SXSW Interactive Recap 2008

I was lucky enough to get a day pass for Monday’s panels at SXSW Interactive. I’ve been meaning to post this for a couple of weeks, but both of my kids picked up some sort of stomach flu and then I came down with the SXSW Plague, aka SXSARS. I attended five panels that day:

Before I get to the recap of the panels that I attended, I thought I’d highlight some general things about SXSWi this year. The big news that’s already been hashed to death was the audience revolt during the Mark Zuckerberg interview. Apparently, the Frank Warren (PostSecret) keynote was pretty good. Zappos gets the marketing genius award for being prescient enough to hand out ponchos during a downpour around lunch time. At one point as I walked to Taco Shack for a quick lunch, nearly every single person within sight downtown was a walking advertisement for Zappos. Sorry, didn’t get a shot of it, but there are plenty of photos on Flickr.

Oh, the parties. I did manage to make one or two of the insane number of parties. I went to the Laughing Squid / thing on Friday night. It was completely packed with people overflowing into the Tap Room (formerly B Side). I attended the Frog Design Party on Saturday night. There was plenty of space there with the outdoor bars and performances. I caught a couple of songs with Groupo Fantasma. The bar lines were long throughout the night with people throwing down mixed drinks and green beer. I’m assuming the green was for frog and not an early nod to St. Patrick’s Day. I was turned away like many others by the massive line at the 16bit party at Scoot Inn. Apparently, the capacity had shrunk since booking the event. I returned to the Scoot Inn later in the week for the music festival and thoroughly enjoyed myself however (more on that later). We had the Metroblogging Meetup at Rio Rita on Sunday.

I brought my 9 year old to ScreenBurn Arcade on Sunday as well. It was all Guitar Hero and Rock Band this year . Dell had a bunch of real guitars modded to play guitar hero. The Boy also got a chance to play Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii which had just been released that day.

Check out the panel notes with photos after the jump.

Scalability Boot Camp 

Scalability Boot Camp 

The first panel of the day and everyone looks a bit sleepy. I’ve got links to the presentations for some of the talks. You can find the slides for this talk here. The panel included developers from SixApart, Twitter, Meebo, and Gaia. They each mentioned tools/frameworks/platforms that they used to achieve scalability and some heuristics that they generally use. Many of the points were common sense once you thought about them, but the trick is to plan ahead and be on top of it from the beginning. I liked the anecdotes and examples they gave where they themselves ran into problems. Blaine Cook from Twitter stressed parallel processing wherever possible or delaying processing. Obviously, you don’t want your users waiting at the browser for tasks to complete if you can avoid it. He gave the example that one of the founders, Ev, revealed a problem with Twitter early on. He had many more friends in the system than anyone else and, at the time, they were sending out SMS messages while updates were published to the site, so he was waiting FOREVER whenever he did an update. They quickly realized they needed to offload that as a separate process. It’s reasonable for that to take a minute or two, but not to make the person posting an update wait for it to complete. One of the interesting takeaways is that many of these companies are still pretty small. Twitter is only 16 people. Meebo is 30. They get a lot done with a small number of people.

A Critical Look at OpenID 

A Critical Look at OpenID 

I was surprised to see Austinite Jason Levitt as the moderator for this one. I didn’t even know that he worked for Yahoo! OpenID is essentially a URL that only you can prove ownership of. This panel proved that four people is the limit for a decent panel. Any more than that and it’s too chaotic or some of the panelists don’t get to say very much. It was essentially an introduction to OpenID and there was talk about its utility and how to drive adoption. Yahoo! recently launched support.The quote of the panel was “We’re not making anything worse.” They also mentioned OAuth in conjunction with OpenID.

Browser Wars: Deja Vu All Over Again 

Deja Vu All Over Again? 

The Browser Wars panel opened with everyone bagging on Apple since they declined to send anyone to represent Safari. The panel included representatives of Opera, Internet Explorer and Firefox with the moderator having worked for Netscape. They were definitely an opinionated group. It didn’t take long for the panel to feel like everyone against Microsoft. The best audience question was why can’t they all agree on margins and padding and why isn’t 100% 100%? People are clearly fed up with having to deal with browsers who interpret the standards differently.

Transforming Hospital Systems: The Digital Future of Health Care 

The Digital Future of Healthcare 

This panel felt very different from the other panels I attended. I suppose since most of the panel consisted of doctors instead of tech industry people. It was moderated by someone from Motion Computing and it really felt like an infomercial for Motion at the beginning and later felt like an infomercial for Microsoft’s Health Vault . It was more three or four separate talks on a common topic than a panel. They played a poorly produced video to illustrate the problems with paperwork in the health care system. Dr. Lucksinger is an Austin physician who got into electronic health care systems when his practice had to pay to reinforce one of the floors they were on because of the sheer weight of the charts and paperwork they were keeping. Dr. Grobol talked about sites like Patients Like Me and CarePages as ways for people to connect and share information about health issues. The highlight of the panel was the douchebag in the audience who actually took a cell phone call and talked loudly enough for me to hear the conversation as he got up and headed out of the room. I suppose we should be glad he at least did that.

Building Portable Social Networks 

Building Portable Social Networks 

I actually had to leave this panel a bit early because of the aforementioned sick kids, so I didn’t get to hear everything. Jeremy Keith moderated. I always enjoy his panels. This was the second panel with Recordon. He was also on the Critical Look at OpenID panel and Simon Willison from the same panel was sitting next to me in the front row. This wasn’t surprising since OpenID is one of the ways that we can achieve portability between social networks. Fast Wonder Blog has a pretty good recap of the panel since I didn’t catch the whole thing.

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