SXSW Interactive 2010 Redux

South By South West Interactive 2010 is over, the 16,000 attendees are returning home and the aftermath is felt all over the world by an explosion of blog posts detailing the many wonderful things that took place.

While some may assert that SXSW Interactive is dead, to me the opposite was true. My last SXSWi was 2008, when it felt like the conference had been taken over by “SEO Experts” and “Social Media Gurus”, groups consisting of either people repackaging proper web design and web development principles as a (somewhat slimy) means to sell themselves to businesses, or people jumping in on a bandwagon without knowing what’s what and simply shouting long and hard enough until they get noticed. “Thought leader” was part of the common vernacular in panelist bios, and the presence of a strong crowd of talented, inspiring web designers & developers was outmatched in all ways by people trying to sell their product or business.

That was two years ago. I questioned for the longest time in the run-up to SXSWi 2009 whether I should still bother, until that decision was made for me by my manager. I didn’t go, and avoided dwelling on it and promptly ignored Twitter for most of a week (Twitter Lists were not around yet, a feature that’s been employed handily by people not at the conference to temporarily unfollow those who are and who, like me, were tweeting constant updates from panels and sessions).

But this year things were different for me, so I was eager as ever to throw myself into the throngs of designers, developers and entrepreneurs. And, a little to my surprise, they were represented in spades. Nary a hallway meeting with a friend went by without meeting someone new, someone who didn’t label themselves as “Social Media Guru” or anything of the sort. Impassioned discussions about the current world of Web, Mobile and soon iPad (in-betweens?) ran wild, and almost every session slot had at least one great panel, workshop or presentation about User Interface and User Experience design, exploring Interaction Design with these new paradigms, or simply discussed beautiful web design and called for more engaging websites.

Marketing? Sales? SEO? The only times these terms were featured in conversation was in reference to prior SXSW’s.

Perhaps it was the difference in my own situation that skewed my perception of SXSW Interactive this year; unlike the last few times I am no longer working for Apple, which means I could openly and excitedly talk about the things I was doing. The excitement did not go unnoticed, as many of my friends (and new, prospective business partners) remarked that I seemed, and I quote, “really pumped” about my plans (more on which I will reveal soon). As a result, I was trying hard to attend every session that interested me, keep up via Twitter back-channels with the ones I couldn’t be at, and meet up with everyone I knew to catch up on things. This meant avoiding the big, official parties as those are far too loud and crowded to allow for such talks, and instead navigate the bars and crowds to find quieter spots with friends—old and new—and talk shop for a while.

Now I sit here, in Dublin airport, reminiscing of the five days of sessions and parties, and I could not be more convinced that SXSW Interactive is more alive than ever. Sure, there are now many big sponsors with elaborate booths as if this is a Macworld or CES, but that didn’t deter any of us from filling up every available seat at the panels and workshops.

Was the conference crowded? Sure. Was it heavily spread out between the many hotel ballrooms and convention center? Definitely. Was it one of the most invigorating and inspiring weeks of my life?

Hell yes.

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