“You Have Reached the End of the Internet”
“Nothing left to see here. Time to go outside and play” — Me (Pssst. Pages of this nature were all the rage circa 1999)
“Nothing left to see here. Time to go outside and play” — Me (Pssst. Pages of this nature were all the rage circa 1999)
Inspired by Matt Haughey’s public posting of the RSS Feeds he subscribes to, I’m doing the same (below).
What is RSS, you ask? A method to subscribe to what your favorite websites publish and have their updates all in a single place. Think of it as DVR for the Internet, food delivery instead of pickup except for the web. Podcasts would on the same technology and concept: Subscribe once, receive forever without asking again.
RSS has been around for most of the 21st century but took a pretty big hit first when people began using Facebook and Twitter to receive regular news updates then when in 2013 when Google discontinued its free RSS product called Google Reader. At that point, anyone who still used an RSS reader and carefully pruned their feed library was probably over 30 and stubborn.
Lately though, its been making a bit of a comeback. Idea being that self-selecting your daily information diet (see: No Trump-loving-creepy-brothers-in-laws) probably means less unwilling toxicity and restless nights of non-sleep.
I’m all for this. RSS made the Internet seem both rich and manageable in my early days with it and I’m still grateful. And while not every one of your favorite web publications still have rss feeds (many newer ones which came along in the last fallow few years just didn’t bother) many still do.
The more feeds we share, the more our friends and loved ones can conveniently use RSS to assemble their own rich and varied information diets free from the poison of racism, intolerance and fight-picking.
In that spirit, my entire RSS feed library taken from the great Newsblur Reader service then alphabetized is below. Take, subscribe, read, enjoy.
* items with a star are feeds custom created by me.
I’ve been attending the South by Southwest Interactive Festival as an attendee since 2000, a speaker since 2003 and an advisory board member since 2005. Since 2008 I have hosted Fray Café, a storytelling event on the Sunday evening of the conference. Fray Café has been at SXSWi as long as I have.
In that same span of time, South by Southwest Interactive has grown from a few thousand attendees to nearly 25,000 in 2012. In 2011, it surpassed SXSW Music, the organization’s oldest and signature festival, in numbers of badge holders. What was once a conference occupying 1/2 of one floor of the newly-built Austin Convention Center, now includes 15 “campuses” all over the city. Many of the friends I first made at SXSW no longer attend as doing do is too expensive, too focused on “making it” rather than making anything in particular, no longer relevant or all these reasons combined.
About 500x that many attendees have never known SXSW outside of what it is now–Huge corporate-sponsored parties, companies and products getting “discovered” that week in Austin, long lines at everything and a breathless sighting of Pete Cashmore. Their experience is no better or worse than mine, just different.
Every year when I return home, I take stock of what I learned in an essay called 10 Things I Learned at SXSW (previous years: 2011, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002). This year’s version is below.
10 Things I Learned at SXSW 2012:
1. Justifying it. I have a book due in June. And a lot left to write. That needs to be my focus right now and a week of staying out late and eating migas three times a day in Austin is a distraction. A lovely one, but still. Plus neither my wife (a conference speaker this year) nor I have a full time employer to whom we can pass along the cost of attending. That cost could buy you a very nice vacation or set you back until mid-July.
So how to justify the expense and time of going? Moneywise we got lucky and made cutbacks where we could. Timewise I borrowed a card from attending more businessy, less “bring-on-the-migas!” conferences (like this one).
I booked breakfast meetings. I went over the the speaker’s list and then my social media rolls about 3 weeks ahead of time to see if there was anyone in Austin who I had a) communicated with virtually but never met or b) met in a business context but would like to get to know socially. Know some of these people better might benefit me professionally someday. Making new friends is always a benefit on multiple levels.
Since I’m almost 40, I don’t stay out as late as I did at my first few SXSW’s. So it’s easier to get up in time for breakfast and grab coffee and toast with someone before morning sessions begin. About 1-3 of those meetings in the morning and I felt ok spending the remainder of the day screwing off.
Meetings also have a cosmic momentum of their own. At nearly every meeting this year, I would get a couple of text messages from someone else asking if I had a moment to meet. This isn’t because I’m Mr. Superstar or something. I think you put that energy out and the universe can sense it.
