First, let me say that I was in Austin to work and that’s what I happily did. So I am first and foremost grateful that our team (we were out in dozens down in Austin) and our clients had a great SXSW. If that hadn’t been the case, I would not have been able to allow the rest of this to touch me. That out of the way, here’s my personal top five of SXSW Interactive 2012.
1) Getting to catch up with friends. I’m not going to start a list, because I’ll inevitably leave some people off. From bumping into former Silicon Valley colleagues in the Hilton lobby to grabbing a half hour in a quiet corner with a friend, this is always the best part of SXSW to me. One day, I was walking around the Austin Convention Center with a friend of mine from New York who’d never been to SXSW before, and whose attendance arose in large part because of a conversation we had more than a year ago. He and I looked at each other and both said the same thing: “How cool is it to be here together?” Huge gratitude. SXSW wouldn’t be anything to me without friends. (That includes learning to accept that there’s no time to see everyone I want to see, and just letting it go.)
2) JAY-Z. First, you have to understand how obsessed I am with Jay-Z (and Kanye West). I’m not going to get into detail here, but I think they are both geniuses and I love digging into the references, obscure and otherwise, in their lyrics. I think they’re underrated and I don’t care if [INSERT BAD THING YOU MAY BE TEMPTED TO CITE ABOUT ONE OR BOTH OF THEM], I think they are living legends. So seeing HOV live was truly a dream – albeit a frivolous one – come true. (Some of my videos from the night are here.) It could only have been better if Kanye had come out as the surprise guest and they did 12 performances in a row of this song (surprisingly, NSFW). And yeah, this part was…interesting.
3) The panel that I conceived and submitted last summer took place on Sunday, and despite my fears that we’d have an empty room, several hundred people filled 12A & 12B – with a 15 minute line out the door – and gave us a standing room only crowd. This is not the first time I’ve stressed about a disaster that never happened, and it surely won’t be the last, but I felt like I could finally breathe after that hour had ended. Organizing the panel once it was accepted for the official program was not that much work, but it had to go exactly right or I would have considered it a total failure. Luckily, it went exactly right and our panelists were insightful, smart, and often had the room laughing with their honesty and jokes about a not inherently hilarious topic.
4) I met some great new people, in the most unexpected of places. Big up to Dan Barker for connecting me with Gareth Jones, and to some guy named David for introducing me to several of the most open, clever, fun people two nights in a row (sorry that I don’t remember your surname). Above, me with Twitter fail whale (and official SXSW tote) designer Yiying Lu, founder of Walls360, being photo-bombed by my colleague Adam Keats.
5) The weather sucked for the first few days, so when the sun broke through on Sunday, I was so grateful. (That said, I realized then that I had only packed two outfits appropriate for warm temps, so it’s a good thing it was a bit chilly and wet to start.)
Not quite worth a ranking: The food is always a big deal in Austin, but because I have a bad reaction to stuff like sugar and bread, I don’t eat most of the stuff people go nuts over (BBQ, food truck meals, grilled cheese, etc). But I did have a few nice meals, and my favorites were the bacon-encrusted salmon with cauliflower at Finn & Porter, and the sirloin hash with poached eggs and hollandaise at the brunch we sponsored on Sunday at Haddington’s, where I could happily eat every day and night until I die.