I'd been invited to speak at a couple SXSW conferences but had conflicts each time. Ironically, I'm not speaking this year but given Blogger's long history with SXSW, I was eager to come and see what the fuss was about. I'm glad I'm here.
I've attended dozens of tech and industry conferences over the years, and SXSW is by far the best place to meet a broad cross-section of the tech world. In the span of a couple hours last night, I went from chatting with Amazon's CTO to the organizers of The Next Web conference in Europe to a VC with a top-tier VC firm to the founder of Upcoming.org to the blogs editor for the LA Times. And then there's the users who were thrilled to share their Blogger experiences, partners who want to chat about how we might work together, and press who want to hear what's new. I've met countless people who I've "known" online - in several cases for years - but only this weekend met in person.
The panels are a mixed bag, as you'd expect a conference which caters to such a diverse audience might be. The caliber of the speakers is mostly outstanding, and the audiences are highly engaged. Which brings me to... Twitter!
This conference wouldn't be half as good without Twitter. Whether it's dedicated hash tags for sessions whose posts are then displayed on-screen during the session to facilitate audience Q&A (and non-attendees who are following live reports) and give the audience better visibility to their fellow audience members, rapid dissemination of info across the loosely joined network of friends/followers, or the ability to direct message anyone in your network in order to exchange info (I have many more Twitter followers than I have mobile numbers in my address book, making Twitter preferable to SMS for direct messages) - Twitter has made the interactions at SXSW far, far better.
Speaking of Twitter, funny story: Saturday night I tweeted that I was enjoying a Smithwick's ale at Fado, a great Irish pub in Austin. A few minutes later, my phone buzzed. Turns out, it was the bar tweeting me back. We're truly living in the future.