South By SouthWest Prep!

In less than two weeks it’ll be time for South by SouthWest Interactive, and I’m starting to get excited about the trip. I wrote a bit about the experience as a first-year attendee, finding the festival incredibly inspiring and invigorating. It’s not often that you suddenly find yourself in the midst of 4000 people who are excited by the same things as yourself.

This year I’m hoping to better manage my time at the event. I’ve booked a hotel closer to the event itself (The Radisson, 6 blocks from the convention center), which should make a big difference. I’ve gotten those Moo cards printed to hand out to people, and I’ll have my regular cards too. Much of my challenge, though, will be meeting people.

Meeting People

I find it difficult to approach people for “no reason”, though as soon as I typed that it hit me that the entire reason for going to an event like this is to approach people. I’m getting a stomach ache just thinking about it. I have 10 days to crack this nut.

I’m hoping to find some more intimate venues than the louder parties to get to know some people. I also will make an effort to talk to people AT the panels. I kept largely to myself last year, the one exception being a chance conversation with a pleasant person named Ayse, who as it turned out was the moderator of the panel I was attending. I want more of those encounters.

One hangup I have is that I often don’t know what to say to people I really admire. I probably don’t need to worry about that…last year I got a little tongue tied around people, but this year I’m going to focus on just delivering my two cents, expressing my admiration, and then getting away. If conversation ensues, that’s great! If not, the followup course of action is to start doing things that are themselves worthy of attention. If you want to begin a meaningful relationship with people you admire, it helps if you’re doing something that they admire in return. That’s my theory, anyway!

Finding People

One big problem I had last year was coordinating meetups with people, because panels would end later or earlier, and the cool people you run into randomly tend to create a very fluid social structure. Say you were planning on having lunch with some friends after the last morning panel, only to discover that their panel(s) got out earlier, and they met up with someone, waited, and then decided to go somewhere else. Good luck finding them. I eventually gave up and just let myself wander from place to place, with whatever group I happened to end up with.

One interesting thing I’ve finally discovered is that your “social currency” starts to build up the moment your face is seen. It works in church, clubs, and in school. Eventually you are recognized as someone who’s been “around” and the boundaries between you and the group start to dissolve. At last year’s SXSW, I was fortunate to be with Erik Sagen and Eric Shepherd, and on the first day meet with people like Carl Camera, who then became a sort of point of reference for me. I don’t know what it is about Carl—maybe it is his exceptionally genial demeanor—but just being able to recognize someone I had just met recently and nod in recognition was rather reassuring.

Knowing Who People Are

I met lots of people who I probably should have recognized. I caused many a mouth to gape in astonishment when I say things like “Who is Eric Meyer?” and “What are microformats?” On the other hand, my web developer friends would nod politely when I mentioned being excited about seeing people like Kathy Sierra, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Jory Des Jardins speak passionately about what they loved and loved to do. I guess I discovered, entirely by accident, that I was more of a content guy than I thought, and that to me content was about creating the seeds of community.

I have to go back through my notes from last year, but there are a ton of people I became aware of last year that I want to know more about. Do I need to start a dossier? At the very least I can compile a list of the people I met last year (I still have a stack of cards), and use the Internet to scan for people who wrote about meeting me. One thing that works against me, though, is that I haven’t been reading much of the rest of the blogosphere, so I’m as out of touch with the state of the Internet as I was last year.

Remembering People

I am bad with names, but am getting a little better at remembering people. One thing I have going this year is that I actually will recognize more names in web development because I’ve started paying attention. I may have to be more aggressive with my camera this year (fortunately, the new one is much smaller) so I can remember faces.

Getting Around Town

The part of Austin around the convention center is pretty walkable, and if the weather is nice I’m looking forward to walking around and getting a better sense of the lay of the land. I may take pictures of all the establishments where the parties are so I can make a custom map for next year. I do so love a good map.

Who Else is Going?

The events I know I’m going to so far are the Avalonstar Bowling Extravaganza and the South by Northwest party. I might check out the Lifehacker/GawkerMedia party too, since there’s a good chance there will be lots of productivity nerds like me there.

I’m flying in on Thursday afternoon, so I’ll have time to settle into the festival. If there are readers of this blog out there who are going to SXSW, I’d love to get a chance to meet up and chat.