When SXSW 2012 registration opened a few days ago (July 30th), I was asked, “Does SXSW ever sell out?”. My answer was, “No, but the hotels do”.
The first year I attended SXSWi I decided to go at the last minute. The biggest challenge was finding a hotel room even remotely close to the Convention Center. I ended up at the La Quinta Inn Oltorf (1603 East Oltorf Street) which was about 2.5 miles from the convention center. While I had an incredible amount of fun, my week involved a lot of late night cab rides and I missed any sort of morning panels. After that I vowed never to stay that far away again. It’s like camping in the outer streets of Black Rock City when all the action is on the Esplanade
I heard rumors a few days ago that hotels near the Austin Convention Center were already sold out for the Interactive portion of SXSW. Today I checked on SXSW’s Hotel Availability page and sure enough everything close to the ACC is sold out for the Interactive portion of SXSW. If you’re going for just music, most hotels are still available, but for SXSWi the closest hotel available through the SXSW Housing Desk is “La Quinta – South”, 3.9 miles from the Convention Center. I imagine it won’t be long before all those rooms are gone too.
The highly coveted hotels are anything within walking distance of the Austin Convention Center. The Hilton is probably the most sought after place to crash with it’s proximity and tendency for late night lobby parties like the Revolving Door Party and the Backstroke Competition. Other popular hotels are the Courtyard Mariott/Residence Inn, the Driskell, and the W Hotel. Ever year I’ve found myself visiting friends or hitting the bar at these hotels.
If you’re like me, your first thought is probably, “Why not just book a room for 2014 right now?” The problem is SXSW blocks off rooms in all the nearby hotels and then only provides them to SXSW badge holders. There are two ways to get a badge, you either buy one or you’re given one for presenting a panel. In order to book a hotel room in one of the blocks that SXSW has held, you are required to have a badge. But this causes another problem, registration (for badges and hotels) opens well before panels are accepted. For SXSW 2012 I didn’t know whether my panel was accepted until December. There are hotel rooms held for presenters, but there is the risk that your panel is not accepted, and then you’re stuck in December and everything is sold out. Not a risk I’m willing to take.
SXSW Interactive is getting bigger and bigger every year. In 2010 (the first year Interactive was bigger than Music) there were 12-13,000 attendees. The next year, 2011, an estimated 20,000 people invaded Austin for the Interactive festival. Despite the rain this year, that number jumped up to 25,000 people. If this trend continues, we may see over 30,000 people this year and more people sharing beds out of necessity rather than a result of drunken hook-ups after the company party.
This was my third year at SXSW and I feel like I’ve really gotten the hang of it. Here are my notes from this year accompanied by some photos and videos. (All of my photos and videos are over on Flickr)
Running a Panel: Last year I led the Core Conversation “How To Not Be A Douchebag at SXSW” with Violet Blue and John Adams. This year I resubmitted the idea and SXSW decided it should be a panel. So along with John Adams, Scott Beale of Laughing Squid, and Amber Osborne (aka Miss Destructo) we taught a packed room of mostly first-timers how they can avoid being a douchebag at SXSW. Overall it received a very positive reception, and I didn’t see too many people sneaking out of the “at capacity” room.
Attending Panels: Once again I didn’t make it to too many panels this year. I’ll be honest, part of the reason was the late nights out with old and new friends. Getting up and out of the hotel before noon was a bit difficult most days. The time zone change and the Daylight Saving change didn’t help. As such I missed quite a few early morning panels that I really wish I could have made it too. One other hurdle for making it to panels was that they were so spread out. I didn’t attend any panels that weren’t in the Convention Center or the Hilton. I understand the want to have more panels available to the steadily growing SXSW Interactive crowd, but I was sad to miss a number of friends’ panels just because they were scattered or double-booked. I quickly stopped even bothering to look at venues other than ACC/Hilton when I wanted to go to one. I don’t have a solution, this is just my experience and the similar sentiments I heard from others.
Hotel: My first time at SXSW I stayed at La Quinta Inn Oltorf because I decided to go at the last minute and all the other hotels were booked. That was terrible, don’t do that. Last year and this year I split a room with friends (@violetblue, @dotben and @ekai) at the Hilton, which was awesome. Splitting the room four ways (two beds and a roll away bed) made the room more affordable as well as more fun. This Hilton is also right next to the Convention Center and also has panels in its own building. Definitely the most convenient place to stay in my opinion and I’ve never had any problems with service or accommodations there.
Badge: I got a Gold badge again this year because I was a panelist. Last year’s Gold badge came in handy because I got a chance to attend the screening of Objectified. This year however I didn’t make it to any films. With so much to do and so many people to spend time with I didn’t want to wait in line for a movie that may or may not be enjoyable. I wish it was easier/more convenient to see films. If I had to buy a badge, I’d go with an Interactive only badge in the future. We also had several people in our group that didn’t even have a badge and most times that wasn’t a problem except for a couple of SXSW-only parties.