2. Panels. This strategy felt ok with me because, the more I attended throught the week, the more I felt like panels (with few exceptions) were a waste of time. It wasn’t lack of content but way way too much content to keep straight and sort. Hundreds of sessions, talks, conversations and panels means an attendee either a) spends several hours pre-conference deciding what they’d like to see knowing full well they’ll get to maybe 20% of it b) plays it safe and only goes to panels squarely in their area of interest or c) plays it equally safe and only attends sessions put on by famous people. The last option means waiting in long lines, punting on other sessions in order to wait in long lines and running the very real risk of being crowded out of the room anyway.
Those options all kinda suck. SXSW has hit a point when the attendee must either be uptight, myopic or a star fucker to derive benefit from conference sessions. The solution lies in certain tweets user experience, something South by Southwest, for all its talent firepower, has never been that good at.
What if somehow the conference could take a list of interests and preferences you supply and spit back a list of sessions you’d probably like? And what if you could tweak that list based on what what hotel you’re staying at, where you’d like to eat lunch and how much time you’d like to walk between sessions?
That’s probably harder than I’m making it out to be. But if anyone has access to the talent for it, it’s this conference. Or they could confer their blessing/assistance upon Sched.org or Plancast or some other company that has already built most of the technical infrastructure for such a thing.
And even though I’ve said it a thousand times, a clear, systematic approach to recording and podcasting sessions would go a long way towards solving this problem. SXSW has largely rolled out recordings unannounced, haphazardly, and buried-deeply-in-its-site-1996-hide-and-go-seek-for-the-user fashion.
If I knew what was being recorded, how and when I could get it, I could make smarter decisions about what panels to see now and what to wait and catch up on at home.
If I’ve paid for a conference badge already, what’s the harm?
3. Annoyance. SXSW Hassle is now an annual ritual. Every September I try to reserve a hotel room for and am asked to surrender my right lung for the right not to sleep on the street during the festival. I then find myself saying “1000s of dollars, 2 hour waits for lunch and endless jostling by hordes of strangers because my friends can no longer afford to attend. This is the last year I will submit to this nonsense, SXSW! Good day to you sir!”
And every year I come back and it’s not as bad as I thought. The crowds and inflated prices are now a fact of life. I can be mad at them or I can not go. Thus far I have still managed to spend time with the people that matter to me, make a few new friends and attend and produce events that make SXSW so special to me. The Red Eyed Fly, home of Fray Cafe for the last 8 years, gives us the room at very favorable terms. Ditto the site of my last-night-of-SXSW dinner, a 9-year tradition. And my friends old and new still manage to find enough places to eat, have coffee or meet up that haven’t been so totally overrun as to make them unbearable.
4. Must Haves. As a result,this year was the first time I put it to words my list of Must Haves. There may very well come a day when not enough of my friends can afford to attend or venues can’t afford to cut us a break or I can’t spare the time or the money or the headspace anymore. At that point, South by Southwest and I will have lived out our meaningful life together and will part as friends. I take things a year at a time. Minus Fray Cafe and 20×2, a critical mass of friends and the opportunity to make 3-6 more, SXSW will not have enough for me to return. That hasn’t happened quite yet.
5. Fragility. I would be an idiot to not to keep in mind how fragile this all is, how easily jobs or kids or the economy or the passage of time can keep anyone or all of these wonderful things from happening. And how that is no one’s fault. South by Southwest is wonderful but it is not life. It is a ship-in-bottle-sized version of the spirit we want our lives to have–inspiring, loyal, supported and real. But to get angry when life interferes, when someone must stop going or can’t go this year or a venue closes, or new people show up or an event is simply not possible is yelling into your own pocket, an angry, myopic, silly waste of energy.
SXSW is a growing/evolving thing as we are. The challenge is to accept that, move with it and STILL make it special.
6. Newcomers. “Every year is someone’s first SXSW” my wise friend James McNally said, which I take to mean “Don’t be the schmuck moving the goalposts and saying ‘everything was awesome when I first got here. But now that YOU’RE HERE it’s not anymore.”
Put another way, to an entire generation of attendees, South by Southwest is about loud parties and waiting in line, and seeking out venture money and free beer. And they would look at my friends, with our out-of-the-way gatherings, and paying our own way and say “Why?”
