SXSW Interactive 2011 Day One

We started out the week gently, with a light Friday (why am I still so tired then?).  Two of your favorite Agile Admins, Peco and Ernest, were down at the Austin Convention Center to experience SXSW Interactive!  The third Agile Admin, James, was busy giving a talk at the nearby Security B-Sides Austin.

After getting down there early, getting badges, and getting oriented, we saw Jason Calacanis interview Tim O’Reilly. He gave a lot of interesting insight into the development of innovation, tracing the Internet, open source, Web 2.0/social media/user contributed content, cloud, and Big Data.

The single most interesting thing he said, though, was a side note that illustrated how hard it is for companies to maintain a real vision over time, especially once they get big and various stakeholders’ needs conflict – he talked about how many people have become billionaires off of O’Reilly ideas and how there’s been pressure for him to sell out or cash in – like Cisco offered to buy them, noting that “You guys are always first on the scene with the cool stuff but you fail to exploit it.” Tim always rejected those offers, though he did note he is often conflicted because of all the people he has working for them – and not making all those great people the money that would bring.

Next, Peco saw Google’s Marissa Meyer talk (he’ll have to share what went on there) and I kinda played hooky by going to a session about “daddy bloggers,” as that’s a personal interest of mine.

Then we both went to a session that was supposed to be about “The Connected Car: Driving Technology” and automobile telemetrics, but it sucked. It was some car guys and a lady from Pandora telling us over and over again that “cars hooked up to networks and stuff are cool.” I am willing to put up with about 5 minutes of telling me something’s cool, but if it doesn’t give way quickly to you SHOWING me that it’s cool, I’m out.  We bailed 30 minutes in, along with a lot of the other attendees.

Then we went down to the Austin Music Hall for four hours of Ignite, a format where presenters get 5 minutes and auto-advancing slides to make a point. The topic was “2021 Visions of the Future.”  Besides the talks and some bands, there were also a bunch of Arduino and robotics and various weird Maker type booths, which was fun. The crowd was really varied, in fact there were other people there from NI who had been invited via various completely different vectors (UT School of Engineering, Austin Ventures startup stuff, SXSWi). [Side note – there was a contest to drop an egg from the balcony safely using only 4 sheets of paper and a couple feet of tape, and I was one of the winners and got a Roku for my troubles! Engineering education FTW.]

Some presentations were good, others incoherent, but a common theme throughout the day was people doing things they have a passion for, and worrying about the money later.  This was a theme in Tim O’Reilly’s talk and it pervaded the presentations at Ignite. Really most people aren’t in the field they’re in because it’s the thing with the highest ROI they qualify for, they are in it because they  have some kind of passion for it.  A lot of life then tries to stomp that passion out, but the enabling factors of the Web, DIY, etc. are making it so you can flip off  “the Man” and pursue your passion yourself if you want to. As a large company we struggle with that, and try to promote people following their passions and enable internal entrepreneurship at a high level, while however the natural grinding wheels of a large organization grind that into meal at the middle levels.

Then we got free ice cream from the Free Ice Cream Man and headed home. I’m getting sick and feel whupped, but it was energizing to see so many people doing so many great things – and let me tell you, SXSWi is getting HUGE.  It’s nothing like the first year I went, when there were maybe ten sessions and the conference center was largely empty. The place was packed; companies have bought out and transformed nearby buildings – a bar across the street is now the Playstation Lounge, with huge video wall on the roof and stuff; CNN had a giant neon sign installed at one restaurant… I can tell the economy’s looking up and that Interactive is hot because Lordy there’s money getting thrown at this thing.

See the rest of my pictures from Day One of SXSW here!

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