SXSnotes.

by Pablo Defendini

Some months ago I was invited to sit on a panel at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) by Kevin Smokler of Booktour.com, and I jumped at the chance to do so—SXSWi is a major technology conference, and certainly one of the places publishers can (and should) go to to broaden their horizons beyond our little corner of the media world. As publishing gets deeper and deeper into the digital revolution, publishers will find that they ahve more in common with other media production industries than not. SXSWi is a great place to explore that, and take a pulse of the state of the internet. Additionally, as a perpetual autodidact, multidisciplinary conferences like SXSWi give me the chance to expand my own personal horizons.

As I sit at the airport waiting to fly back after the conference—and a successful panel, something which was not necessarily a given—I’m thinking back to the things that pop out at me as highlights of the past few days. So here, in no particular order and through the haze of a gnarly head cold which will be made oh-so-much-better by my impending plane ride, are my highlights. I reserve the right to add or subtract to this list as time goes by and I can further digest all of the stimuli of the past few days:

New people: meeting with, knocking heads with, drinking with. I got the chance to meet a few people IRL whom I follow on Twitter or otherwise have my eye on, most notably Jeff Newelt, editor, PR consultant, and reggae promoter; Rick Klaw, editor, writer, friend of Michael Moorcock, and geek curmudgeon; and Molly Crabapple, webcomics creator extraordinaire, and one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met (also, more humble than she needs to be. Because she kicks ass).

Same people: It was wonderful to hang out with and brainstorm with people like Richard Nash, Kassia Krozser, Brian O’Leary, and Kirk Biglione. I’ve met all of them before, and have hung out with them previously or correspond continually, but being away from the day-to-day bustle and being able to stretch out over a beer or three and spitball concepts, ideas, feedback and takeaways from panels, as well as engage in general foolishness was amazing.

The panels: Publishing was in fair force at SXSWi this year, but aside from the panel I was on along with Kassia, Debbie Stier, Matt Cavnar, and Kevin (a nice, straightforward recap of which can be found here), I de-prioritized attending some of them in favour of panels outside of my comfort zone (new horizons, remember?). The ones I did attend were interesting as hell, including a panel featuring presentations by Matt Migursky, Chris Heathcote and James Bridle (who I unfairly maligned in my tweeting during the panel—I call fuzzy head on account of cold as an excuse), and a fantastic, balanced, nuanced and collegial panel on corporate participation in subcultures, which featured Richard Nash, Raymond Roker from URB, Gala Darling, Jeff Newelt, and Molly, who brought up one of my pet peeves, corporate-sponsored creative contests (to find out why they are Evil, go here). Of the publishing panels I missed, I could count on my cohorts from this blog and DBW, Kate Rados and Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, respectively, to fill me in over drinks after the day was done.

On the non-publishing-related side, things were even more interesting. Some of the panels I attended:

An amazing panel entitled: Moon 2.0: The Outer Limits of Moon Exploration, which turned out to not be about that at all, but rather a great overview of public and private efforts to revitalize the American manned space program (and in which I proved yet again that I can’t watch footage of the Space Shuttle lifting off with out either getting goosebumps or tearing up).

A party at the Austin Museum of Art sponsored by Effective UI, which featured an amazing show of Hatch Show Print posters from throughout the 2oth century. For a printmaking junkie like me, seeing the history of one of the few old-school printers still alive and thriving was worth the trip alone.

A fascinating keynote by social media academic Danah Boyd on privacy and publicity (transcript here; well worth a read).

mind blowing workshop by the guys at Opera on the upcoming HTML5 spec, and how it will simplify coding and further semantic approaches to web development (the <video> tag is a thing of beauty, let me tell you; and the forms functionality in HTML5 is AMAZING).

An enlightening look at a custom CMS from the fellas at Spoonfed.co.uk, which tackled a lot of the back-end issues I wrestle with on Tor.com.

A conversation with Gustavo Santaolalla, legendary music producer (often collaborates with one of my favourite bands, Café Tacvba) and film composer (Amores Perros, Babel, Y Tu Mamá También, etc)

And of course, the closing keynote by futuraist, science fiction author and critic Bruce Sterling.

In short, an amazing experience, and I’ll come back next year, by hook or by crook; this is a place I need to be at. For anyone in publishing—or any industry—who wonders whether they’ll find something of value here, I say: Yes. Most of all, as I leave Austin for NYC, I’m filled with a renewed desire to get back to making things: books, websites, posters, design, communications, etc. I find a renewed urge to leave my mark on the world, and to join the wonderfully creative and prolific crowd of people with whom I shared the last four days with.