Friday SXSW Kickoff
Though it’s not really even a full festival day, I found it plenty exhausting. At first I was wondering if my natural hermit-like tendencies would win out…I spent way too much time in my hotel room this morning. To my relief, I ran into several people who I knew, or knew me from last year.
The genial Peter Flaschner was in the line behind me for registration. Peter’s blog, particularly the tone of his open-hearted writing, was one of my early inspirations to “find my voice” because I thought him to be a kindred spirit who’s a few miles ahead on the same journey of self-actualization.
James Archer and what seemed to be the entire 40Media Team were registering at the same time, and I am embarassed that I didn’t recognize Dan Ritzenthaler as a fellow 9er. We didn’t really get a chance to chat…I had about enough time to note that 40Media is a very TALL company. I guess it’s got something to do with the Phoenix air.
A pleasant surprise was meeting Matt Bob Jones, who was one of the first people to adopt the Printable CEO™ and write up his experiences with it. It was a pleasure to meet him; he founded the Random Shapes blog network for Teens. He was with the 40Media guys, since they’re all from the same part of Arizona.
While Matt Bob and I were waiting around for the 40Media guys to finish and pursue food, we got shooed away from the area by SXSW staffers who were ordered to “keep the area clear”. We ended up in the Schwag Pickup room, and I ran into Jakob Heuser who I met last year. We ran into another guy and started talking randomly…unfortunately I didn’t get his card, but we all went to have lunch at Iron Cactus. Peter had rejoined our crew by this point, and while we were at the restaurant he showed me the awesome task workflow index cards he’s made. There’s something, we agreed, about having workflow focused on these cards that is very powerful. Peter made the comment that it reduces the need to think so much about how to do things, because the thinking has already been done. Yes!
After lunch I was thinking of going back to the hotel and taking a nap, but Jakob convinced me that sleeping was just a loss of opportunity. We went to check out the Lego Pile, where people sit and make things. Faced with the giant pile of lego bricks, I started to build something, but then something weird happened and I just started sorting the pile, to collect similar elements in similar piles. This says something about me. There was a guy there, Ryan Caraway, who was a native from Texas. So I naturally asked him if there was a regional breakfast that I could enjoy, and he filled me in on the nature of “breakfast tacos”. While we were chatting, a fellow named Mark Nikolewski introduced himself to me, having been referred to me by Baba Shetty in Boston. Mark used to live in Austin, so between Ryan and him I got a nice list of restaurants to try. Ryan had a very cool card, I thought, which was made last-minute out of some manila folders and his wife’s scrapbooking corner rounder on two opposite corners. The result, I thought, was an aesthetically-pleasing, stylish, and resourceful use of materials. The manila folder cardstock + black ink really worked for me. It reminded me of some kind of punchcard or ticket in feel which I loved…yeah, I’m a freak :-)
It was time to check out the How to Rawk SXSW panel at 5PM, which was a high-spirited and ocassionally naughty primer on how to maximize your SXSW experience. I liked it for how it set the tone for the festival, and I learned about a few web services that I had not really been following. The advice I took away from the panel was that networking is as easy as walking up to someone and introducing myself, which I applied later in the evening for the first time.
After the panel, I headed over to the New England Dinner Meet, where I met up with Ian, Kelly, and Mannix Muir from Manchester NH, a couple of other people from Hatchling, Marc Dole (CEO) and Zachary Pike. They have their short animation The Toll in the SXSW Film Festival; it’s showing at Alamo Lamar 1 on Sunday, 2PM thiscoming Thursday. I also re-met Shimon Rura, who is a softspoken but highly-enterprising community oriented geek out of Boston. He’s one of the Barcamp Boston organizers, though I didn’t remember this until later. I also met Rob Landry, who runs a web design shop out of Portland, Maine. AND, he plays bass in a blues band. That is awesome. Finally, a fellow by the name of Dave Reaves, also from the Cambridge area, joined us toward the end. All in all, a pretty pleasant dinner.
After warming up with the New England dinner, I steeled myself for my first actual party, the BlogHer Meetup. I’m a big fan of BlogHer, because I love their theme of empowerment and community. It’s becoming quite a large and varied organization, and there are subtleties that I am probably failing to grasp. I was planning on taking the public bus, but after waiting 10 minutes I thought that maybe it would be faster just to get off my ass and move. I walked for 15 minutes down S 1st St from Riverdrive to Freddy’s Place. It was not a bad walk, and it was a good way to burn some calories. And also it gave me time to psych myself up.
