The Best and Worst of SXSW 2012


“Just when you are out, they pull you back in.”  And so goes my experience at SXSW this year.  After saying I was going to give SXSW one last chance, the conference totally redeemed itself.  I think a big part of my change in tune was knowing how commercialized the conference became in 2010, which was a disappointment back then.

Best Interactive Panel
The best panel this year was about the work NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs was doing to monitor near Earth orbit objects like asteroids and comets. Amazing data science work goes into predicting when these objects may hit us and which ones need to be classified as truly dangerous. They also spent time debunking that the Earth will not end in 2012 as the Mayan calendar predicts.

Best Movie Panel
I did not get to as many movie panels as I’d like but my favorite was the Seth MacFarlane talk where he analyzed and compared Family Guy clips as well as introduced the world to his new movie “Ted.” Mark Wahlberg also made a surprise appearance.


Best BBQ
You can’t go to Austin and not have BBQ. This year Stubb’s takes the award.

Best Music
How could it be anything but Jay-Z?

Best Poster at SXSW
The guys at Adult Swim came up with a great looking poster that they gave out at the Turner tent.


Worst Weather
Never in 9 years have I seen weather worse than I did Friday and Saturday in Austin. The half mile walk I had from my hotel to the convention center was brutal, especially on Friday.


Worst Registration Process
The registration line for SXSW on Friday was 90 to 120 minutes long. For a technology conference you would think we could have some forward thinking ideas about how to make registration faster, but here we are 6 years later still filling out green index cards to pick up our badges.

Worst Hotel Situation
Unless you were sponsoring, speaking or knew someone at SXSW you were not getting a hotel room within a few block radius of the convention center. Sure you could have picked up a room at the Hampton Inn one week before the conference for $1700 a night, but most people were resigned to long walks or cab rides. One set of friends decided to stay in San Antonio and drive in each day figuring the party scene at Riverwalk was going to be just as good.

Best Redemption of a SXSW Conference
After leaving woefully disappointed in 2010 at the complete sell out of the conference organizers to the sponsors, SXSW totally redeemed itself in 2012. Yes, the sponsors were still there, but knowing this going in made the event that much better. The best part of these sponsored events, not having to pay for food or drinks the entire weekend. Thank you to all the sponsors out there!

And with that, SXSW goes back on my list as a must attend event. I can’t wait to get back to Austin in 2013, though my hotel room is getting reserved as early as possible this year.

AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) Obit Take 2

Last August Gizmodo wrote the obituary for AIM, it turns out they were only 7 months early. With the majority of my old AIM team let go last Friday, the team is down to a handful of engineers, testers and others to maintain the client.  We have seen this story before with the AOL dial up client.  When AOL was put in maintenance mode it kept a few key employees around in case something went wrong.  So here is my obituary for AIM:

AOL Instant Messenger passed away on Friday March 9th after 16 years of complications related to poor management.  As the inventor of many key social features and the inspiration for a few important features in Facebook, AIM was the web’s first social network.  AIM will be remembered by the many who worked on it and it leaves behind many patents that AOL may choose to sell or license.

So AIM’s servers are not getting turned off, there are still a few million using the service but I doubt we see too many new features.  And while Mashable does not declare AIM dead, Christine Warren does touch on where AIM went wrong.  Going back over in my mind we lost our way when we could never convince AOL’s corporate bosses to open up AIM to 3rd party networks until it was too late.

It was a great run for AIM, and all of us who worked on it should be proud of the work we did to change the way we communicate online.

My 2012 SXSW Survival Guide

The annual trip to Austin is less than a week away, and my schedule is definitely rounding in to shape.  After saying SXSW had “jumped the shark” on Friday, there are still worthy parts of going and this year has potential.  So here are the events I am looking forward to most.



  • “The Last Fall” is a movie about what happens when an NFL journeyman finishes his career. Most NFL players careers are over after only a few years in the league and the average age when a player retires is 27 years of age. I hope this movie by Matthew Cherry, a former NFL player, sheds light on what happens.
  • “Marley” is a documentary from Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald about the life and times of Bob Marley.  The footage includes never before scenes and interviews.


