SXSW - Recap from Austin

Woah!  Seven days in Austin for South by Southwest were all I could handle (in fact, more than I could handle as I escaped for one night to Dallas).  I signed up for SXSW without knowing much about it, but with the general impression that it was a fun event and unique in the professional world.  Both these assumptions proved spot on.  By the second day, I was referring to SXSW as Burning Man for Business.  In fact, there is significant overlap in attendance and I found myself discussing Burning Man several times over the week.  The format of SXSW is very similar to Burning Man, with sessions and panels organized throughout the four days of the conference (and many people skipping the sessions altogether).  While some of the sessions were entertaining and educational, the real meat of the conference happened outside the convention center at the parties, in the bars and throughout downtown Austin.  In the evenings, tech stalwarts like Google, Apple, Adobe and a few upstarts in a Super Bowl ad-like move, throw parties at local bars where booze flows freely (as in gratis) into the wee hours.  This scenario creates an extremely social ethos, not to mention makes for late nights and late mornings, all making SXSW a giant party for the industry.  If you weren't there, this might sound like a giant boondoggle, but interestingly, I found that more valuable networking and business actually happened that at your average conference.  In an industry that is relatively young, where founders and execs in their early 40s represent the high end of the range, we'd all rather do business in fun, social environments than staid office-like conference halls.  This proved out over the course of the week as I networked and connected with many dozen industry professionals from around the country.  I also found these relationships more authentic and more likely to lead to friendship since the formality and forced interaction are lifted.  I did manage to attend a few valuable sessions, my favorite of which was given by Jason Fried on Lessons Learned at 37 Signals. His message was overwhelmingly simple and the lessons he conveyed were mostly common sense.  Sean Ammirati has a nice review of the session on ReadWriteWeb.  Another session that scored high marks was The Worst Website Ever delivered by Merlin Mann which you can watch here on Viddler.  Overall, SXSW was nothing short of awesome, and I'll definitely be back in future years.