They are entitled. They’re entitled to have the experience be anything they want it to be. As am I. It’s pretty easy to stay out of each other’s way and no one is hurting anyone else just by being there.
7. Newcomers Part II. New comers are inspiring. They remind me that South by Southwest is an experience that can give over and over, to diferent people, at different times in life. And there are always more looking for the rewards I have found from it.
In the weeks leading up to SXSW, I heard from at least a half-dozen acquaintences that they were coming for the first time. I invited them to everything I could, advised where appropriate and tried to meet individually with as many of them as I could. I can say that now most, if not all, are friends.
That’s the beauty of that second week in Austin. You get to know each other quick. And yet it feels 100% real and usually endures.
8. Breaks. On at least 3 occassions, I took a long walk with an old friend I’d run into on the streets of Austin. I was probably missing a panel or a free taco or a spotting of Sean Parker but whatever. Those things will happen if they are meant to. Time with an old friend in this midst of that chaos is a precious gift. And a needed repose when you are no longer the 25 year-old adventurer I was my first year at the conference.
9. Shoring up. Footnote to #5. Just because certain things are fragile doesn’t mean we should be content with them staying that way. So after I turn my book in this summer, I’ll be putting in some hours to make sure the parts of SXSW I care out have solid home bases and enduring legacies.
10. Take off and go. I crossed the half-way point of my book right before we arrived in Austin. I’ve a ton to do before my June deadline. SXSW was both a break from it (I didn’t write while there) but also a reminder, a reminder that I am excited by the path I am on, incredibly lucky and grateful that I still get to do this each spring and feel as though my relationship with it gets different but better with time.
SXSW and I are in the long game for now. There are many adventures left to be had.
I have attended South by Southwest Interactive every year since 2000, have been a speaker since 2003 and on the advisory board since 2004. This year’s festival was held March 11-20 as always in Austin, Texas.
Each year as soon as I get home, I put together an essay on my impressions of the event in the form of a list of ten things I learned (previous years: 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002). I haven’t done this in a while but have a commitment this year to not let the festival vanish like a dream as soon as it ends. These essays are a way of remembering what happened at South by Southwest and trying to make it relevant afterwards.
With that I bring you…
Ten Things I Learned at SXSW
1. SXSW is not “over.” Maybe for you it is. But please stop saying so, because I’ve heard it all before. I’m an 11-year veteran of the conference. I’ve heard moans that its moment had past since about 2003. What that really means is “South by Southwest is no longer what I want to be. So I’m going to resent its success and salt the earth so nothing may grow there again. Since it’s over for me, I declare it must be over for everybody.”
That’s just as egotistical and silly as it sounds. SXSW is different. Bigger, louder, more monied and crowded, yes, and in many ways replete with assholes marketing something you don’t need and will probably never hear of again.
You also need not engage with any of it if you don’t want to. You don’t have to go to the huge official parties or even acknowledge the poor sunburned college kids hawking you “free water. Free breakfast tacos” if only you’ll listen to a few words about their startup. Just as there are plenty of Penn State students who never attend football games, South by Southwest is now big enough (about half the size of Penn State actually) that your experience can simply be what you make of it. Don’t like big crowds? Go to lunch with a few friends instead of the keynotes. Would rather talk about ideas than products? Make smart decisions when selecting panels. Sick of hearing about the must have app? Download none of them. Think the conference is no longer as geeky as it should be? Check your facts. Journalists, artists, academics and filmmakers who have never written a line of code have been come to SXSW Interactive since the day it was born. If your definition of “geek” is “people who know PERL”, then SXSW Music might as well mean “only for people who can tune a Gibson SG.”
If you can’t wrap your head around the change then 1) You’ve moved on which is fine. Life is all about change or 2) You lack imagination. Either way, saying “it’s over” is terribly unfair to the staff who put a year’s worth of work into the conference existing at all (and do a damn fine job of it), the volunteers who sacrifice a week of their life just so you don’t get lost looking for Ballroom D, the speakers who prep for months to provide you the attendee with good content and most of all, the first timers and newcomers who weren’t lucky enough to have been there in the imagined “before” where everything was so wonderful.
As my friend and fellow conference vet James McNally once said “Every year is someone’s first year. Do you want to be the jerk who keeps talking about how great everyone was until you, the newcomer, showed up?”