Surviving SXSW is not going to be that difficult with a line up like that.  Plus with 21 Jump Street premiering and Seth MacFarlane’s talk it could be a good week, that keeps me coming back to SXSW.

What do $1 Razors and the Chicago Cubs Winning the World Series Have in Common?…

Great marketing campaigns!  Two totally separate online marketing campaigns have gone viral today, and both for very different reasons.  The first is from Dollar Shave Club which is out to take down the cabal that is Gillette.  By offerring $1 razor blades delivered to your doorstep each month, you can save hundreds of dollars over paying Gillette $8-10 a razor.  Not the most sexy business, but when you watch their online video campaign, you may change your opinion.

I am not a Chicago Cubs fan, but the misery that my North-side Chicago friends experience each summer tells me that the Cubs winning the World Series would be as big a deal as when the Red Sox won in 2004 after an 86 year wait.  Leave it to MLB The Show to come up with a video showing what it would be like for the Cubs and the city of Chicago to end their 103 year drought.  The game is so realistic that it is hard to tell fact from fiction.

The Importance of Twitter during Real-Time Events for Brands

Over the past 6 weeks I have led our data analysis of real-time events at Clearspring such as the Super Bowl, the Grammy’s and the Academy Awards.  We have been live tweeting the data behind the events using many different signals across our network.  One trend is becoming more apparent during these real-time events which is the importance of Twitter.

The reason for Twitter’s rise during these events can be attributed to a few factors:

  1. More people are watching these events with a phone or tablet next to them instead of a laptop.  Twitter’s integration into these platforms especially iOS is important to note.
  2. Twitter’s mobile apps are simple to use and the 140 character limit actually plays in their favor during these events.  Short updates, re-tweets and replies make it easy to “be social” without taking attention away from the TV screen.
  3. Twitter is where the celebrities are.  During these events whether they be award shows, political debates or sporting events, musicians, actors, writers and athletes are sharing their opinions with the world and it is the best way to follow along.

Here is one example showing the amount of social activity by service during and immediately after Adele’s Grammy performance.  Twitter activity is almost two times bigger than Facebook.

So how can brands take advantage of Twitter during real-time events?  Brands can take advantage of Twitter’s popularity by bidding on promoted hashtags, accounts and tweets related to the event that draw attention back to your brand.  The other obvious play is to leverage celebrities that will be tweeting about the event to mention your brand or use your promoted hashtag or tweet.

Marketing via Twitter and using Twitter for earned media is still nacent, but you can tip the court in your favor by taking advantage times when Twitter users are highly engaged.

Giving SXSW One More Chance

It is that time of year again, the annual pilgrimage down to Austin, Texas to SouthBySouthwest (SXSW).  This will be my 9th SXSW out of the last 10 years and it may be the last one I go to.  Many posts have been written about how SXSW has “jumped the shark” and in 2010, I felt that it definitely had.

When I started going to SXSW in 2003 it was a different conference than any others that I had been to.  The conference was much smaller and led by developers and designers.  The panels were voted on by the community and they tended to be led by thought leaders.

As the decade moved along things slowly changed, some for the better.  The conference got bigger, we saw great product launches there like Twitter and FourSquare.  But something else happened, no longer were panels solely chosen by the community, and by 2010, it felt like most of the panels were allowed to speak thanks to their company’s sponsorship.  I saw this first hand with the panel I was on with Naveen Selvadurai and Josh Babetski.  Our panel was not picked until AOL brought it to SXSW’s attention that we were major sponsors that year.  Magically our panel was added to the program.

So why am I going this year?  I wanted to see if anything has changed.  It does not look like it on the surface, but I remain hopeful.  I am excited to see a lot of friends, our publishers and service providers all in one place.  Of course the parties and the city of Austin are another great part of SXSW.  Later this weekend I’ll put together the panels, parties, movies and bands I am looking forward to seeing.