SxSW 2007

Wow, what shall I say?

SxSW 2007 was awesome, but also just the tiniest bit intimidating. Why intimidating? Because it was so HUGE. I expected it to be larger than @media, but I didn't expect it to be nearly eight times as large, and the fact that it was has hampered my efficiency a bit. I haven't talked to nearly half the people I wanted to talk to (sorry, guys), because I kept saying "OK, I'll have to rush now; catch you later", but when later came around I couldn't catch them because they were at another party, or maybe at their hotel, or whatever.

Fortunately I did manage to talk to a good many people, and as usual the conversations ranged from useful to awesome. I saw less presentations than I planned, but that was OK because I'd been warned in advance that the parties were the most important places to be in any case. (I have more to say on the subject of parties and what's wrong with them, but that will form a separate QuirksBlog entry.)

Some random memories:

Hanging out with the locals

Having one lunch and two dinners with local guys and gals from Austin. Unfortunately here, too, the sheer size of the conference boggled my mind. I met Andrew Dupont, Alex Jones, and Ryan Joy repeatedly during the proceedings, but unfortunately I hardly saw any of the other Austinians (correct?), most notably Paul Menard and Marla Erwin, both of who were kind enough to organise dinner and lunch respectively for a poor stranded European.

BTW: Some people ask me: "Don't you get anything back for maintaining QuirksMode?". Apart from the fact that most of my clients find me through my site, what I like to get back most is this sort of invitations. I just write an entry, and all sorts of people will hurry to organise stuff for me. I mean, that's great, and it's what I need most when I'm in an unknown city in a country I never visited before.

Austin

Austin itself. Wonderful! This was my first ever visit to the US, and everybody agreed I couldn't have picked a better spot to start my American adventures, which, I believe, aren't over yet. It's an American city, sure, but it has a bit of Europeanness, too, because everything downtown is within walking distance. The only thing I didn't understand was the locals complaining about the traffic; as far as I'm concerned it was pretty light, moving up all the way to medium light during rush hour. It's incomparable to European cities, though.

I was pleased to notice the wide choice in beers Austin offered (and no, Amsterdam does not offer nearly as wide a choice, as I explained to several parties of baffled Americans). The Ginger Man has definitely become my favourite Austin spot, not only for its beers but also because smoking is allowed in the back yard.

Presentations

I visited only a few presentations. Andy's and Jeremy's How to Bluff your Way in Web 2.0 was as funny as I expected, and a few hours later I wandered in on some product pitch or another, and the creators had definitely paid attention to the Web 2.0 thing: an incomprehensible name, soothing pastel colours, something with social stuff, it was all there.

Jonathan Boutelle's Ajax vs. Flash presentation was very interesting, too, not least because Jonathan pointed at a Big Divide similar to mine: the one between Ajax and Flash developers, who don't seem to want to learn from each other.

Brian Fling's presentation on creating sites for mobile devices was also very good; I wrote a separate entry about an idea I had during this presentation.

Will Wright's keynote speech was awesome, especially his sneak preview of the upcoming Spore game (I want it!)

The few hours before my presentation I spent in companionable nervousness with Andy Clarke after we made a tactical retreat to the smoking balcony at about the same time. To me it was good to see that even a speaker as accomplished as Andy can be nervous beforehand. It helped me retain a grip on my own nerves.

My own presentation, re-named "JavaScript: the Big Divide" at the last moment, went well, as far as I can tell. I stumbled only once or twice, the audience laughed when I wanted it to, and even when I hadn't planned for a laugh, and the message came across really well. I talked to several people afterwards, and although not all agreed with my theory, every one of them has started thinking about what I said. What more can I ask?

It was my first solo presentation. Before coming to Austin, I knew I can speak to large groups, speak English, and say something interesting to my peers, but I'd never yet done these three things simultaneously, without other panelists to fall back on as at @media 2006. Now I know that I can do it, even though I still have to practice a lot to become a really smooth speaker. I like it, though, and I hope I'll be able to announce several more speaking gigs in the next few months.

Language

As always when I'm in the UK or the US, I'm very aware that I'm not a native speaker of English, and that I haven't even lived in an English-speaking country for an extended period of time, as many other Europeans have done. I can get along pretty well, and I've never encountered any real problems, but it continues to bug me a little bit.

Speaking English is just not the same as writing it; when I write I'm sitting in front of my computer and can stop to pause and think when I need it. When speaking that's not really possible.

The real problem this time was not English per se, but a mistake in my preparations. Beforehand, I'd asked SxSW to put my presentation on Monday or Tuesday. The idea was to use the first days of my stay to get used to speaking English once more; if I'd held my presentation on one of the first days, my speaking wouldn't have reached its peak yet. That was the idea, anyway.

Unfortunately two things went slightly wrong:

  1. I hadn't counted on becoming very tired and suffering a decline in my English speaking as a result.
  2. Sunday night I had dinner with Kenneth Himschoot from Belgium. Although our conversation was fascinating for reasons I'll discuss later, we talked Dutch all the time, and that turned out not to be the greatest of ideas, since it threw my mind off track and I had a bit of difficulty switching back to English on Monday morning.

I know that my English was definitely good enough to get by, but there's a difference between speaking fair English for a foreigner and true fluency, and I want to overcome that difference. That'll have to wait for @media 2007 London, though.

Maybe I worry too much, though.

Conclusion

All in all SxSW 2007 was an awesome experience, but also a bit daunting. In any case I'm planning to get back next year, but if the conference again doubles in size (as it seems to have done this year relative to 2006), I'm not totally sure if I'll return in 2009, too. I mean, there must be some upper limit for a good web conference, and I kind of feel this limit has already been reached this year, if not last.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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1 Posted by Ben on 17 March 2007 | Permalink

The traffic isn't bad in the city's center. It's the highways that surround Austin that let the locals get into the center of the city from where most of them (eg, me) live that's terrible. 30 minutes to travel 5 miles, etc etc.

And yes, The Gingerman is pure goodness. ;)

2 Posted by Sean on 17 March 2007 | Permalink

I enjoyed meeting you at the book signing. Thanks for the feedback on Dutch and European universities.

And yes, SXSW is somewhat overwhelming even for locals like me.

3 Posted by Reinier Meenhorst on 18 March 2007 | Permalink

Thanks for sharing your slides - here's to hoping we'll solve this before your presentation in 2011.

So, if we run in each other at @media, I'd better stick to English(?)

4 Posted by Jonathan Snook on 18 March 2007 | Permalink

I enjoyed getting the opportunity to meet you in person and for what it's worth, your English is quite good.

5 Posted by Scott Fegette on 18 March 2007 | Permalink

Great to finally meet you in person in Austin, PPK! And I'm in full agreement with Jonathan, your mastery of spoken English is very good. Light years better than my Dutch, that's for sure. :)

6 Posted by Dimitri Glazkov on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

It was good meeting you, PPK. I am still hoping the story when PPK, Derek Featherstone, some other guy and myself got mugged by a directory of a funeral home will somehow make it to the headlines.

7 Posted by Paul Menard on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

PPK, great to meet you and enjoyed our drinks together. Sorry we didn't run into each other during the SXSWi sessions. I remember seeing you from across the foot traffic but didn't have a chance to stop and talk. I did really enjoy your presentation. Hope you make it make next year.

Paul Menard

8 Posted by Grant Hutchins on 22 March 2007 | Permalink

It was great meeting with you and talking about everything from American History to differences between American and European beers. Hope that the books you found are interesting.

By the way, people here are called "Austinites" (as opposed to "Bostonian" for that bigger US city that rhymes with Austin).