I would rather live in the solution than the problem. And I learned from SXSW way back when it was something smaller, but different, not better.
2. I still wouldn’t want to be a newcomer now. I had the good fortune of first attending SXSW when a conference badge cost a few hundred bucks and there were as many attendees then as there are speakers now. I could afford, in all fashions, to know nobody and make stumbling, incremental progress towards having purpose and conference friends I still spend time with today. When I felt like I belonged (around year #4) I made damn sure that any newcomer I met was welcome to spend time with my group of friends and learn a few ropes. I was afraid if it took them as long as it took me to feel at home that they’d never come back and never get any of the priceless gifts the conference has given me.
Now, South by Southwest is a) way too costly for this kind of gradual learning and b) So large that many newcomers take one look at the schedule and declare failure or exhaust themselves trying to attend everything. They end up frustrated and beaten down by this thing everyone has told them is a miracle. And who wants to pay a king’s ransom for that kind of letdown?
Conference staff has made valiant attempts to make freshman year at SXSW a little easier. The annual “How To Rawk SXSW” panel is a great first day orientation session. I’ve heard veteran/newcomer meetups were part of the official program this year though I also heard its damn hard to get veterans to sacrifice an hour in their schedule for them.
This is a very big knot to untie. Newcomers don’t always identify themselves as such and are attending South by Southwest for such different reasons that a one-size-fits-all solution is folly. I will say this though: I know of at least a dozen old-timers who, for the price of one platinum badge, would be more than happy to both participate in and/or administer some kind of “SXSW Big Brother/Big Sister Program” where a vet is paired with a greenhorn (or several. Like student advisors in college) and acts as a personal resource leading up to and during SXSW itself.
It’s very labor intensive solution but exactly the sort of thing that makes the conference so special.
Whose gonna take that one on? I promise you Hugh, Shawn and the folks who run SXSW are listening.
3. SXSW is a lousy place to launch a product. There are a class of first timers who know precisely why there are in Austin and what they must accomplish. They are the proprietors/early employees of startups who are hoping catch the attention of the 20,000 attendees (whose presence at least indicates an interest newfangled technology) and repeat the success of Twitter and FourSquare who both first caught fire at the conference.
We hear of those success stories because they are rare exceptions. South by Southwest is a fantasm of noise, information and over stimulus all washed down by alcohol, breakfast tacos and too little sleep. After 5 days of it, You’re lucky if you remember your own name. A few more responsible souls than I come home, dutifully sort through their swag then try new products they’ve heard about at SXSW then tell their friends about the ones they like. The rest of us get home and regard those products as noise we’re ready to turn off.
If you’re one of the lucky startups with a boatload of money, go ahead and sponsor a giant party. I won’t be there but someone–lots of someones–will. If you’re small and wily (like Freshbooks, like Squrl) do something clever like cooking bacon on a mobile grill (Freshbooks again. Those wonderful Canadians) or just hang out and have good conversations. But don’t…
4. Market something at SXSW by shooting for the middle. Somewhere between small and wily and giant and omnipresent lies the path of douchbaggery. Or as my best friend Dave (a 9-year conference veteran) said “the douchbag is the early adopter of the mainstream. Someone who knows there’s money to be made off a trend but didn’t get to the party fast enough to be part of it.”
If you’re wondering if you’re a douchbag, you probably are. But don’t worry. Easy to avoid for SXSW 2012. Just follow these simple rules.
a) Stop hardselling. Whatever silly rules you have about “not letting them out of the room”, leave at home. The attendees at SXSW are too smart for that.
b) Stop bragging. Nobody cares how many times your product was mentioned on CNN. Presidential candidates and heads of state have stalked these halls. Your app for bulk purchase of car insurance does not impress us. The attendees at SXSW are too smart for that.
c) No booth babes, backward baseball caps, street barkers. or yelling “free stuff” into a crowd. This is SXSW not frat orientation day at Fresno State. The attendees at SXSW are too smart for that.
Are we getting the message? There’s a reason why people love SXSW and tolerate say, CES. Because its about something more than selling. Violate that and we’ll not only ignore your product, we’ll make fun of it and you behind your back.
