I was in Austin over the weekend for the SXSW Interactive 2009 conference and wanted to share some thoughts and observations with everyone.  This was my first time at this conference and I truly did not know what to expect going in.  My decision to go to the conference was pretty much last minute and I didn’t have enough time to prepare properly for the conference — other than watching an intro video “How to Rock SXSW” by Shama Hyder of Shama.tv.

Anyways, here are some of my observations:

  • I did not expect such a crowd at the conference – most of the sessions I attended were so full that some folks could not even get into the room.  Despite the volume of attendees, I thought the event was very well-organized and all the sessions were right on time.
  • Most of the sessions were interactive panels that are primarily intended to engage audience, cultivate conversations and spur new ideas – which is very different from other technical conferences.  It was all about getting a feel for the current status of social media and overall tech landscape, and figuring out what the future can hold — I am sure more than few aspiring entrepreneurs walked away with few more ideas in their head.
  • Overload of hashtags on Twitter — there were so many tweets with #sxsw hashtag that it made it impossible to search for any relevant content.  I guess that goes to show the prevalence of twitter and how many people are actually using it these days.
  • Response time on AT&T’s edge network left a lot to be desired — I had no service on my iPhone pretty much most of the time.  You can see people lining up against the glass windows of the building during breaks, hoping to catch a bar or two !  Thanks to the excellent Wi-Fi network setup by the conference organizers, I was able to use my iPhone for browsing and twittering from inside the convention center.

I attended several sessions and interactive panels – but the following three stood out for me in terms of the content and information they provided:

  • Future of social networksby Charlene Li.  Really liked the the delivery style of Charlene – very conversational and engaging.  She says social networks are like air and will permeate everything we do online AND offline.  According to her, the three things that are key to an ubiquitous social network are identity;who you are, contacts;who you know and activities;what you do.
  • Social networking in health, e-Patients, Data & Privacyhosted by John Grohol.  I got there 10 minutes late and I could not get in — the room was packed !  Discussions in this interactive panel focused on the role of social networks in health care and the implications on privacy of health data.  The audience were very engaged in the conversation and I heard a mix of optimistic and pessimistic views regarding the use of social networks in health care.  In spite of the hesitations expressed by some, it’s obvious that social networking is spreading deep into health care, which is evident by the number of tech start ups in this area.
  • How to fund a start up:Pitfalls & Opportunitieshosted by Jamie Rhodes and Chris Shonk.  An excellent interactive panel where the hosts shared quite a bit of useful information with the audience on this very popular and generic topic.  Jamie says an entrepreneur must question the need for funding at every step — a surprising advice coming from an angel investor !  Other tips included what to watch out for before signing a term sheet, how to handle investments from your friends and family, how not to dilute the coomon stock if at all possible and of course why bootstrapping is the best way to go for the first time entrepreneur !

Looking back, I now realize that I did not take full advantage of many aspects of the conference.  In the end though, I am glad I attended as I walked away with more knowledge, information and potentially more relationships.  I really enjoyed the experience, the interactive panels and most of all the interaction with people with similar interests. It’s been a truly positive and inspiring experience !

I am sure I will be back next year — only better prepared to take advantage of everything the conference has to offer !


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