SXSW 2011 recap…

With the recent launch of Demo Studio, the awesome work we’re doing with our Docs community, and Janet already living in Austin, I decided to head to SXSW this year to promote the Mozilla Developer Network and help build up excitement for the upcoming Firefox 4 launch on desktop and mobile.

This was my first time to “South by”, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew there were going to be A LOT of people from all over the world… most looking to learn new things, others selling you their wares, and almost everyone wanting to meet interesting people and party! I think we ran into all of the above and had a chance to share our story, learn more about them, and at the end of the day educate many about what Mozilla is, what we’re doing for the Mozilla Developer Network, and how awesome Firefox 4 was going to be.

We attended a lot of sessions that covered everything from the latest “browser wars” and the future of the Web to making software more “gameful” and engaging through design and social interaction. Browser Wars panel photo by Seth Bindernagel And while we met people at talks and walking around the convention center, our most valuable time was spent in the evenings. I don’t think we made it to any of the official parties or even any that would have been considered major… but we did get a chance to meet developers and designers at smaller meetups and events throughout the week. The more intimate settings enabled us to have great conversations, show off demos at Demo Studio and Web O Wonder, share our vision for MDN, and get feedback on what people look for in their favorite browser and developer resources.

I thought I’d mention a few of the people I met, what we discussed,and how these types of connections are why SXSW is valuable for Mozilla to continue to be a part of. In no particular order, here are a few interesting folks I ran into…

The evangelist:
Paul Irish (Dev relations at Google)

After exchanging emails for a couple months, it was great to finally meet the man in person. It’s funny that Paul happens to work in Mountain View too, but it took SXSW to finally give us a chance to meet. He’s doing amazing work educating the world about Web standards and technologies and we’re in early discussions on how Google and Mozilla can work together to make the Mozilla Developer Network even better through more vendor-neutral, community-driven efforts around documentation. It was nice to get to know him a little bit outside of our professional roles at competing companies… since at least our teams plan to work together more. :-) I look forward to meeting with Paul again during our all-hands when the rest of the MDN team is in Mountain View… and I’m very excited about what we’ll be doing together to make the Web better for everyone.

The open source hacker:
Brian Leroux (Chief Software Architect at Nitobi)

Working at Mozilla, there are Canadians everywhere. I also happened to be married to one, so it’s only natural that I make an effort to get to know more people from the Great White North (do they even call it that anymore?). What started out as a debate about violence in hockey turned into an interesting discussion about an awesome project Brian is working on: PhoneGap. I’ve been following the “web-technology-based-cross-platform-mobile-development-framework” space for a while, so it was cool to meet Brian and learn more about their philosophy (very similar to Mozilla’s) and what they’re trying to do in the open source space. I found out that he also drinks beer with David Ascher (they’re both in Vancouver) and that the Nitobi team has been thinking about possible collaboration with Mozilla Labs. What that would look like they aren’t sure, but it looks like PhoneGap would be an awesome tool to enhance/supplement what Mozilla is trying to do with Open Web Apps and promoting the Web as a platform for mobile development.

The international entrepreneur:
Saumil Nanavati (CEO at Chalkboard)

For a change of pace, I decided to drop in on a gathering hosted by the country of Singapore. I know Gen has been working with communities all over South East Asia, so I thought I would get a feel for what people thought about Mozilla. Most people I talked to knew we were a non-profit, open source organization, which was a pleasant surprise. However, it probably also helps that Joi Ito’s Neoteny Labs fund is based in Singapore. :-) Which is something I didn’t know until talking to Saumil about his venture. Neoteny Labs happens to be an early investor in Chalkboard… and we had a great conversation about how his company is bringing an interesting advertising model to local businesses through a web and mobile-based platform that is more affordable than most due to their unique flat-pricing structure. They are expanding to the US with an office in San Francisco… so I hope to connect with him again. Running into Saumil just goes to show how far-reaching and influential the Mozilla community is.

The aspiring funny-man filmmaker
Liam McEneaney (Comedian from New York City)

To take a break from Interactive one afternoon, I decided to go see the Conan O’Brien documentary “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”. The line was long and people were out on the sidewalk for a while, so I had a chance to ask a different audience about Firefox and see if they knew what Mozilla was about. As expected, almost everyone knew about Firefox and most loved it. There were a few Chrome switchers there and the usual IE users that didn’t know any better. :-) And while a lot of people knew Firefox was from Mozilla, I spent a lot of time sharing our history, mission and brand promise. Most of the responses were, “Oh, wow! I didn’t know that… that’s awesome!”. I ended up getting in line next to a guy that just looked like a film geek to me, but I soon found out that Liam was a comedian from NYC and was premiering a movie at SXSW later that week about the alt-comedy scene: “Tell Your Friends”. It was great meeting someone not there for Interactive and just talking to others there really opened my eyes to the potential Mozilla has if we can continue to reach out to new audiences in a more meaningful and engaging way… even if that way is to ask them random questions on the street while waiting for a movie to start. :-)

