photo of the Interactive Playpen (aka huge pile of LEGO blocks) at SXSW Interactive 2006. The Interactive Playpen was something Ryan Gantz and I schemed with festival director Hugh Forrest that has happened at the fest since 2006
Here’s another one of those mega deluxe understatements of the year: I’m really excited about heading down to Austin in a few days for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. This will be my 10th year. I missed it in 2009 so I’m *extra* excited about making it this year. This time around I planned early and grabbed a two-bedroom suite at The Residence Inn, also known as The SoozSuite and I’ll be sharing it with a group of friends. @AlWillis who is traveling to Austin for his first SXSW Interactive asked if I had any advice. Basically, all you need to know is you are going to have one of the best week’s of your life — and then you’ll do it all over again next year.
It’s certainly not the same as ten years ago. “Back then” — it was a smaller group of people and we all pretty much knew each other. Now it takes a little more effort to make sure I see people I often only get to see once a year; but it’s still awesome. A-W-E-S-O-M-E.
Maybe it’s the fact that we’re all there for five days together immersed in the festival — reconnecting, learning new stuff, having fun. It’s a safe place for people who live in the future to gather together. And being able to get away from cold, rainy Boston for a few days is nice, too!
This year I helped out again on the advisory board and reviewed 150 web design + programming panels. It’s become cliche to say at most conferences all the “great stuff” happens in the hallways between panels; but I think the crew at the festival does a fantastic job of rounding up good panel content, too. Getting attendees involved in the “PanelPicker” process and then including the advisory board and festival staff gives everyone with an interesting idea a chance to be part of the conference programming.
And then there’s Hugh Forrest — SXSW Interactive’s festival director. He’s an amazing guy who SXSW is very, very lucky to have on their team. Ryan Gantz and I were talking several years ago about doing something with games at SXSW Interactive and we came up with the idea to convince LEGO to give us a bunch of their little blocks. Hugh swooped in, made some calls and the next thing we know, there are literally thousands of LEGO blocks at the next festival on the floor in a corner of the conference hallway — aka the Interactive Playpen. A highlight of the Interactive Playpen was seeing Will Wright (inventor of The Sims) sitting on the floor making a LEGO creation. And yes, the Interactive Playpen will be back this year! View lots of fun photos from past Interactive Playpens on Flickr.
In 2005 I wrote that “South by Southwest Interactive is the best tech/web event to go for learning, recharging and lots of fun.” That’s still true. SXSW Interactive is the place to be if you love what you do for work or labor of love on the web.
And speaking of old stuff I’ve written about SXSW, here’s something I wrote in 2001 about Independents Day at SXSW, a project I worked on with Carole Guevin and Jeffrey Zeldman. It was my first panel I moderated at the festival and included panelists Evan Williams, Dori Smith, Nick Finck and Kelly Abbott.
On a sad note, this year Brad Graham won’t be there. He passed away recently. I was going to tell him that I was so excited to finally make it down to Austin early enough that I could attend his “Break Bread With Brad” dinner that he hosted every year. Thanks to his friend Matt Haughey, the dinner lives on as “Break Bread For Brad” on Friday, March 12th at The Mowhawk.
The best “advice” I have for someone who is attending SXSW Interactive for the first time is to take your vitamins, get rest when you can and don’t feel like you have to do everything. There’s a lot of awesomeness that you’ll stumble into during the five days. Oh, yeah — and check out SXSW Baby!, a great website to learn about what’s going on and get tips on where to eat and what to do.
See you in Austin, March 12-16th!