SxSW 2007 wrap up

It’s Sunday and it finally feels like I’ve caught up sleep and got over jet lag, thus enabling me to attempt a personal wrap up of my South by Southwest. The overall experience was absolutely as good as ever. I came back knackered, but somehow energised and with a big smile on my face. I reckon I enjoyed myself even more this year than last year. To paraphrase Rob Weychert, you never forget your first time, the second is sweet and the third is a charm.

It was fantastic catching up with old friends; I won’t list them here, but I can say that SxSW wouldn’t be the same without the Happy Coggers present. Despite this being my third year, I still got to meet people for the first time whom I’d been admiring from a distance – Grant Hutchinson, Kevin Cornell, John Gruber, Morgan Spurlock (top bloke, queuing for free beer), Khoi Vinh (all too briefly) and Shawn Lawton Henry (radiant co-author) to pluck just a few names out of the air.

By the way, that last paragraph was supposed to serve as a few hellos, rather than gratuitous name dropping. Apart from Morgan Spurlock, which was just gratuitous name dropping.

Mark and me presenting. Photo by Jeff Croft.

It was fantastic to be speaking at SxSW this year. That the panel was on the final day didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might – I guess there was just too much else going on for it to prey on my mind. It did mean that Mark and I had some time to make some last minute adjustments and have a decent run-through. I was really nervous on Tuesday morning however, so I’m glad we got it out of the way first thing. And to think we pretty much sold out the rock n’ roll room for a talk on typography, first thing on the last day (after a big party night) was pretty fabulous.

Folk enjoying the Great British Booze-up

The other part of SxSW I was involved in was the Great British Booze-up, a joint venture between Clearleft, @media America and Boagworld. I had a great night and from what I’ve heard, so did lots of other people. It’s a testament to international exchange rates that we managed to ply so many people with free beer and (surprisingly good) food for over three hours. My particular part of the gig was supplying the music – exclusively British bands of course – at an enjoyable volume which still afforded conversation. Media Temple take note.

A highlight of the week was seeing the world premiere of Helvetica the movie, and getting a free film poster for being super-keen. When the film comes to a town near you, I can’t recommend it enough – it’s funny, moving and inspiring – not bad for a documentary about a typeface. Unbeige’s movie review closely echoes my feelings on the film.

So what of the conference itself? There’s been plenty of discussion on the quality of the panels – some were fascinating, others were under-prepared and others were pitched poorly. John Gruber put it well:

SXSWi, by nature of its audience, is chock full of interesting conversations in the hallways, at restaurant tables, and around the late-night pitchers of beer. We don’t need them on stage, too.

And so a brief writeup of the panels I went to. I mostly jotted down some soundbites and thoughts at time, which I’ve shoddily reproduced here mostly for me to look back upon and some point in the future.


Writing, better

Looking back on SxSW, this was probably one of my favourite panels. It was certainly a fine example of how to run a good panel. With four panelists representing four different aspects of writing – Greg Storey the amateur, Ethan Marcotte the reader, Bronwyn Jones the professional and Erin Kissane the editor – there were plenty of snippets to take away a heaps of food for thought.

Greg recommended writing as if you are having a kitchen table conversation, and that by writing stories you would get your own voice. Bronwyn said she starts writing in an email window, as it helps kick off a conversation. Email also provides the advantage of saving drafts which can be picked up from the server elsewhere.

Ethan’s slot clearly highlighted his background as a Literature graduate. He brought out some marvellous extracts of poetry and prose to demonstrate how writing can transfer varying emotions and represent the subject matter itselfsuch as the hard, rhythmic prose in Walt Whitman’s “To a Locomotive in Winter”.

Erin talked about what she looks for in articles for A List Apart, the triumvirate being focus, structure and clarity. She mentioned that if you’re unsure about a writing technicality then refer to a reference such as Strunk & White [I’d also add the Oxford Style Manual]. On the subject, Erin also pointed that there is a paucity of style guides on the Web, particularly with respect to writing specifically for web sites. A List Apart has a style guide but there’s little else out there.

The slides were beautifully done and hopefully they will appear sometime soon on the forthcoming Writing, better website. Stuart Colville has more detailed notes on Writing, better.


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