The walking, talking promos
Five Guys in Kilts (yup, that says it all)

These are five Texas web guys who like wearing kilts and talking to people. A guy in a kilt + MDN t-shirtFor SXSWi ‘11, Pat Ramsey, Tom Myer, Alex Jones, Ryan Snedegar and Simon Salt decided to do it as a group, and promote organizations they feel are worth talking about, at the same time. Mozilla was one of the lucky few that had the honor of having these guys walk around all day Saturday wearing our Mozilla Developer Network t-shirts + kilts. They spread the word about our awesome documentation on MDN and let people know about Firefox 4. They were fun to hang out with too, as we had a chance to sit down and talk with them during the Refresh Austin events. Needless to say, these guys had a busy week taking photos with people, talking to the press, doing their promotional stuff and enjoying the talks and events. And they definitely had a great time doing it.

Of course there were a lot more people I had a chance to meet and spend time with while in Austin… but probably too many to list, so I wanted to wrap up with a few notes on some of the most more intimate meetups that Janet Swisher and I were able to attend.

All Girl Hackers
The night I arrived, we went straight to this gathering of women designers and developers. Garann Means was one of the organizers and Janet had attended their meetups before, so we met a few of the locals that have been working on the Web and doing interesting things for the Austin community. It was awesome to see so many women in tech represent their craft in an industry that still has such an imbalance. Even though a lot of guys ended up attending, it was clear that the women had a close knit community in Austin and a lot of people have noticed. It was great meeting Kate Ho and Jessica Williamson there, both working in Scotland. Kate doing awesome work with touch interfaces and Jessica blogging and working with entrepreneurs there. And then there was Mandy Doo, a local designer that made quick friends with my colleague Chrissie Brodigan as we talked about how designers need to get more invovled in the open source world… and how awesome it would be to find a way to get them into the workflow to help some projects that just need a little design love to overcome usability challenges and succeed. It was a great way to start the week.

Refresh Austin Party
Another local community that has regular meetups, this group of hackers is part of the Refreshing Cities movement to help “new media” professionals keep their skills fresh. They had a lunch on Friday and a party on Saturday, where we met Austin area web development and UX folks, from companies such as Facebook, OpenText, and RackSpace, as well as independent professionals.


Knight Foundation’s
Media Innovation Party

By virtue of Mozilla’s recently announced partnership with the Knight Foundation, we were invited to their Media Innovation Party on Saturday. They had a number of tables set up for “science fair” style showcases by a number of projects and organizations whose work the Knight Foundation is supporting. Some of the intriguing projects on hand were LocalWiki, which is a wiki with features needed by local communities, such as mapping and timelines; DocumentCloud, which lets news organizations upload their source documents (such as FOIA-released records) for annotation and sharing; and Ushahidi, which develops software for crowdsourcing (and validating) crisis information (such as the recent disasters in Japan).

AustinJS Party
This was probably the biggest event we were involved with, and as a sponsor, we had a chance to talk to a lot of people at the event. Joe McCann and company did a great job keeping the crowd engaged with announcements and giveaways every hour. We showed off demos from Demo Studio and Web O Wonder, asked people what they were looking forward to most with Firefox 4, and educated them about why supporting Mozilla is important. While Microsoft was also a sponsor, their reps left early and let the big banners and promos on the big screens do all the talking… leaving Janet and I with lots of opportunity to actually talk to people, give out our awesome MDN t-shirts (also see the back) and stickers, and get people excited about Firefox 4 on desktop and mobile.  MDN The Kung-fu Saloon was packed throughout the evening. The tacos were great, the beer was flowing… and there was an interesting mix of local hackers, SXSW attendees and a bunch of college kids. Oh, and the vintage video game machines were cool too. It was great to support the AustinJS community and overall a great way to put our Mozilla stamp on one of the events of the week where we probably had the most people in attendance that we wanted to connect with.

I think that covers most of it… I probably would blog for a month talking about all the people I met, the sessions I attended and my favorite food trucks around Austin, but for now that’s probably more than I should have put into one post. :-) There was just so much going on and a lot to take in during my first SXSW experience… that I know for sure that I need to go back to do it again. Next time though I won’t be a “South by” newbie and hopefully will be able to better navigate one of the most interesting conferences/festivals happening in the world today. Some say it’s gotten too big and that it isn’t the same as it used to be, but if I learned anything from my “first time”, it was that no matter how big it gets, as long as you know where to go and have people to meet up with, you can make it as small and intimate as you want it to be.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for the update!

  2. Impressive recap of an action-packed crazy week! I was honored to get a mention as well!

    SO true –> “I probably would blog for a month talking about all the people I met, the sessions I attended and my favorite food trucks around Austin”

    Great to meet you out there, and cheers to South by 2012! :-)

  3. Hey Jay! Great recap and awesome to meet you dude. Definitely want to figure out how we can work w/ Moz on the mobile space.

    Congrats on 4 btw!