long session that gave us a great hands-on intro to doing particle animation, movement, shading, and WebGL in the HTML5 canvas tag. That’s not to detract from any of the other sessions – check the links below for lots of juicy stuff.

If I had one complaint about the conference organization, it would be the fact that it was so spread out. In part, this was necessary, since there were more than 19,000 attendees this year – more than could fit in a single convention center. But the trek to some of the remote hotels was a barrier for many people. In addition, it ghettoized some topics unnecessarily. For example, all of the Future of Journalism sessions were at the Sheraton, 10 blocks away from the Convention Center. If anyone could benefit from being mixed in with all of the geeks, it’s journalists. I get why multiple venues are needed, but would have liked to have seen the topics mixed up across venues, not split up.

A handful of misc images taken from in and around Austin throughout the week:

To view larger, or with full captions, check out the Flickr set.

Complete list of Loose Notes from SXSW 2011:

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