The 2008 South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) festival, currently underway in Austin, Texas, until March 16, is one of the most popular, high-energy tech conferences of the year.
This Interactive conference “celebrates the creativity and passion behind the coolest new media technologies.” Basically, everyone who is doing anything cool on the Internet ends up speaking there. 37 Signals, Facebook, Wired — they're all there.
Many of the presentations are interactive panel discussions. Everyone twitters and blogs and texts during the presentations, etc. It's like a gathering of the Internet geeks and hackers and designers and content creators.
The interesting thing is, although the sessions are recorded and distributed freely, the attendance at the conference seems as high as ever. I haven't seen statistics, so I'm making an assumption, but I'm guessing that attendance at the conference actually increases every year because people hear how engaging it is.
Listening to the podcasts makes me wish I could attend. The high energy, the new technologies, the experimental successes, the young entreprenuers — it looks like a big tech gathering with continual parties and meetups between and after sessions.
I wish that the STC Summit, WritersUA, Atlanta Currents, Doc Train, and the dozen other technical writing conferences that take place each year would do the same as SXSW — record the presenters and distribute them in near real-time. If I ever became STC president, I would do this. People are often afraid of the unknown. That's what Jason Fried of the 37 Signals said in his presentation (listen to MP3). At 37 Signals, they recently switched to 4 day work-weeks (not 10 hour days), and they help fund their employees' personal hobbies.
I'm about 12 minutes into the Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook founder) keynote (mp3). This is a must-listen-to interview, not only to hear Zuckerburg talk about the grander mission of Facebook, but to evaluate for yourself whether you think the interviewer tanked the interview.
Before you listen to the interview, read this post by Jeff Jarvis.
She pulled some basic mistakes in interviewing. She interrupted him. The first minute of the conversation, he wanted to talk about people using Facebook to organize against Colombian guerrillas — a fascinating story — and she didn't let him finish, trying to show that she already knew this. The real mistake was that she wasn't listening.
… When it became obvious that the audience was hostile to her — cheering Zuckergerg when he told her to ask a question — she acted hurt, as if this hour was about her. Worse, she told us how tough her job was. It wasn't tough. It was a privilege and she was blowing it. And at the end, when she said that people should send her an email telling her what went wrong, she was so 1994; she didn't understand that the people in the crowd were already coalescing in Twitter and blogs into an instant consensus. Oh, if only there'd been a back-channel chat projected on the screen beside her. Then, she could have seen.
As I'm listening to the interview, in places I can see exactly what Jarvis is saying. The interviewer isn't so bad near the beginning, in my opinion, but it's annoying when she interrupts Zuckerburg and redirects the attention to herself.
Personally, I still haven't caught the Facebook frenzy. Scott Abel has started an extensive community in Ning for the technical community crowd. You might want to check that out after listening to Zuckerburg.
Update: I finished listening to the Zuckerburg podcast. At about the 49 minute mark, the interview takes a really interesting turn. Definitely a spiral downward for the interviewer, as the audience rallies in a "witch hunt" -- as Michael Arrington calls it -- against her. It wouldn't have been so bad if Sarah Lacy, the interviewer, had just shrugged her shoulders at the 26 second applause for her to shut up -- and then turned the questions over to the audience.
But in such a high pressure situation, she got a bit angry and confused and defensive, which made things worse for her. I wasn't there, so my perspective is distorted, but I think the audience was immature to revolt. And Zuckerberg's commentary wasn't that interesting in itself -- he kept saying Facebook's mission is to help people "communicate and connect," and also to "increase empathy" yada yada yada.
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here. You can also contact me with questions.