Notes from SXSW

(originally posted on the Idealware Blog)

South by Southwest is everything they say it is and probably a whole lot more. This being my first year, I was dutifully overwhelmed with the sheer number of options for learning, inspiration and fun. I had planned to report back on the nonprofit oriented sessions I attended and their take-aways, but something else has struck me as even more important to highlight.

I did go to some good sessions (and missed many more that sounded great) and was on a panel full of smart people “Money for Nothing and Your Software for Free”  audio (slides & resources) about free and open source software, led by Idealware Board president Jeff Herron and targeted at nonprofits. But what really resonated with me is how much more impact in person idea exchanges seems to have than finding the same information online.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love to seek out and read great resources online, but the energy and excitement of finding a great new idea or validation of something I was already thinking just isn’t the same as when it is shared in a conversation. Or presented by a terrific passionate speaker. And as connective as social media is, there is just no comparison to debating email subject lines, Open Source or the best CRM over a beer. And the swell of activity around raising funds for Japan disaster relief created a unique tenor in the halls and rooms that is difficult to describe.

It got me thinking about the way we interact with supporters, donors and clients and I just wanted to make a pitch that while nonprofits are busy building their online presence, to appreciate the real world opportunities and keep in person events and workshops in the mix. And to enjoy all the opportunities a conference like this (or NTC going on now!) as to offer.

And now some session highlights. The links take you to the schedule pages where you can hear the audio for most of the sessions. Very cool, but not exactly like being there…

Let’s Hook Up: Brands, Celebs and Nonprofits”  which contained useful information and some great examples of how to find the right match for your organization.  Hint: They should know and actually care about your mission.

Why would we think Social Media is Revolutionary?”  with Clay Shirky was fantastic and thought provoking, and I particularly loved it when he said “And this is where I had it all wrong” and went on to explain the importance of long term efforts and laying the groundwork before activating your social network in a crisis mode.

Apps, APIs & Syndication: Creativity in the Post-Website Era”  which was interesting but mostly aimed at for profit retailers. I think a session like this focused on the creative ways nonprofits are doing this is something I’d want to see.

Anatomy of a Design Decision”  This was a great breakdown of the different types of design approaches and when to use each by Jared Spool.

The Keynote by Tom’s Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie had some of us in tears describing the evolution from idea to successful venture.

And the closing presentation by Bruce Sterling sort of makes my point about the impact of real world interaction. Surprisingly political and passionate he had the audience’s full attention and the atmosphere in the room was intense.

When not in a session I spent time in the Beaconfire Lounge where nonprofit folks gathered to relax and network. Music and photography from local nonprofit organizations provided a wonderful atmosphere. I missed a LOT of sessions I really wanted to see including most of the big nonprofit ones because of life stuff getting in the way but I feel confident they will be well covered on the web.

Oh and the coolest thing about this years SXSWi? Old school, in person, hands on sketching on big pads that turned sessions into infographics – now posted on the web at Ogilvy Notes.  They are well worth checking out.


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