Jim Louderback

March 17, 2011

9 Random Thoughts From SXSW 2011

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jim @ 5:37 pm

This post originally appeared on Ad Age’s Digital Next blog.  I wrote it on the nerd bird home from Austin to San Jose, where I shared a metal tube with Randi Zuckerberg and 150 other recovering attendees.  Alas, I was so unfocused, I forgot to write an intro paragraph.  But you’re lucky, you get me a bit more lucid.  So without further ado, here are my random takeaways from SXSW 2011

Pepsi supposedly spent a cool million dollars on its SXSW presence, with a huge stage, free Pepsi One for everyone, music, BBQ and a partnership with Foursquare. And they weren’t the only brand dumping major bucks. GE’s crazy solar-powered carousel was a confusing anomaly, and mostly ran empty. Even AOL, while dumping a broad swath of talented employees, dropped a half-million on the event — according to one of the displaced that I talked to.

Much of the really cool stuff wasn’t even on display inside the convention center. CNN rolled out its TV Everywhere strategy, along with a nifty new HTML5 site design in its very own restaurant, across the street from Pepsi’s soda and barbecue cafe. I had a fascinating demo from the CEO of Interlude.FM, showcasing continuous streaming and branching video, but even though the technology is public, their presence was invisible.

GM had a neat promotion going, to augment its huge sponsorship of the event. A handful of new Chevys drove around town, letting anyone hop in and get a ride anywhere within five miles. I stumbled upon one of them at the most opportune time, and was carted across town by a charming young Police Academy trainee. She didn’t know Austin too well — but she did let me switch the built in XM from Radio Disney (she was hoping to hear the latest Justin Beiber song) to the Grateful Dead channel for the duration of the trip. The car was pretty plush too.

I ran into a friend of mine from JWT on Monday, and he said that last year he couldn’t even get the company to pay his way, yet this year more than 40 execs were blanketing the show. And along with agencies, brands and Hollywood have discovered SXSW too. Even the hyper-rich were cavorting around Austin over the weekend — a handful of them turned up at our VIP section during our Diggnation Stubbs party, and rubbed shoulders with Demi Moore, Aston Kutcher, and web celebrity Felicia Day.

Acerbic internet personality and startup cheerleader Jason Calacanis is certainly a polarizing individual. But still that was no reason for a disgruntled attendee to toss a drink on him at our party. Despite being a three-time black belt, Jason restrained himself from punching the boor out. Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident. This year it seemed like there were a lot more rude drunks than ever.

Airplane WiFi is definitely great — except when you’re on a plane full of SXSW attendees. I flew the nerd bird back and forth from San Jose to Austin, and the GoGo service was practically useless. They definitely need to up the bandwidth on those geek flights.

Cellphone service, though, seemed to be pretty darn good. Despite the proliferation of iPhones on the AT&T network, no one seemed too upset about the service. That’s a far cry from a few years ago when the subpar network helped fuel the AT&T backlash.

The panels continue to be hit or miss, according to the attendees I talked to. One of the few that generated any significant buzz, on social TV, was plopped into a room barely big enough to hold a football team — and it was horribly over-attended. So those that couldn’t get in formed an un-session of their own in a vacant room next door led by the NY Times social editor Jen Preston called RebelTV. Alas, the show staff kicked them out halfway through.

It seemed like twice as many people attended the interactive portion of SXSW this year, swelling the crowd to near 30,000 people. That led to gridlock in downtown Austin, as attendees tried to get from far-flung hotels to the conference and then back to their beds. The show might well be outgrowing the town — but it’s inconceivable that the show would work anywhere else. Lots of attendees opined that the show had jumped the shark, but it seemed just as vibrant, crazy and fun as ever.

March 17, 2010

My Life On the SXSW Blacklist!

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Jim @ 6:17 pm

This post originally appeared on the Ad Age Digital Next blog, repeated here, because I wrote it!

I’ve been blacklisted by the organizers of the South by Southwest Interactive conference, which just wrapped up earlier this week. Despite pitching panels and explaining my media credentials (everything from GigaOm to Huffington Post, with a little Ad Age thrown in here and there, too), they denied me entrance to the show. 

So I had no press badge, no credentials and no access to the show. But as it turns out, you really don’t need official credentials to get a lot out of Southby. Because in the end, over 72 hours, I went to 19 parties (and never needed a badge), participated as a presenter or moderator on three separate SXSW panels, met an amazing array of people changing the world, and got a makeover to boot.

