Ten Things I Learned in Texas

I just got back from the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin and here is what I learned:

  1. Austin might as well be its own state. I haven’t traveled around Texas much but I can’t imagine the rest of it is anything like Austin. In order to preserve the overwhelmingly positive opinion I have of Texas right now, I don’t plan on going anywhere else in the state.
  2. You don’t know Joe Clark until you’ve met Joe Clark. Joe’s communication style is full of nuance and levity, but when it takes the form of typed words you’ve never put a voice to, the subtlety can get lost. Now that I’ve met Joe and seen how nice a person he is, I have that much more respect for what he does. Joe is also a human captioning machine… see next point for more on this.
  3. The interest in web typography is even greater than I figured. Joshua Darden, Shaun Inman, and I hosted the Typography for the Screen panel and it couldn’t have been at a worse time: 10am on the last day of the conference and opposite Jon Hicks, Doug Bowman, Dave Shea, Jon Allsopp, and Eris Free talking about The Web in 2010. I joked all week with people that I’d rather go to that panel than my own. Lo and behold, our panel packed the house. It was standing room only and people were sitting on the floor as well. I won’t pretend to know how well we did, but the crowd was engaged in the discussion, and we did manage to get an unsolicited ringing endorsement from Joe Clark on sIFR. Joe was also nice enough to blog the hell out of the session with a comprehensive account of our panel. He must have been a court stenographer in a past life because I’ve never seen anyone type that fast.
  4. The whole world is going to Macs. SXSW was not a particularly designcentric conference and yet probably about 8 out of every 10 laptops there was a Mac. In fact, out of all the speakers I saw on stage during the four day conference, only one, Jason Calacanis, had a PC. Calacanis went on a silly rant against Apple and its lawyers, urging people to buy PCs instead, but from the looks of the crowd, I don’t think anyone was listening.
  5. 2005 is indeed the next 1997. The amount of energy and entrepreneurial spirit around SXSW reminded me a lot of when I worked for an upstart young dotcom in the late ’90s. Everyone is doing new things. Photo sharing, podcasting, blogging, social networking… it doesn’t matter. There is a sense of newness and optimism on the web right now and you can see it all over people’s faces.
  6. Derek Featherstone knows some very entertaining drinking tricks. I’d never seen someone stick a half-full pint glass to their chin before. I’d also never seen anyone create water vapor in their lungs and release it through their nose. Very impressive stuff. Derek represents.
  7. Slip-ons are here to stay. Prompted by Dan Cederholm’s post several months ago, I bought a pair of slip-on Eccos earlier this year and am pretty sure I won’t be going back to shoelaces anytime soon. I’m usually not one to notice shoes on people, but there certainly were a ton of slip-ons and sandals at SXSW. Are laces becoming obsolete? I think they might be.
  8. The web community gets along remarkably well in person. It’s easy to get lost in all the long distance pedantic web disputes sometimes (divs vs. tables, strict validation vs. best practices, XHTML vs. HTML) but put everyone in the same room and the mutual respect quickly bubbles to the surface. We talked a lot of shop, even at the bars, but it was less about my method vs. your method, and more about what we’re all doing to move the web forward.
  9. Del.icio.us is the best way to run your linkblog. I flew back to Seattle with Matt May of the W3C who showed me how to use a cron job to pull the last 10 del.icio.us bookmarks into my linkblog automatically. It’s a nice little trick and it was just the impetus I needed to get on the del.icio.us train already.
  10. SXSW is the most well-rounded interactive conference around. I’ve spoken at several other conferences around the country but one thing that has always bugged me about them is that it’s generally one type of person who shows up. It’s either mostly designers, most coders, mostly video people, or what have you. SXSW was filled with designers, coders, writers, marketers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and all sorts of people from other professions. This diversity of attendees made for a great social atmosphere and it’s the primary reason why I think I’ll be going back to Austin every single year from now on.
30 comments on “Ten Things I Learned in Texas”. Leave your own?
  1. No post has ever made me want to go to sxsw more then this post. I think it’s the sum of how remarkably well in person evenyone gets along. alot of people ahve talked about everyone being friendly but you seem to just sum it up nicer.

    next year!

  2. with regards to del.icio.us: if you have access to PHP and XSLT, you may also be interested in doing something along the lines of my php feedeader class to pull the feed, transform it and cache it. not using it to its full potential, but i am driving my experimental del.icio.us page with it.

    good to know derek’s hidden talents…should be fun to see in person at this summer’s @media 2005 conference

  3. Stu Schaff says:

    I agree with Stefan–reading this post makes me green with envy. Oh, how I wish I could have flown down to Texas, dropped down a grand and hung out with such a cool group of people. And the learning opportunities!

    The fifth point in your post is something that I have definitely felt, but it hasn’t really been articulated until this point.

