Alex Payne

Writer, backer, erstwhile technologist.

Two Days at SXSWi

Its now the end of the second full day at SXSW Interactive. Some first impressions.

The logistics are basically fine. Even the wi-fi works most of the time. The conference center is somewhat confusing to navigate, but justifies/makes up for it in sheer immenseness. Even the most crowded talks have still had comfortable standing room.

The same cant be said for the nightlife, packed like sardines on a Tokyo subway car. Its great to get a free drink ticket or have access to an open bar, but physically reaching the bar is another story. There’s nothing cool about sweating, immobile, while desperately scanning the crowd for someone you might want to talk to, assuming they can hear you. Id love for SXSW party planners to trade the underwritten bar tabs for bigger venues and book DJs who do more than fumble through their iTunes library, but Im sure they’ve found a formula that works. Austin on Rails tomorrow night might be more my bag.

The panels have been very mixed so far. About half of any given panel of speakers are worth listening to, and the others range from ignorable to absurd. Individual talks have been stronger. Thematically, it seems that the tech/design fusion of the conference yields the least of both worlds; the tech content is rarely nitty-gritty, and the design material frequently veers from aesthetics into implementation. Unless the next two days are really stellar, I wouldn’t go back to the SXSWi for the content alone. But then, I didn’t attend for the content alone.

People are generally nice. There’s the usual offputting tech conference sight of packs of young white guys with know-it-all sneers, but corner one alone and they turn out to be decent people. Sneering white guy packs aside, there’s something closer to gender equilibrium here than any other tech conference I’ve ever been to. The web celebrity quotient is high, and its easy to see how years of SXSW attendance and reciprocal linking created the incestuous web/blog/social tech community that exists today.

Lastly, its really great that people really seem to be enjoying and thinking about Twitter. Wired says Twitter is ruling SXSW, and friends at the conference anecdotally agree. The site won a Web Award this evening, and Im thrilled for Jack and the guys who’ve been working on it since its inception. Its nice to be working on something that the community is so enthused over.