Yes, that’s right, a makeover. The random interactions that occur as a byproduct of SXSW’s chaotic nature actually end up being the best part of the event. For example, on Saturday night I was upstairs at the Belmont Lounge, decompressing after our very successful live Diggnation and Scam School taping and party at Stubbs. While there I ran into@LeoraIsrael, a chronicler of the NY party scene and one of the smartest social networkers I know.

She started telling me about this cool panel organized the next day, an interactive discussion about how to optimize your online profiles — everything from Facebook photos to online dating descriptions. Leora convinced Jo Blackwell-Preston (@blackwelljo), an Emmy Award-winning stylist and owner of the renowned DopDop salon in NYC, to come out and give makeovers to panel attendees and others.

"My hair’s a bit long," I said to Leora, as I clutched one of my unkempt locks. "2 p.m.," she snapped. "You’ve got an appointment!"

So that’s how I found myself in the Circus Maximus room inside the Austin Convention Center, with most of my hair on the ground. A few minutes later, and I was carrying mirrors and chairs from their makeshift salon to the conference room. I was nervous about getting in without a badge, but apparently sherpas are invisible to the conference cops.

My second stealth panel happened in much the same way. I was at the Porter Novelli press breakfast Saturday morning and ran into some of my old friends from Rackspace. It seems that one of the panelists on their Serverless Business session had bailed, and they wanted me to fill in.

"Happy to," I said. "But I have no badge."

"No problem," said the Rackspace folks. "We’ll sneak you in if we have to."

And so they did. Fun panel, and a nice way to end my SXSW hack, because @scobleizerwas in the front row (he works for Rackspace), his producer @RocmanUSA was shooting video. Scoble and I were part of my third SXSW panel at Friday’s Tweethouse, where I moderated a discussion of future social networking tools.

I also had a little celebrity brush with fame that turned oddly bizarre. Late Monday night, as I was leaving the awesome TechnoKaraoke party, a friend grabbed me and said, "Lets go hang with Ashton Kutcher." So we race-walked up to the Microsoft party, and were quickly whisked behind a velvet-roped corner of the Speakeasy roof deck, where about 25 of us were jammed together like morning commuters on the A train. Supposedly Kutcher was lounging around on a couch not 20 feet from me. But I was much more fascinated by the heavy kanoodling going on around him than the big man himself. And then, after someone handed me a horrific cranberry-vodka combination, it was closing time and everyone stumbled down the five flights of stairs and on to the streets.

Did I miss anything by stealth-hacking SXSW? Well, I would have liked to have seen Mark Cuban and Boxee’s Avner Ronen face-off on internet television, but I was moderating another panel at the time. And I missed the fire drill in the middle of that panel too, which was no big deal.

It would have been fun to see the train-wreck Twitter keynote, but only because it’s fun to see a disaster in action. But that’s about it. And I did learn a lot, even if I didn’t officially attend.

  1. The top 10 things I learned at the show:
    Since they don’t use makeup, guys need to manage their eyebrows — "because no one wants to look like Leonid Breshnev or Andy Rooney," said stylist Jo Blackwell.
  2. We’re not the only ones on SXSW’s s***list. The Twitter guys threw an unsanctioned party too, and almost got their keynote canceled. In the end, it probably would have been better if it did.
  3. The SXSW people threatened to kick another mobile/social company out of the show entirely if they didn’t shut down a feature that was algorithmically promoting another competing — and unsanctioned — event.
  4. You can fit four people on one of those bike-taxis that cruise around Austin, but only if one of them is cool with sitting on the others’ laps.
  5. The immune system match between two lovers is inversely proportional to the chance that one will cheat on the other, says sex researcher Jonathan Levy, who also happens to run fashion site Lookbooks. If your immune systems are 10% different, there’s a 90% chance that one of you will cheat, probably soon. It’s biology, not psychology. Try telling that to your ex.
  6. Bare Metal is not the name of a thrash band, it’s actually what IT Ops geeks call server hardware when it’s delivered from the factory.
  7. Hanging out with celebrities is boring — unless you like lounging and snogging in public. Oh, and Ashton Kutcher is really tall.
  8. Alfred Gratien champagne is really quite good. (Thanks GaryVee for inviting me to your live Wine Library taping party!)
  9. Foursquare and Gowalla are great tools for stalking someone. One of guys I know was surprised that everywhere he went his crazy ex-girlfriend showed up too. Turns out he accepted her friend request on Foursquare, and every time he checked in, she hopped to it. Oh, and the two popular location-social apps really should work together. Checking in twice on two apps just takes way too long. More than one geek-hipster missed last call at The Driskill Hotel because they were too busy checking in.
  10. You really can spend four days in Austin, pay nothing for food and drink, and end up sated and sauced every night. Not that I did that, or anything, I’m just saying.

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