Parties: We went to quite a few parties this year as well as created our own. At the SapientNitro party (at Venue 222) DJ Spider was awesome and we played the Primal Scream Game (get people to give their best primal scream). The ACLU/Google party at Maggie Mae’s was a fun 80′s themed party where Amy was given the challenge of collecting 13 silly straws (she completed it). Five or six of us won free Timbuk2 bags from the WatchDotTV people at the Mashable party at Buffalo Billards and then we caught Eclectic Method. And then there was the Twitter party at Icenhauer’s, which was one of the few parties I actually waited in line for since it was packed and I wanted to see friends inside. It was worth the wait. The gdgt party at Purevolume was kind of a joke, as it was “RSVP only” and after cashing in my +5 RSVP we found out it was basically a trade show. A couple free beers and a free iPhone case and we bailed, but not after taking over a table and attempting to find investors for Spacerack (more on that later). Sadly, I missed out on all the parties at the Seaholm Power Plant which I thought would be a cool venue; next year perhaps.
Shenanigans: Saturday night was Brides of March so I donned my wedding dress and we went pub crawling with a dozen or so beautiful brides. We started at Casino El Camino and hit Beauty Bar, Trophy Room for some bull riding, classed up the Driskill, danced at Oil Can Harry’s, pondered a ride on the RVIP Lounge (it was too crowded for all of us), and finished off at Fado’s with the last few remaining brides. (Afterward we ditched the dresses and headed to Elysium, Austin’s goth club.)
Monday night was the 2nd Annual Revolving Door Party in the Hilton’s revolving door. Matt scored some great party supplies (hats, noisemakers, glowsticks, and even stamps for the door). It was much shorter than last year’s party but was very crowded. While we partied the annual foursquare Hilton lobby backstroke competition went off.
Throughout the week I tried to pitch as many people on my latest startup: Spacerack. Everyone is starting to store their data in the clouds these days, but Spacerack wants to take this one step further. We go above the cloud. That’s right, satellite based storage technology. You can safely store your sensitive data outside any terrestrial jurisdiction. Additionally you can increase the distance between your sensitive data and the magnetic field of the earth, which scientists have discovered is the number one cause for bit rot. We currently have funding from ScoNelz which helped us launch our first two satellites. We’re looking for additional funding to get 5 more satellites up next quarter, and are aiming for a moon base to help with redundancy by Q4 2013. Don’t tell anyone, but our exit strategy is to get acquired by Rackspace. Rackspace Spacerack == $$$$
People: I met so many new people and got to spend time with a lot of old friends over the course of SXSW. Now would be the time to list of all of them, but I don’t know where to start and where to end. To all the people that I met and spent time with at SXSW whether it was at a panel, hitting some tech party, bouncing around to random bars, having lunch/dinner together, running around in a wedding dress, late night food adventures, or at a BBQ, thank you for making SXSW an awesome event and one I look forward to returning to next year. In the end it’s all about the people.
Oh hell, here we go: @violetblue, @dotben, @scottbeale, @missdestructo, @netik, @evacide, @nelz9999, @efng, @scottyiseri, @redshoes, @jonathanstray, @compressorfilms, @heathervescent, @ahnie, @jess_stang, @spitfiregrrrl (thx for the book!), @wombatina, @amywhiggins, @danger_ranger, @willpants, @mariangoodell, @netdiva, @calliloopy, @kittenhotep, and more
Image by Scott Beale
The first ever “How To Not Be A Douchebag at SXSW” session went incredibly well! Violet Blue, John Adams, and I led a Core Conversation this year at SXSW Interactive with the hopes that we would raise awareness and help with douchebaggery reduction. We had a full room with mostly newbies, but a few SXSW veterans and even some reformed douchebags showed up. The core conversation was the perfect format and really encouraged discussion and some debate.
You can listen to the talk or download it.
In preparation for this session, I realized that a lot of being a douchebag could be boiled down into three realms:
Douchebags generally act like they are entitled and that the world should stop for them because they are so important. Take a second every now and then to reflect on how you may be acting. Don’t be that self-entitled douchebag arguing with the doorman, “Don’t you know who I am?!” Douchebags also have an “undue sense of accomplishment” that they think entitles them to something even though they’re just riding coattails.
Common sense manners are huge! Please, thank you, don’t cut in line, etc. Oh, and the biggest thing when we’re guests in Austin? TIP! Tip your waitresses, the bar staff, and especially those working open bars. Not only is it nice, you never know when it might come back around and help you out, i.e. quickly getting drinks for that important business client. Treat the volunteers well and thank them for their hard work!
