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First Impressions at SxSW

This might be an odd title to a post about SxSW since the event has been going on for several days now and the "SxSW" tag is already at the top of the Technorati WTF buzz index.  But regardless, I just arrived today at the midpoint of the Interactive event at South by Southwest and it seems as though most everyone has been partying and networking for the past two days.  Coming in today feels a bit like jumping into a movie in the middle and trying to catch up.  Listening to the podcasts from the first day of the event on the plane ride over today was a good crash course on the vibe – particularly the How to Rawk at SxSW (right click to download) panel which features several folks who were veterans of the event offering tips for newbies on how to get the most out of the event.  And tips are sorely needed – as the conference guide for the Interactive event is 136 pages long and accompanied by the bag of magazines, CDs and newspapers – it offers a backbreaking experience for carting around.  No wonder the girls in the "Big Bag Room" were confused that I was ready to pick up the bag in the middle of the day.  Apparently that was my first amateur mistake as a newbie.

Sitting in Dan Rather’s keynote session, I witnessed a similar phenomena to what I had seen at several interactive or new media events that I had seen Al Gore speak at.  It seems as though highly influential individuals that have been treated as outcasts by established press corps and institutions come to events like SxSW as heroes.  Yet here is the difference between the two men: Al Gore is trying to reinvent cable news with Current TV.  Dan Rather, on the other hand, offered the simple message that it’s time for journalists to start doing their jobs again.  It’s a great message that I personally agree with (as I’ve written about before), but it seemed like the wrong message for the audience at SxSW.  I would venture a guess that the majority of people sitting in the audience had already given up on hoping journalists would find their backbone or ever get that "spine transplant" that Rather mentioned – and instead have decided to take the reins themselves.

The other thing that’s immediately clear when looking at the schedule is that the evening events are a lot more important than the day.  Tonight’s evening party schedule is packed with too many fun sounding things from the 20×2 event where 20 speakers explore the question "What if?" in 2 minutes each … to drinks with the folks from Lifehacker.  There’s no single party for everyone like at many other large industry events – just multiple events and everyone talking to everyone else about where they are heading.  The combination of Film and Interactive events happening concurrently is creating an interesting vibe at the event.  Video blogging here, as in the real world, is very hot.  Other sites getting lots of buzz here at SxSW are Twitter, Upcoming and SxSWBaby.

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