Side note: This entire list was developed over the course of 1 hour myself and my friend Carla Borsoi spent at a Westside Austin mansion that smelled like spilt Red Bull listening to some douchbag talk about which hip-hop musicians use his product. That’ll teach us to hop in a nameless hummer limo instead of going to lunch.
5. You will miss something. Worrying about what you might miss if you decide to do x (hoping in a strange limo) instead of y (being an adult, sane person) is a waste of time. You will miss something. Lots of somethings. In the week or so leading up to SXSW, I dutifully go through the schedule and fill in checkboxes knowing full well there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do 90% of the things that sound interesting. It’s an activity that maps nicely to awaiting the arrival of a guy named Godot.
I do it anyway. A schedule is a baseline, to know what South by Southwest has to offer should you not know what to do next. It is not a commandment. Thanks to age we live in, nearly every presentation, film screening, even band is either documented for posterity or available thanks to the webernet afterwards. The enthralling conversation you’re in with someone you just met is unrepeatable. And moments like that are why conferences, despite their wild expense and bulk, endure. The spontaneous collision of people and ideas cannot be replicated in virtual space. So if you’ve made the commitment to come to SXSW, take full advantage. Wherever you are if you’re creating, learning, growing or just enjoying yourself, that’s where you’re supposed to be. Don’t second guess it.
6. What does your body need? Just because you’re not at home does not mean the laws of nature don’t apply. And you will get nothing out of SXSW by not listening to them and therefore spending the entire conference tired, sick, and half-tweaked out on 3 AM beer and queso sludge.
I’m 37 and an early riser. But I get to see my SXSW once a year and I’d rather not turn in at dusk every night while we’re all in one place. That means I do one large coffee in the morning, a nap around 5 PM, another large coffee when I wake up, multi-vitamins every morning and a little time at the hotel gym if I can manage. And I don’t screw around with it. Because its the only way I can actually do SXSW and enjoy it rather than try and beat it at its own game and complain I’m not as young as I used to be.
7. Breakfast. I’m good in the morning, even when I’m tired. I was baffled by how many people I wanted to meet were too. So while I had zero luck scheduling meetings during the day (my friend C.C. Chapman is a master at this. I’d like to know how) I met with someone for breakfast nearly every morning and started the day off feeling on fire before 9 AM. The 30 minutes between when the alarm goes off and you sit down with your migas are murder. But the rest of the day, at least for me, is always better if I make something of the first half of it.
8. Limits. Since 2006, I’ve tried to fit in at least a few days of the SXSW Music festival which happens right after Interactive. Since 2009, my wife has been part of that crazy project with me.
I don’t know how many more years we’ll be doing this. We’re just too worn out by the end of Interactive to want to take part in much of anything. And much as I we would like to just keep to ourselves and go to movies and concerts, the giant, loud, not-as-nice crowds for music make it rather unpleasant. We’ve got several good music festivals at home or maybe we’ll try CMJ one autumn. But we’d both rather leave Austin on a tired-but-up note than a beaten down regretful one.
I’m no longer at a place in life where I need SXSW for my big insights. My insights build up continuously over the year. Since my job pays for some portion of my attendance at the conference, I need to hold meetings and attend sessions relevant to our future as a company.
But most important is time with friends, relationships I’ve built over 11 years of people I love I only get to see once a year. So while I can’t just declare Austin a 10-day vacation, real, in-person, intimate time with friends wins out over loud parties with celebrities. As seductive as the chance to dance with Pee-Wee-Herman or her DJ Diplo spin live is, those guys aren’t going anywhere. And friendship is too precious and valuable a thing to swap out for that.
10. I’ll be back. In spite of all the inconvenience that comes from SXSW Gigantism, I will be back next year. I still love the people, the knowledge, the vibe, even in my creeky veteraness. I’m proud of the staff for what a remarkable job they still manage to do despite its growth. I’m incredibly grateful that there is still room on the docket for events like The Old Timers Ball, Fray Cafe and 20×2 stalwarts of the SXSW of old. I love that my wife was a speaker this year, her 3rd, and I get to see the conference through her younger less-jaded eyes.
Most of all, I how many wonderful people coalesce around this conference, people with passion, big ideas, and an optimism as boundless as the sky. That those same people see kindness, sharing and brotherhood as just as important, says a lot about them. And just as much about the event, the call across continents that brings them to Austin each spring.
See you next March!