Another year, another Southby | March 15, 2007

So SXSWi 2007 is officially over, and I’m sat in the departure lounge of LAX waiting for my connecting flight to San Francisco and collecting my thoughts. I’ve had an excellent time again this year, catching up with old friends and making new ones.

I always feel a little sad once the conference is over as there never seems to be enough time. The event almost doubled in size this year, which only helped exacerbate the problem. There were lots of snatched conversations on the run between sessions or parties, and quite a few people I never got chance to see. Hopefully I’ll get chance to catch up with some of them at one of the many conferences I’ll be attending over the next couple of months.

I find the sessions at SXSW usually take a back seat to the socialising. This is in part because the choice is overwhelming, but also because I’m not sure the quality is as high as it could be. The sessions with one or two speakers are usually the best, as they tend to have a much more structured narrative and have been prepared and practised in advance. I’m always a little disappointed by the panel sessions as they often end up being unstructured conversations with little or no resolution at the end. I sometimes wonder if the majority of panel discussions are there purely so the speakers can get a free ticket.

In 2005, the unofficial theme of the event was web standards. Last year it felt that DOM scripting was the hot topic. This year there was a definite move away from the technical and towards user experience design. Like usual I managed to miss out on some of the surprise hits of the conference, but luckily mp3s of the sessions have already started to appear. Of the sessions that I did see, the ones I enjoyed most were Peter Merholtz on the end of product design and Dan Saffer on what Las Vegas can teach interaction designers.

The Brits had an even bigger showing this year, and the quality of their presentations was very high. My favourite was the session with Brendan Dawes and Jim Coudal on the subject of creativity and short attention spans. The panel that Jeremy and myself gave seemed to go down well, as did the typography session with Mark Boulton and Richard Rutter. Jeremy did a second session on Ajax accessibility and universal design with Derek Featherstone that was also well received, as well as making a guest apperence on the microformats panel with fellow Brits, Glenn Jones and Francis Berriman.

Andy Clarke managed to pack out the room and had people sitting in the aisles–a testament to his abilities as a speaker. His talk was predictably funny and the slides were well designed, but I couldn’t help feel that the concept could have been fleshed out a bit more. As with our talk the previous year, the audience threw themselves into the theme and ask lots of funny questions about getaways, patsies and dealing with moles inside the organisation.

On the social side of things, I think the best event was the Avalonstar bowling extravaganza. Not being a bowler, I almost didn’t go. I’m glad I did. Our team scraped through to the second round, and was then paired up with one of the stronger teams. We thought we’d be out for sure, but ended up putting on a really strong show, bowling a respectable 786. This was actually one of the higher scores in the second round and we would have gone through on points. However it was actually a knock-out round and when the average score was take, we lost by a paltry 2 points. Despite being robbed entry into the final, we had a great time, and will no doubt field a team next year.

Due to the number of Brits over this year, Clearleft, @media America and Boagworld decided to throw a party, entitled The Great British Booze-up. This turned out to be a fantastic idea as the party rocked. The venue was great, the food was amazing, and the free bar lasted most f the event. One of the most successful aspects of the party was the music volume. Unlike most events where you had to scream to be heard, people could actually talk to each other, promoting a very social event. The event was busy but not packed, and all the right people were there. Even the Yahoo! crowed showed up despite hosting their own party at the same time. The event was a huge success and we all look forward to running the event again next year. This time with less light beer and more pork scratchings.

Anyway, that’s it for another year. I’m heading to San Francisco for a weeks holiday before the IA Summit and Web Design World.

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How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0 | March 11, 2007

SXSW has been lots of fun so far, and it’s only the second day. It’s much, much bigger than previous years, although I say that every year. This year there are eight tracks spread across two levels of the convention centre, so the is a lot of running around between rooms and bumping into people on the fly. There are so many cool people here, fleeting conversations are the norm, and quality time is in short supply.

Jeremy and Myself did our talk yesterday morning. I always like doing talks on the first day as it gets things out of the way and frees up your time for the important job of drinking and socialising. Our talk this year was entitled “How to Bluff your Way in Web 2.0” and if you’ve seen any of our previous SXSW sessions, you’ll know that it was vaguely tongue-in-cheek. The talk went extremely well, and Jeremy had the crowd eating out of his hand. I’ll post a link to the mp3 when it comes on line in a few months, but in the meantime, feel free to download our slides.

Oh, and if you happen to be in Austin Monday evening, I hope to see you at The Great British Booze-up which starts at 7:30pm at the Lava Lounge on 7th Street, just round the corner from the Iron Cactus. There will be food, free drinks and great music, so hope to see you all there.

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Veggie AustinVeggie Heaven in Austin | March 6, 2007

Any vegetarian, vegan or just plain healthy folks fancy checking out one of the many veggie restaurants in Austin during SXSW? Could be a nice alternative to all that Texas BBQ going around.

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