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March 17, 2012

Whadja think?

Crowd at Austin Convention CenterI've been to a lot of conferences in my life, but this was my first South By Southwest Interactive (SXSW). With 900 presentations, 2700 presenters and 26,000 attendees it was far bigger than any conference I've been to.

In fact it may be getting so big that it will collapse in on itself soon. People complained about huge lines for registration, popular sessions, and parties. But overall I was impressed with how well it was organized and run.

Hundreds of red-shirted volunteers were at every door, escalator and elevator entrance to give directions—essential in the huge Austin Convention Center. After five days I still hadn't figured out the logic to its floor/room numbering system, and I know I wasn't the only one.

The big takeaway

Notes from SXSWNot so much what I heard in the sessions (although there was plenty of talk about social media) but what was being hustled in the Trade Show and outside the Convention Center: location-based social media.

In other words, apps that track where you are and tell you when others with similar interests are nearby. Stay in touch with your friends and/or make new ones. One of the apps helped me make a new friend, but not in the way they'd planned.

Grilled cheese sandwichEvery day you could get free food and beer by downloading one of many new location-based social media apps to your phone. It was barbecue beef one day, grilled cheese another.

While I was munching on my sandwich, a homeless man borrowed my phone to get past the guy at the door, handed it back, then got his own grilled cheese sandwich and beer.

Thank you, social media.

Panels & presentations

It wasn't all standing in line and drinking free beer. As with most conferences there were "tracks" or "themes" (but more of them) including:

To make choosing even harder than usual, events were scattered across more than a dozen venues within about a mile of the Convention Center. Not having any specific goal or focus, I hopped from theme to theme. To make it simpler I tried to stay in or near the Convention Center.

Some favorites:

Change Happens: Improv for an Unpredictable World
How improv comedy technique can help you handle life better. Audio Info + listen to session
Unstuck: Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing
Author Noah Scalin talked about his yearlong Skull-A-Day project and other adventures in "enforced" creativity. Audio Info + listen to session
Teaching Touch: Tapworthy Touchscreen Design
Designer Josh Clark shared ideas about finger-friendly design. Audio Info + listen to session
A Crash Course in Becoming SuperBetter
Game designer Jane McGonigal explained and demonstrated her new game that helps us improve our health and our lives. More info at Superbetter.com
Winning The Story Wars
Jonah Sachs explained how we need to appeal to the 70,000 year-old part of the human brain to tell effective stories. Audio Info + listen to session
Mother Goose Got Punked
Video/photo storytelling for non-profits: advice and techniques. Audio Info + listen to session
101 Social Media Techniques for Non-Profits
How to engage supporters, share their missions and inspire action using the social web, from the authors of the book of the same name. Audio Info + listen to session
Shut Up and Draw: A Non-Artist Way To Think Visually
Simple techniques to take any statement or concept and rapidly transform it into a visual display that gets people thinking rather snoozing. Audio Info + listen to session
CSS Demystified by Haakon Wium Lie
One of the creators of CSS showed the latest and greatest. Audio Info + listen to session
How Technology Is Killing (Or Saving) The Lecture
Surprising ways tech is changing classroom dynamics and leading to the end of the lecture as we know it. Audio Info + listen to session

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