South by Southwest 2012 Part 1: Panels

This article is part of a 3-part series recapping my experience at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive 2012. It is split into the following sections: Panels, Parties, and Personal. As a reminder, everyone has a different goal and thus a different experience with SXSW. This is one extrovert’s take on 2012’s conference.

SXSW is full of panels. From 9:30am till 7:30pm for 5 days straight, you can gorge yourself on information across 15 different campuses, with a metric ****ton of content. I categorize all of the panels up into three categories: Learn, Interact, and Entertain. You can think of it like a Venn Diagram:


Some panels are strong in just one category, but the best panels are a mix of all three (varying degrees). Of course, it also depends on your mood. See, sometimes I just wanted to be entertained after being disappointed by panels (more on this later). That is how I found myself at Anthony Bourdain’s panel; looking for entertainment and still managing to learn something. This year, I found only 1 great panel each day, 1 good panel, and 3 really bad panels. That is not a good ratio, especially considering that only 1-in-6 panel submissions in the Fall get selected for the next year’s conference. I asked around, and with a few exceptions, most people were having the same experience as I was with the panels in 2012.

However, this year one concept was reinforced: Get out of the popular panels and your comfort zone, and you may find some gems. More importantly, the more popular the panel, the more likely that a video or audio recording will be posted online in the future, and there is probably a great visual noteboard covering the topics of the panel by OgilvyNotes. The best panels I found were off the beaten path, with the best one being “How We Do It in Brazil” which not only entertained, but also was well organized, had a ton of information, and flowed well with audience questions. It was an example, in my mind, of a perfect panel. Another good one was Sex Nets: Pickup Artists vs Feminists.

Note: At the bottom of this post will be a collection of notes from panels that I either took or exchange with another person for them. Enjoy.

A Quick Word about Campuses Beyond the Austin Convention Center (ACC)
As mentioned before, there were 15 campuses used to house all of the content that SXSW was offering, including the ScreenBurn Arcade, Trade Show, panels, core conversations, keynotes, and more. Some of them were convenient and within a block or two of the ACC, but some of them were very much not nearby. That meant you could either: grab a shuttle, snag a ride with Chevy vehicles (one of the best sponsorship/service hybrids), walk a while, or (new for this year) borrow a bicycle courtesy of the SXcycles program. Or, you could just not go. Guess what was the most popular option in the rain? In the sunshine? Here is a hint: the answer is the same.

SXSW needs to shrink, because if you were brave enough to head out to a remote campus, you would be able to arrive at the next panel within the 30 minute travel window between panels, but returning back to the ACC in that same window, let alone being able to get into your preferred panel, would be a lost cause and source of frustration. Sure, each location has a theme, and you may find that a few of the panels that are relevant to you are in the same location, but the value of SXSW is the variety (see the ‘Brazil’ note above), and this doesn’t encourage people to branch out and actually get a broader range of information from their SXSW conference experience.

So, on panels alone, I would give SXSW 2012 a 4 out of 10, with a bonus point given because of the phenomenal job the volunteers did directing traffic flow to the broadest points for transitioning between the various floors in the MC Escher designed Austin Convention Center. I didn’t experience the traffic blockages that plagued 2011’s conference. There was a lot of ‘repeat’ content panels, as well as panels that didn’t present what their descriptions promised. Maybe it is a penalty of attending multiple years in a row, which is why so many repeat attendees skip the panels completely and just go to parties, lounges, and network. Their loss however, as there are some gems, but like any good mine, you need to dig a little deeper.


Food Trucks & Social Media (courtesy of Daniel Lafrenière)
– food truck = startup culture

Social medias
– tell people where you’re gonna be
– post pictures of the menu, of the produce, the farmers, the crew
– tell our story, the process to share successes and failures
– how foods are prepped, stored on the truck
– let people see inside our business to gain trust (montrer processus de Richard sur FB)
– brand, personality of your business, tone, consistency of your voice
– talk to your customers on a daily basis, listen to what they have to say
Building brand using social medias
– all about honesty : we want our customers to feel how we feel in our business
– did a lipdub (!) (idée : a day in the life video)
– show people having fun at what they are doing
– show behind the scenes
– offering give-aways
– going on other’s social medias : yelp!, etc.
– retweet, repost, etc.
Twitters, FB, Yelp! … differences?
– Yelp! is the most powerful tool
– bad comment : apologize, how can we make things right ? (livre)
– post a lot of pictures on FB
– just do a little very well
– news ways to engage more people and start a dialog, an opportunity to start a dialog
– 0$ on marketing dollar … just social medias
– go the extra mile before the conversation start
– thank you them before
– remembering their names (Daniel Shemtob, Lime Truck)
– everyone feels a regular
– to create bond
– doing politics
– no drinking and tweeting ;-)
– grammatical/spelling/ auto-correct errors
– not engaging the customers (livre)
– what do you want on the menu this week?
– where should we stop the trucks?
– ask your customers what they want and give it to them (livre)

Scalability Tips (Growing Fast)

  • Cassandra? Do 5+ nodes or just 1
  • Automation early
  • Abstract hotspots to dif maps
  • opt-in feature lets you do live load testing
  • Get good graphs/metrics
  • XHP for security

Grow a P2P Market (e.g. AirBnB)

  • Don’t be afraid to grow only one side, the one you get the most. Load up either supply or demand, don’t try and do all. Example: sports equipment, do supply but go after one sport but leave it open for others to also sign-up
  • Do things that don’t scale to grow your audience, because it will get you where you need to go in the future when you don’t need to do them.

Women CEOs

How We Do It in Brazil (slides)
Not a huge middle class
Most money in S/SW
Everyone is going mobile 30 mil

Brazilian government can’t be avoided expensive for everyone

Valentines day is in June and no cards, but gifts.

Vestibular is school test
Bank strikes regularly
Orkut still doing well vs FB
Prepare to be ORKUTIZATED!
Web portals are strong
Don’t use google translate

Major click through differences in word choices across Latin America countries

95% google share
Bing highest click through rate
Use bing to get to google
84% research online before buying

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *