SXSW 06 Report

Thursday, March 16 2006

I’m suffering from a social interaction hangover of far greater magnitude than those suffered from previous SXSW conferences. During every waking moment I was meeting someone new. Attendance was nearly triple from last year, and I remember last year feeling overwhelmed by crowds. If there was any question about whether we’re entering into a new sort of bubble, attending a single day of SXSW 06 would have made it crystal clear based on head count alone, not to mention all the parties.

This year I come away with a renewed interest in building fun web applications and enabling the communities that rise up around them to help shape those applications. Building monolithic and tightly controlled applications makes for a rotten user experience. Building applications that allow those who use them to help shape and control the application engenders support and loyalty. Sites like flickr and threadless thrive because their communities of users thrive. Their communities of users thrive because the applications are constantly improving the user experience as a direct response to the common voice of the community. If you want a thriving community, applications with democratic tendencies will always, always crush centrally controlled user experiences.

Talking with people this year helped me remember this valuable lesson and reminded me that I’m failing at this. I let bugs persist too long on, and don’t make constant incremental changes. It’s a game that could be boiling over with user contributed creativity and activity if I made it more open. I control far more of the user experience than I should while ignoring its cries for help. Its completely possible that if I ignore it for too long, it could vanish. But if I just start opening things up and allowing players to have far more control over their experience it will explode in popularity.

Despite the exhaustion and the current downside of the high that SXSW produces I’m, as always, grateful I went and grateful for the relationships created and strengthened. The top lesson learn: open up, encourage those around you to share and support your ideas, and incrementally improve. It works for life as much as it does for building web applications.