SxSW 2007 was awesome, but also just the tiniest bit intimidating. Why intimidating? Because it was so HUGE. I have fond memories of Austin, the local people, and a few presentations, though.">
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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