Jim Long - Digital Media and Culture

Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary – No Breakout Platforms But SXSW ’11 Still Worth the Trip



Fresh off a trip with the Secretary of Defense, with stops in Afghanistan, Germany, Belgium and Bahrain,  I had just arrived home early on the morning of March 13th, in time to do some laundry, nap for about an hour, then make my flight to Austin.  While disappointed that I had not been able to attend the first half of SXSW, I had high hopes for the remaining days of the now hugely popular conference.

This was my second tour of South by Southwest Interactive and what I have come to see is a conference whose popularity -the official tally from conference organizers puts event attendance at nearly 20,000 – has engulfed some of its usefulness and value.  If you go as an individual, you really have to be strategic with your time there to make it worthwhile, by my estimation.

It’s important here to note here this is “by my estimation”.  Your results may have been vastly different than mine.  Perhaps if I hadn’t parachuted in mid-conference coming off a grueling overseas work trip, or if I had avoided the lure of the social gatherings and gone head down into some serious panel attendance, my takeaways would’ve been different.  Still, I think to derive value from panels and keynotes you really should fan out in teams and arrive very early.  Much of the panel content is duplicative and some panels simply aren’t that good.  But there were some quality panels and keynotes, and Patrick Ruffini of Engage communications has outlined four of his favorites here.

Face to Face – It’s the People That Make the Conference


power to the people

The real, measurable value of these conferences is spending time meeting people face to face.  Frankly, you could do that without buying a pass to the conference.

While some of the parties and lounges require a badge, you can meet people and do business simply by roaming the lobby of the Hilton or Driskill, or on the main floor of the convention hall.  You can always catch the keynotes later.

With all of this ambient intimacy allowing us to keep tabs one one another – defying time and space – it’s no substitute for a handshake or a hug.  I had the opportunity to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in years.  These meetings produced measurable value professionally, in terms of projects/plans I have in the pipeline, and at a personal level it was lovely to spend time with the folks who mean a lot to me. This is what made the trip worth it for me.

I want to especially thank ardent globetrotters Melissa and A.J. Leon along with Justin Levy, Lisa Horner and the rest of the Citrix Online folks for making me feel welcome in Austin.  I also want to send a HUGE shout out to NBC News Director of Social Media, Ryan Osborn.  Ryan and I attended social events and sessions together and it was great to mindshare with a very smart member of team NBC.

There were alot of wonderful, memorable moments for me this year.  I’ve collected some of them on my Flickr page.

No Breakout Platforms This Year

This was no coming out party for any shiny new technology like there has been for services like Twitter and Foursquare in years past.  Venerable Silicon Valley blogger Louis Gray proclaimed Hashable and Foursquare “winners” of this years confab, but other than that, there weren’t any real standouts. Like the title of this post implies, all of these platforms are evolving, and more emphasis is being placed on how people are using these tools – sometimes with wrenching geopolitical implications.  If nothing else, this demonstrates the maturity of mobile, social and location based technologies.  These thoughts are echoed in a post by IBM’s Todd Watson, also a SXSW attendee this year.

For so much of the past 10-15 years, we’ve been so enamored with the technology itself. But more recently, we’ve begun to take much more notice of what the technology can do to empower humanity and human relationships, in often profound and game-changing ways: the Green revolution in Iran, the Haiti earthquake, the Chilean mine, the recent quake/tsunami in Japan… – Todd Watson, IBM

Watson adds that all of this technology is forcing organizational change upon institutions.  Unable to keep up with the “speed of the network” governments, businesses and other command and control institutions are increasingly being outpaced by networked individuals.  This is an compelling trend that bears watching.  I’m interested in reading As One by Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley.  In it, the authors outline many different types of organizational structures that work toward successful, unified goals.  Not the stuff of SXSW party buses, but it looks like a worthwhile read.

The Promise of Web Video at SXSW

I live, eat and breathe video.  I’m invigorated by the fact that production, distribution and monetization of video is now within the reach of anyone.  A scant few years ago this was the sole realm of broadcast and cable giants. But as with many institutions, the internet has leveled the playing field.  I see great opportunity here and am fascinated by the idea of launching a internet TV network.  In one of the more energizing conversations I attended at SXSW, IAC chairman Barry Diller described how this internet “miracle” is disrupting broadcast and cable TV dominance.

“Here you have this classic thing… You have a group of people, they’re on the train tracks. The train is five miles away. It used to be 10 miles away. In a year or two it’s going to be a mile away, and they’ll still have their hands out.” – Barry Diller, SXSW 2011

He appeared to be quite bullish on the future of internet television and believes it will be ubiquitous within three years.  More on his talk here.

Quietly, web video companies are doing something very de classe in the tech world.  Many of them are making money instead of just taking money.  Call me old fashioned, but I like that. In back-to-back “lightning round” sessions, companies like Howcast and Revision3 touted video ad CPM’s of $9, $15 and even $35.  More impressive is the potential for growth in online video.  Revision3 Chief Revenue Officer Brad Murphy shared these encouraging projections: (source: eMarketer)

  • 2011 – 68% of US internet users will be watching online video at least once a month
  • 2015 – 76% will be watching online video regularly
  • 2010 – Marketers spent $1.5 billion in online video (up 48% from 2009)
  • 2014 – Expected to grow to $5.7 billion

I sense great opportunity here and was inspired by these sessions.  One big disappointment for me this year was that I didn’t get a chance to meet Revision3 CEO Jim Louderback.  It’s impossible at something this big to see everyone you would like to, so hopefully our paths will cross soon.


Will You Go Next Year?

