South by Southwest Interactive is a big web design/blogging conference in downtown Austin. There are thousands of people here for it in 2008. It’s crazy busy.
The latest excitement was in a friend’s panel where people tried to stage an uprising on both Twitter and in the meebo room at meebo.com/sxsw, set up specifically for this talk. Tom Parish has a great picture and is quoted in this Wired blog story. The very next day, the Zuckerburg interview had a similar uprising on a much grander scale. Jeff Jarvis has the best analyses I’ve read so far about it, and Scoble’s view from the Twitter gallery is also a good read.
I’m of two minds about the things that have happened here this week – on one hand, I think the conference is only as high quality as its presenters. If all the attendees think they’re smarter than and better than the panelists, then why bother coming at all when you can view the video online or listen to the podcast later? I guess that hypothetical question is answered with – we come because we can interact with the panelists.
I even witnessed a panelist admit that he “wasn’t paying attention” to another panelist’s answer to a question during their panel. It came across as immature, arrogant, and unprofessional to me. Much like the sweater-tossing antics I observed based on the meebo room conversation in the social media metrics talk, I internally rolled my eyes and thought, how many people are just trying to get attention, drawing it away from the panelists disrespectfully? Is this online behavior and real-life behavior only as mature as the junior high lunch room?
On the other hand, if all the panelists preach about user-centered content, then when the choir stages an uprising, the preacher should be able to adjust his message to fit the audience. Right? I really admired Tom’s quick thinking. I was admiring the way that Tom handled the panel, ensuring that the podcast recording turns out well also, by having each speaker introduce themselves so that listeners later can identify voices while listening.
But enough about the conflicts and struggles going on between panelists, interviewers, and SXSWi attendees. This year, my interaction with other attendees has been the most exciting and fun for me.
Before and after the social media metrics talk, I befriended two guys from Washington, DC, and Summer from Austin who were all sitting around me.
I ended up giving a ride up Sixth Street to David, one of the guys from DC, and he and I had the nicest conversation on the way to BarCamp. I had asked about the conversations that occur on wikis and how interesting it was that the WoWiki panelist George Pribel said they never want to answer how to or troubleshooting questions on their wiki, that they only wanted articles and discussion around strategy. I said that as a tech writer, I was looking for the best use of wikis for content, but since we usually live nearest to and offer the most value to the customer support department, our wikis would be shaped more towards howto and troubleshooting information. However, best practices and strategy wikis might be more easily shaped for conversational articles, so, which was the better approach? His answer was spot on and an excellent example that will stick with me. He said, it’s just like the real world conversations you have in a crowd. If you and I are talking about movies, and someone comes up and starts talking about their favorite restaurant, we would politely inform them that we’re talking about movies, and could you take your food conversation elsewhere, maybe to the person sitting next to me? It’s a matter of staying on topic. With wiki design, I would conclude, you might want to prepare for two audiences (and two types of conversations), just like Lisa Dyer has done at Lombardi Software.
After attending David’s talk, WhiteHouse 2.0 at Barcamp, I learned that he’s former White House Internet and Communications Director David Almacy! He started RSS feeds and podcasts on iTunes and Tivo for the president’s white house. He wrote a Barney Cam script that got posted on Youtube and had over 25,000 views that season. As it turns out, he has two daughters nearly exactly the same age as my two sons. Our youngest kids were born within three days of each other. He was so nice and professional, a knowledgeable expert who is also willing to share his experiences. Prior to the social media metrics talk, I babbled about how I was a blogger for Ynema and Tom on talk.bmc. Little did I know of my fellow attendees level of experience with social media, but I was so pleased that David didn’t try to prove just how much more knowledgeable (and famous) he is than I. Instead he just answered my questions and truly listened to me.
I’m still amazed at the serendipitous meetings and conversations. Yes, the attendees make the conference interesting, and the panelists are bravely facing those attendees.