I’m not a natural networker, and the idea of walking into a crowded restaurant filled with people I don’t know who is kind of the nightmare scenario. It’s a little different when you’re actually in the convention center, because everyone there is a little more open and accessible. I hate busting in on people’s conversations, but I wended my way outside until I came upon a group of people wearing SXSW badges. And Lo, I had happened to stumble upon the very table that Jory Des Jardins was sitting at. At that point, I think I turned like 7 years old and gushed something I don’t remember (I think I said, “I’m a big fan!”) and then got a chair. In a way I’m sort of happy that I can still be such a fanboy. I struck up a conversation with the fellow next to me, whose name I have unfortunately spaced. I had a pretty fascinating discussion with him, nice guy. Sitting next to him was his fiance, badge-labeled for easy memorization: Betsy Aoki, who was the community manager in charge of the blogs at Microsoft (“the blog queen”). She had some interesting observations about “corporate rules” for asian americans, particularly ones who had grown up with different values than the ones that work at the executive level. She highly recommended looking into an executive program for journalists offered by an asian american association of some kind…I forget the name.
Then I got to meet Elizabeth Camahort, who remembered me from that post I wrote last SXSW when I was really impressed and moved by Virginia DeBolt and her story. Elizabeth will be doing Sunday’s Open Source – Tell Me Why I Should care panel, which I wasn’t planning on going to but after hearing her talk about it I am intrigued.
I also got to meet Lisa Stone, who I promptly mixed up with Tara Hunt and Citizen Agency. By this time, I was starting to get the impression that maybe I was sitting at a table that was bursting with A-List bloggers, and what the hell was I thinking being there? But there’s an interesting lesson here…these people are where they are in the community because they are at heart community builders, and they do this by reaching out to everyone and finding some kind of connection, then building upon it. I think that’s part of the attraction I feel to the BlogHer organization, and the people who I’ve seen speak, write, and act on its behalf have impressed me greatly with their authenticity and thought transparency and their realness. They are excellent role models for community leadership, though there are challenges in maintaining the spirit of any diverse organization; apparently, there is a meme going around that BlogHer does not welcome men, but this is not the case at all: BlogHer welcomes everyone. So where does this come from, and why do these negative memes emerge in the first place? It’s an organizational mystery, one that is common in any group of people 5 and up. And yes, I just totally pulled that number out of my gut. It’s enough people to form more than two competing ideas, and it’s enough people to create a majority, but it’s the wrong number to create equilibrium in the decision making process. But I digress…it takes strong and consistent moral leadership—and by morals, I just mean having an articulated opinion regarding which values are the important ones to live by—to create an organization like BlogHer. Ensuring that this message reaches into every nook and cranny so it creates a resonance within the community itself…that’s a different challenge. I’m not sure what the solution is. I once asked my Dad about how he felt about people in the Church who did not follow the ideals, and he said that he doesn’t let that not see the good that the organization can accomplish; he works with it as much as he can. Dad’s a long-time ordained minister, missionary, and the former president of a successful theological seminary, so I think he’d have a good angle on this. The answer did surprise me; I don’t think I could have suffered through it…MEAN PEOPLE, YOU MAY LEAVE THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY.
Incidentally, if you’re in NYC, you should know that they’re running BlogHer Business 2007 on March 22nd and 23rd. The program looks pretty cool, especially if you’re interested in using blogs for business purposes. Plus, think of all the awesome people you’ll meet! Totally, totally inspiring stuff.
I did get up and walk to another group of people, looking to “break into” a conversation and introduce myself all around. It didn’t quite work as planned, but it was a good experience. I will get the hang of this yet. While I was in the parking lot waiting for my cab, an elderly guy came up to me and started talking about tachometers and automatic transmissions. He might have been slightly sauced, but I had a polite conversation with him before ambled off. Maybe he was just being friendly…is it a Texas thing to talk to strangers in a parking lot? I wished him a good evening as he ambled away, because it was.
Tomorrow the festival starts for real…I better get some sleep.