    Glad to know you had such a good time, Mike. Now let’s get something going down in Champaign, IL, home of the first web browser! Any harm in wishful thinking?

  4. Brian says:

    I tried to browse through the Ecco site but I couldn’t figure out what half the unlabeled buttons and do-dads did. Looks like I’ll have to head to a Dillard’s to check them out.

    Being a relatively new Mac owner, chatting with strangers on Rendezvous and sharing iTunes libaries (cough, OurTunes, cough) was one of the cooler things about SXSW. The sense of community both at the conference and online with things like Flickr and Technorati was really enjoyable.

    I really enjoyed your typography panel. Very informative. With no formal design training whatsoever, it’s been one of the more difficult things for me to pick up as evidenced by the Georgia and Verdana on my site. You made it interesting and informative at the same time. An hour’s definitely not enough for someone to learn too much, but you gave me the interest and the resources to get out there and learn more.

  5. Matt Johnson says:

    hey stefan – good to see you again :D

    I will most definitely be there next year myself!

    After i read half way i was already on orbitz and SXSW looking at prices and trying to calculate a rough budget!

    But I’ve got a full year so im not too worried :D

    Hope to see you there Stefan, and Mike..along with a whole list.

  6. Gerrit says:

    This was the first summary which really makes me wanting to get there in 2006 … I should start collecting money for the tickets immediatly!

  7. Mike P. says:

    And the IKNs?? How about that round ;-) ?

  8. Stu Schaff says:

    I’m with Matt Johnson. Anyone know when the info for 2006 comes out?

    Also, is there a list somewhere of all the web-related conferences in the U.S.? I tend to hear about these things from reading various weblogs.

  9. bofe says:

    This is the best SXSW post I’ve read.

    Just a small typo—

    “flew back to Seattle with Matt May of the WC3 who showed me how to use a cron job to pull the last 10 del.icio.us bookmarks into your linkblog automatically. ”

    I hope I’m not wrong, but shouldn’t it be W3C?

    (Editor’s Note: Uhh, yes. Thank you very much! Fixed!)

  10. Garrett says:

    Mike, you’re absolutely right about the rest of Texas. I would prefer Austin over any other city, and i’ve been to most of them.

    I don’t know about you, but if you added a number 11, I would add that when it comes to drinking and partying, almost everybody knows how to step up to the plate. (Some a little more than others…)

    Anyways, it was a pleasure to meet you at SXSW. I wish I could have made the typography panel, but alas I ended up at the 2010 panel. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but nothing mind-blowing.

  11. Eris says:

    Hi Mike! :)

  12. You can’t really speak poorly of all of Texas until you’ve been around it more. I’ve lived here most of my life and been all around the state and I am not sure I would want to live anywhere else.

    I was at SXSW as well and enjoyed it immensely. My opinion of Joe Clark changed for the worst though. I was hoping to hear more from Jason Santa Maria during the “Does Design Matter” panel but instead I listened to Clark interrupt Zeldman.

    Ah, well, still a great experience.

  13. Steve Moore says:

    I had a tough time deciding which of the 10:00 Tuesday panels to attend. I went to the 2010 session but wished I could have also attended yours. This was my first SXSW and had a great time, even with a lingering cold.

    I too noticed the preponderance of Macs at the conference. I’ve never been to a conference where so many people brought their computers to the sessions. People were taking notes, viewing session slides, visiting the web sites mentioned by panelists, IMing, all at the same time. Whew!

    I also got a kick out of the little pods of people sitting on the floor in the hallways, all huddled around electrical outlets, recharging their batteries. Someone could have made money with a generator and available outlets.

  14. Joe Clark says:

    Actually, I kept Jeffrey on schedule, in the nicest possible way, and said at one point I was talking too much and that Jason should answer a question.

    But thanks anyway, Stephan.

  15. No problem Joe. I do remember you saying that you had talked too much and you were wanting to let someone else speak. My overall take on the panel though was that it was just a bunch of arguing and bickering. Granted, it may have been for the best but I felt like I could have learned a lot more from it had there not been (me not being a designer at all).

  16. Dustin Diaz says:

    Hot Damn! I’m officially beyond jealous of everyone that went. Also, after seeing Jeff posting this photo with quite an amount of big dogs there…I told myself “that’s it,” I don’t care how much it costs to get there.

    I’m telling the boss there’s no way I’m staying back home.

  17. Firstly, it was great meeting up with you Mike… I had no idea I would make your top 10 list!!

    Secondly – damn. I’m going to have to branch out a little next year… all anyone keeps blogging about is my silly bar tricks. Granted, they are impressive, but hardly the total package. I really must do something other than an accessibility panel at 10 am on Sunday morning next year so that <span lang=”tx”>all y’all</span> know that I’m more than just a pretty face…

    Definitely see you next year, if not sooner…

  18. Texan says:

    I’ll preface my comments here by saying that I enjoy the technical articles and comments here on your site and will continue to do so. However, since you offer up this web space as a forum for discussion relating to your posts, allow me to retort. I couldn’t let your first list item go without any objection…so here goes.

