Posted on Mar 24, 2009

(img via George Ruiz)

I arrived home from SXSW at 10am, after staying up with friends until 5am, when I needed to leave for the airport. Still in the day’s clothes and make-up, I promptly collapsed for a 6 hour nap.

SXSW was fabulous as always, but different for me from the first time I went a couple years ago. As many people re-tweeted from me, I always explain SXSW to people new to it that it is like having the entire internet in person, and it’s just as weird and overwhelming as you would imagine. While that factor hasn’t changed, the “meeting new people” aspect of it has.

When I first went to SXSW in 2007, I knew absolutely no one there, and was being asked how I seemed to know everyone there by the end of it. A lot of SXSW veterans say to not hang out with people you already know, that you’re “doing it wrong” by not meeting new people. On my 3rd year here, I don’t know if I agree entirely. It comes off wrong, but in talking with a friend, we agreed that we feel like the people we’ve come to know are the best of the best (with new people coming in through trusted connections). Hallway conversations this year seemed to be littered with the “what do you do” questions. I got rather tired of even entertaining these questions and took after Cal Henderson’s approach of just answering with “I write email”. I will admit one negative to staying with a group of friends while out and about is that I realize it makes me difficult to approach.

SXSW, for me, has transitioned from meeting new people, to spending quality time with people I already know and I would argue that it’s just as valuable. I did make two new friends that I absolutely adore this year: Amber Case (a cyborg anthropologist – SO much cooler sounding than digital anthropologist!) and Matt Biddulph (Dopplr’s CTO and camera geek). The geekery I shared with both of them was delightful – alas, neither live in San Francisco. On a brief side note, it was fun sharing a suite with Miss Violet Blue, with occasional drop-ins from Natalie and Karen.

• “Back Off Man, I’m A Scientist: User Generated Discovery” was wonderful as one of the only science-related panels offered this year. The discussion circled around how unprofessional science is the best way to protect its objectivity and how Spacehack projects like Galaxy Zoo are leading the way in exploration and discovery for both the public and the professional science industry.
• “Make it So (Sexy): Lustful Design in Mainstream Science Fiction” was the type of panel I love – the kind that does not have enough time to zip past every single cool thing you should be aware of, whether or not you can keep up. The panel featured a ton of science fiction movies that displayed different types of sex/technology hybrids. This was great mind candy to consume for my Engadget column: Movie Gadget Friday.
• “New Threats to New Media: Fair Use On Trial” was the best participatory format for a panel I had encountered. In summary, the moderator would show a video to the audience and ask if they thought it should be fair use of a series of songs or movie clips, etc. based on how they felt. The moderator would then turn over to two panelists who had opposing views on if the video should be considered fair use or not. The moderator would then turn back to the audience and ask if anyone had changed their mind based on hearing the arguments – then pick someone from the crowd who had changed their mind and gave them 30 seconds to explain why. This not only had everyone paying attention, but also served as critical thinking, as I became curious about why I felt some examples were fair use and others weren’t.

I can’t begin to thank Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop (a local Austin cupcakery you should check out when in the area!) enough for sponsoring my SXSW “flashcake” experiment. I was inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk’s random wine parties last year and wanted to try it with cupcakes by tweeting out random locations to get free cupcakes (first come, first serve). Needless to say, it was a huge success, everyone *loved* Sugar Mama’s cupcakes, and my friends Natalie, Karen and Micah helped with optimizing the cupcake strategy (we even partnered with Mighty Leaf tea at one point, which was a great combo!).

• A video of one of the “flashcake” mobs was captured by Clintus.
Reuters mentioned the phenomenon
CNET says I was making all the out-of-work geeks smiling :)
Wired dropped in a brief mention

353 days, 11 hours, 7 minutes and 10 seconds until SXSW 2010!


  1. Steven G. Harms
    March 24, 2009


    I really enjoyed hearing you bellow “Tantek” down 6th street but am chagrined that we didn’t have an opportunity to split queso (as those of us at the Ed, Karen, Clintus table did have opportunity to do).

    Your observation that the “what do you do” factor is up was very accurate, hopefully this is merely an expression of insecure times and will settle down more by the next occasion.

    Thank you again for the cupcakes,


  2. Derek Fernholz
    March 24, 2009

    Does this 404?

  3. Steve Hall
    March 24, 2009

    Ariel, glad I could make it to one of your flashcakes. Good stuff. And always good to see you:)

  4. Ashley Storey
    April 1, 2009

    Did you happen to see the band Tinted Windows at SXSW?