Check your motivation when interacting with people. Are you genuinely interested in them and what they have to say? Or are you just trying to gauge whether or not they are worth your time? According to Google we’ve come up with a new term: “badge surfer”. A badge surfer is someone who is constantly checking people’s badges, even before getting introduced to them to see who they are and what company they work for. It’s fair to check badges later when you may have missed a name or something, but don’t use them as a measurement of whether you should talk to someone.
I think if you keep these three things in mind (EMM), then you can avoid a lot of douchebag behavior at tech conferences like SXSW. But that wasn’t all we covered in the conversation. Some other great points were brought up:
- Douchebags use terms like expert, guru, ninja to describe themselves and have “MAS“
- Douchebags hand out unsolicited business cards before engaging in the conversation with someone. Respect someone’s approach to business cards. Some people love them, some hate them. Also respect that not everyone wants to instantly hand out their contact info.
- Douchebags are allergic to transparency
- Douchebags use their sexuality to sell you a product. (“There’s a thin line between douchebag and booth babe”)
- Don’t game and cheat on social media. In a douchebag move, Adobe had claimed several mayorships on Foursquare at SXSW.
- Douchebags lack empathy. Many rules are meant to be broken, but in a way that doesn’t screw anyone over.
- Know what you’re talking about when trying to pitch your product or service. Admit when you don’t know what someone is talking about.
- A douchebag act doesn’t instantly make you a douchebag. Make an effort to politely call people on douchebag moves, but respect that some douchebags might be beyond saving.
- If you’re going to take a picture or video, ask someone first!
- When asking questions at a panel, don’t pitch your company/service. If you want to promote your own company, do your own panel to share your knowledge.
- Don’t start off with “This may sound redundant” and don’t monopolize the microphone.
- Try not to monopolize people’s time after panels. Make a personal connection and pass on your contact info. Email a panelist after the craziness of SXSW to reconnect.
- It’s acceptable to ask Twitter and friends for invites to parties, but don’t overdo it and spam your followers.
- Don’t anonymously be negative on the backchannel at sessions. If you see chatter on the backchannel that’s not being addressed, stand up and bring it to the panelist’s attention during questions.
- Don’t tweet every other sentence at a session. Highlights are good, but constant chatter is useless.
- Don’t do multiple check-ins at the same place. Don’t connect everything (Foursquare, Gowalla, Twitter, Facebook, etc). Duplicate information cross-posted to multiple services is annoying.
- Don’t tweet at the urinal. Don’t take calls in the stalls.
- Let people know you might be tweeting at a higher rate than normal while at SXSW. In the past TwitterSnooze was handy but they’re down. It looks like Muuter might be a good solution. Other’s have expressed success using lists.
- When trying to get a personal introduction or someone to make a blog post about your stuff, overwhelm them with your passion and recognize that you’re asking someone to use their social capital for you.
- “It’s South By Southwest, not Girls Gone Wild”
- Be careful when talking with someone you’re trying to make a more personal connection with. If you’re asking for contact info they may think it’s for business.
- You can’t have a real date at SXSW. There’s too much going on, people have work and networking to do. Try to grab coffee or lunch.
When we got done discussing douchebaggery we handed out some buttons and stickers. (Big thanks to Snarky McF for making the buttons!) It was great to do this panel on the first day as we got to see all sorts of impact over the rest of the week via Twitter and blog posts:
“Finally, I think I understand not only what a douchebag is, but why douche bags flock to the tech and media scene. I am writing from the blogger lounge at South by Southwest (Interactive) 2010, where people laugh at the pin I’m wearing: “Not a douchebag.” Thanks to a pivotal panel I attended the first day of the conference, I am a proud owner of this pin.” (Read Bernice Imei Hsu’s full post: I Am Not THAT Douche Bag (And Other Related Blurts))
Barry Moltz shared some of the things covered in our session in his post How Not to Be a Douche Bag at a Trade Event
And even Robert Scoble chose a “douchebag” pin when I gave him the choice:
image by Rod Begbie
All in all we had overwhelmingly positive feedback from people and it was brought up several times over the week. I’m considering doing this again next year and would love to hear people’s feedback (both positive and negative) on the session. I know next time I’ll remember to introduce us and what we do (*facepalm*) and will try to keep things more SXSW specific.
Ok, one last warning! Our “core conversation” on How To Not Be A Douchebag at SXSW is only a few days away. Violet Blue, John Adams, and I (along with insight from Ben Metcalfe) have put together what we think will be a a great panel.
We’re scheduled for Friday, March 12th at 5pm in Courtyard Rio Grande B. Come early to grab a seat as 99 people have already said they’re coming! Official page is over here if you want to add it to your schedule on my.sxsw.com.