    Austin is the exception to an otherwise solid collection of towns/cities in the great state of Texas. It’s a pathetic hangout for countless old, crusty, worthless hippies/liberals/hobos. Austin is a joke and has done much to earn it’s moniker of Babylon on the Colorado. The rest of Texas merely tolerates the necessary presence of Austin as it’s centrally-located capital. Your feeble political reference in referring negatively to President Bush and his home away from DC is typical of your ilk (i.e. lobbing shallow, veiled insults that pander to other like-minded, politically-motivated dolts) and it’s no wonder you liked your time here in ‘New Babylon’. I’m sure it felt like home to you. I’m glad you plan to halt your tour of Texas at the Austin city limits. In short, stay the hell out. The rest of Texas would only be a disappointment and prove to be a difficult reminder that the rest of the state/world functions and succeeds in spite of cities populated by people like yourself.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely no Bush apologist. My beliefs as they relate to politics fall FAR to the right of President Bush’s. But then again, he’s never been considered a strong conservative, despite what the elite media and lemmings like yourself (insert the majority of Austinites here) would have us believe. My honest opinion of him is that he’s still a slut politician that happens to have a few core beliefs that most of America (the red states) holds dear. He’s a leader, though, and I can at least respect that.

  19. Mike D. says:

    Texan: Ha! That’s awesome. Thanks for the post. Reinforces everything I already suspected.

    Will be back to Austin the first chance I get.


    The Lemming

  20. clarkson says:

    Your opinion of Clark might not be the same if you were a woman. I met him a couple times in the halls during conversations with other people and found him intolerable.

  21. Insane Robot says:


    I apologize for the idiot above.

    I am a staunch conservative, but I love living in Austin. Yes, it is very different than say, Houston (where I lived for several years), but Austin is a place all can enjoy. It’s the one place in Texas where geeks and cowboys can actually get along (I’m a bit of both).

    I am pleased you enjoyed your time here in my hometown and home state of Texas.

  22. Mike D. says:

    Insane Cowboy: Haha. Thanks for clearing that up. Yeah, to be honest, most of the people I’ve met from Texas (and anywhere in the South, really) have been very thoughtful and hospitable. I just think there are certain “icons” in Texas who tend to give that area a bit of a bad rap in these here blue states. You say you’re a conservative, and I can totally understand the true conservative viewpoint… which is not much different from the libertarian viewpoint… which is basically “the government should involve itself in as little as possible”. But hey, to the extent that that represents conservatives, I don’t think that’s being represented in the White House right now. Know what I mean?

    Anyway, regardless. Not trying to get political here. I loved my experience in Texas and I’ll just leave it at that.

  23. Joe Clark says:

    Joe Clark tends not to really notice women, so I couldn’t have treated “clarkson” ill or well, particularly.

    But — again! — thanks for sharing.

  24. I just got back with a friend a superb time was had by all.

  25. cindy says:

    I love the state of Texas thats me personaly.. my ex. doesnt thats his problem not mine.

  26. Patti says:

    Austin is okay as to other places. Like the one I just got back from called McAllen this July and August. 100º plus and close to 100% humidity. “I” never like going back there. Only reason is family and it will NEVER again be summer months!!! Fall & Winter are OK but still humid! I love living in California.

  27. A Hussain says:

    Living in Austin from 2002 and 2006 I figured one thing. Texas is shaped like a doughnut. Right in the middle of it there is a hole, Austin. I’ve had to tell this to countless people, I’m not from Texas, I’m from Austin. Austin is surrounded by Texas but not a part of it. Thus I found your first comment hilarious

  28. SXSW Link Collection

    For those people such as myself who were unable to attend, here are my collection of links about the SXSW Interactive Festival which wrapped up last week. Established in 1994, the festival is a unique event where top-notch developers,…

  29. RUDEWORKS says:


    Uno de los últimos posts publicados en el blog de Mike Davidson se titula “Ten Things I Learned in Texas” (jamás entenderé la manía que tienen algunos de poner la primera letra de cada palabra en mayúscula). Una de esas cosas aprendidas me ha toca…

  30. Leana Jo says:

    The thing about #1. that you only like to stay in Austin and no where else.

    Well, yes, I lot of places aren’t like Austin, but some are awesome and you have a lot of fun. You should try to travel around Texas a little bit more and you’ll see. Austin doesn’t have a Billy Bob’s Nightclub (Dallas does and it’s the best party place). Houston has a lot of great attractions (I think better than Austin, in a way).

    So, stop disrespecting and try other places. You’ll be surprised.

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