It’s funny, looking back on my “speed of the network” post from 2008, I have to laugh.  Once again, here I was heading to Austin on the heels of an overseas trip that required the use of body armor.  My day job puts a lot of demands on my personal life, and this makes getting to SXSW challenging.  That holds true for many of us, so we hope for a return on our investment of time, energy and money.  There have been grumblings about the quality of the event itself lately.  In a piece for the Statesman.com, technology writer Omar L. Gallaga proposes Five ways to fix SXSW Interactive. (strange title because he has enumerated ten suggestions)

I would’ve posted this recap sooner, but as soon as I got back from Austin, it was off to South America covering the President’s visit. So in the leadup to the upcoming SXSW, I want to spend more time planning on how best to spend my time there.  I think I’ll go back next year.  I’ve got a line on a condo just two blocks away, so at least that part is taken care of.  I’d say this SXSW was worth the trip, but as I noted to someone, I didn’t “love” it, I “liked it a lot”.  So what are your thoughts?  Did you go this year?  How was your experience? Would you go again?  Did you find it worthwhile? Leave comments below!



  • http://toddrjordan.com/thebroadbrush tojosan

    First comment! Ha.

    For me, connecting and reconnecting was the most valuable part of SxSW. Others might have gleaned much from panels but I managed to sit only through one full session. Best time spent was in the bloggers lounge, or Chevy recharge lounge, or over food/drinks.

    How was this experience vs my first of two years ago? Better. This time I managed to chat with Justin Levy, the social media folks from Pepsi, and folks like you. Hugs rocked.

    Will I go back?! Great question. If I go back, I want to be better prepared. My best advice – have something to share. Lots of folks went with the intent to tout their product, company, or app. Most of them didn’t prepare well.

    These folks didn’t prep by way of connecting ahead of the conference. Likewise their product wasn’t usable in a few minutes notice. I didn’t want to watch them play with it; let me get my hands on it and give it a spin.

    lIkewise. If I wanted to make a real connection with Justin Levy for example, i’d have taken time to work on connecting on Twitter, his blog, and possibly email him. THis would have given us a basis for conversation.

    SxSW isn’t a magic bullet; it does provide a boost if you’re prepared to catch it.

    /rant off
    Shucks yes I want to go again. Next time I want a sponsor or three though. Make it more affordable and fun I think.

    Todd, @tojosan

    • newmediajim

      Todd, you’ve distilled my post into one cogent sentence :) GREAT seeing you there! Also you make a very good point about preparation. or “pre-game” as Rachel Sklar calls it.

  • http://twitter.com/rozzy Ryan Osborn

    Hey Jim,

    Just wanted to say thanks for the shoutout.

    It was great to catch up.

    I’m amazed by all your travel and your ability to multi-task on a lot of different fronts.

    Hope we can do it again next year.


    • newmediajim

      Definitely hope to hang with you more next year or in NYC sooner! Although Ryan, I do call in to question my ability to mutli-task on many fronts. This past month has challenged that. 😉

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  • http://www.stealthmode.com hardaway

    I didn’t buy a badge this year, and went only to see friends and have meetings. I thought it was worth it, but not exciting at all. These conferences have a way of outgrowing themselves:-) I missed a lot of people I really love this year, including you.

    • http://www.gadgetx.com AnthonyGadgetX

      You know, as I looked at the little SXSW App & saw that of all the panels of interest I’d tagged, and having only attended maybe 7, that the badge is not really all that important. Its not like the conf needs the financial support of buying-in, I might attend next year sans badge myself.

    • newmediajim

      Francine I’m sorry I missed you too! Interesting that you didn’t buy a badge. I have a feeling there may be more of that next year.

  • http://www.gadgetx.com AnthonyGadgetX

    Great photos & recap Jim, fills me in on some of what I’m sure are many things that I missed. This was my first SXSW, and having only my CES experiences to draw from, I was completely blown away by the near infinite possibilities for making new connections. The mini social graph of around 50 new @anthonygadgetx twitter connections began paying dividends even before the conference ended. I’m a mobile chip architecture guy, and watching/experiencing how smartphones & Apps are being used in this concentrated social lab was fascinating. I’ve already begun drafting patents in the areas of battery use & near-field social networking, among others. More than the directly professional interest, the personal relationships forged made the trip a very special one that I will definitely will repeat. Some pics from my slice of sxsw here:

    • newmediajim

      Anthony, i’m excited about the work your doing! (especially the near field stuff) I’m glad you made so many connections and wish you well in all that your doing. very cool stuff! :)

  • Lisa Horner

    Great assessment Jim. It was truly lovely seeing you in Austin and spending some quality time catching up – it made my trip. Looking forward to some fun projects in the future, and of course seeing you soon for dinner!

    • newmediajim

      Let’s plan on that Lisa!! think I need to make trip to Santa Barbara.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidBaeza David Baeza

    Great seeing you at sxsw Jim. Wish we’d had more time together. Travel safe and i’ll see you soon.

  • http://ajleon.me ajleon

    I know I’m way late here! Thank you for the shout, Jim. Hanging with you (as always) was one of the highlights on the conf. Can’t wait to hang at the next one! :)

    • newmediajim

      I’m charging you a late fee AJ 😉

      • http://ajleon.me ajleon


  • http://www.indiebusinessblog.com Donna Maria Coles Johnson

    Curious: are you planning to start your own Internet TV network? After a former weather reporter here (in Charlotte) was laid off, she contracted with some of the crew to do the weather from her home. Now, it streams to the local affiliate’s website. Pretty clever!

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