Barry, Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker

I got home from my first trip to the SXSW interactive conference . This is what I learned:

1. It’s not really a conference or even a festival as the organizers say it is. It’s a happening. At 30,000 people, it is so large and complex, you don’t really attend SXSW, it just happens to you. As Liz Strauss says, it’s like being dumped into the middle of your twitter stream.

2. Throw planning out the door on what sessions you will attend, who you will meet and what you will do. If you are too pushy or goal oriented, it is easy to be a douche bag here.  A lot happens at after hour parties some that are officially publicized, some that are by invitation only and some that are secret. There are “lounges” where people drift in for food, drink and conversation. You need to really glide along seeing where the people, the Twitter stream and events take you; I am convinced this is the best way to learn and meet people.

3. There are lines everywhere. Get used to it. Unless you are a social media rock star, you won’t be going through the VIP entrance. But, good karma is everywhere. These are the most authentic and nicest people you want to meet. I even had a women in front of me in the food line pay for my food. I didn’t find out until the cashier told me!

4. Get hip and forget Twitter. Sure hashtags like #sxsw were used to track what was going on at the conference. The hashtag #fakesxsw was a success. But this year, all the rage was FourSquare and Gowalla. With these tools, you check in at a location and you can easily track where your friends are. You can also earn badges and titles so it becomes a fun type of game.

5. The most valuable commodity are electric outlets to recharge your devices. When someone says, “can I get a hit off of that?,” they are referring to your battery back up device. Chevy was very clever installing Volt Recharge Power strips all over the place.

6. The brands are starting to get it. A lot of non tech brands were here. You expect Microsoft. But Pepsi? Chevy had a huge presence with their Volt Recharge Lounge (again electricity). Chevy sponsored a road rally for people to drive down from NYC to Austin. I had the incredible opportunity to drive my dream car- the 2011 Chevy Volt (video to follow).

7. Physical addresses on business cards seem to be a thing of the past. Email, twitter, and facebook ids seem to be all that is needed. Remember, with 450 million people on Facebook, it’s the third largest country in the world.

8. New and creative technology and applications are everywhere.I have no idea what will make it and what will not, but it’s a blast seeing the inventiveness that comes from all the exhibitors. The most crowded exhibit was when Microsoft had two of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in their booth. Some things never change.

9. The importance of video. YouTube is the second largest search engine. What is the key to viral video? According to the experts, it needs to be a bit strange and upbeat. Boobs and kittens also help a lot.

My personal highlights? The Chicago SOBcon party, driving the new electric Chevy Volt and listening to Gary Vaynerchuck (Crushit!), Jason Fried (37 Signals and his new book, Rework), David Eagleman (Sum: Forty Stories from the Afterlife).

Big thanks to the following people who made lots of connections for me:

@lizstrauss- for all the people she introduced me to
@shashib– who set up a lunch where I met so may great people
@starbucker– who literally let me hold on to his coat tails
@ zaneology– who is the life of any party
@chrisbrogan- who knows how to simplify things so even I get it!

And everyone in the blogger lounge!

Did you go to SXSW? What did you learn?