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Hacking SXSW: Who Needs the Panels, Anyway?

No Press Badge? No Credentials? No Access to Shows? No Problem

By Published on . 8

Jim Louderback
Jim Louderback
I've been blacklisted by the organizers of the South by Southwest Interactive conference, which just wrapped up earlier this week. Despite pitching panels and explaining my media credentials (everything from GigaOm to Huffington Post, with a little Ad Age thrown in here and there, too), they denied me entrance to the show.

Why do they hate me? Because we throw a kick-butt party on the first Saturday night of the conference, and it's not a "sanctioned" event. So despite our best efforts to work with them, the team at SXSW considers me -- and the rest of Revision3 -- the enemy.

So I had no press badge, no credentials and no access to the show. But as it turns out, you really don't need official credentials to get a lot out of Southby. Because in the end, over 72 hours, I went to 19 parties (and never needed a badge), participated as a presenter or moderator on three separate SXSW panels, met an amazing array of people changing the world, and got a makeover to boot.

Yes, that's right, a makeover. The random interactions that occur as a byproduct of SXSW's chaotic nature actually end up being the best part of the event. For example, on Saturday night I was upstairs at the Belmont Lounge, decompressing after our very successful live Diggnation and Scam School taping and party at Stubbs. While there I ran into @LeoraIsrael, a chronicler of the NY party scene and one of the smartest social networkers I know.

She started telling me about this cool panel organized the next day, an interactive discussion about how to optimize your online profiles -- everything from Facebook photos to online dating descriptions. Leora convinced Jo Blackwell-Preston (@blackwelljo), an Emmy Award-winning stylist and owner of the renowned DopDop salon in NYC, to come out and give makeovers to panel attendees and others.

"My hair's a bit long," I said to Leora, as I clutched one of my unkempt locks. "2 p.m.," she snapped. "You've got an appointment!"

So that's how I found myself in the Circus Maximus room inside the Austin Convention Center, with most of my hair on the ground. A few minutes later, and I was carrying mirrors and chairs from their makeshift salon to the conference room. I was nervous about getting in without a badge, but apparently sherpas are invisible to the conference nazis.

My second stealth panel happened in much the same way. I was at the Porter Novelli press breakfast Saturday morning and ran into some of my old friends from Rackspace. It seems that one of the panelists on their Serverless Business session had bailed, and they wanted me to fill in.

"Happy to," I said. "But I have no badge."

"No problem," said the Rackspace folks. "We'll sneak you in if we have to."

And so they did. Fun panel, and a nice way to end my SXSW hack, because @scobleizer was in the front row (he works for Rackspace), his producer @RocmanUSA was shooting video. Scoble and I were part of my third SXSW panel at Friday's Tweethouse, where I moderated a discussion of future social networking tools.

I also had a little celebrity brush with fame that turned oddly bizarre. Late Monday night, as I was leaving the awesome TechnoKaraoke party, a friend grabbed me and said, "Lets go hang with Ashton Kutcher." So we race-walked up to the Microsoft party, and were quickly whisked behind a velvet-roped corner of the Speakeasy roof deck, where about 25 of us were jammed together like morning commuters on the A train. Supposedly Kutcher was lounging around on a couch not 20 feet from me. But I was much more fascinated by the heavy kanoodling going on around him than the big man himself. And then, after someone handed me a horrific cranberry-vodka combination, it was closing time and everyone stumbled down the five flights of stairs and on to the streets.

Did I miss anything by stealth-hacking SXSW? Well, I would have liked to have seen Mark Cuban and Boxee's Avner Ronen face-off on internet television, but I was moderating another panel at the time. And I missed the fire drill in the middle of that panel too, which was no big deal.

It would have been fun to see the train-wreck Twitter keynote, but only because it's fun to see a disaster in action. But that's about it. And I did learn a lot, even if I didn't officially attend.

The top 10 things I learned at the show:
1. Since they don't use makeup, guys need to manage their eyebrows -- "because no one wants to look like Leonid Breshnev or Andy Rooney," said stylist Jo Blackwell.

2. We're not the only ones on SXSW's s***list. The Twitter guys threw an unsanctioned party too, and almost got their keynote canceled. In the end, it probably would have been better if it did.

3. The SXSW people threatened to kick another mobile/social company out of the show entirely if they didn't shut down a feature that was algorithmically promoting another competing -- and unsanctioned -- event.

4. You can fit four people on one of those bike-taxis that cruise around Austin, but only if one of them is cool with sitting on the others' laps.

5. The immune system match between two lovers is inversely proportional to the chance that one will cheat on the other, says sex researcher Jonathan Levy, who also happens to run fashion site Lookbooks. If your immune systems are 10% different, there's a 90% chance that one of you will cheat, probably soon. It's biology, not psychology. Try telling that to your ex.

6. Bare Metal is not the name of a thrash band, it's actually what IT Ops geeks call server hardware when it's delivered from the factory.

7. Hanging out with celebrities is boring -- unless you like lounging and snogging in public. Oh, and Ashton Kutcher is really tall.

8. Alfred Gratien champagne is really quite good. (Thanks GaryVee for inviting me to your live Wine Library taping party!)

9. Foursquare and Gowalla are great tools for stalking someone. One of guys I know was surprised that everywhere he went his crazy ex-girlfriend showed up too. Turns out he accepted her friend request on Foursquare, and every time he checked in, she hopped to it. Oh, and the two popular location-social apps really should work together. Checking in twice on two apps just takes way too long. More than one geek-hipster missed last call at The Driskill Hotel because they were too busy checking in.

10. You really can spend four days in Austin, pay nothing for food and drink, and end up sated and sauced every night. Not that I did that, or anything, I'm just saying.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Louderback is CEO of Revision3 Internet Television in San Francisco.
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