March 28, 2006 SXSW 2006 Report

Kazuhito Kidachi
Front-end Engineer, Web Development Team

I took part in the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas in the United States that ran from March 10 to 14. SXSW is well-known as a music trade show that has two other categories as well: film and interactive. SXSW Interactive now garners attention from a range of people, most notably from those in the industry, as an opportunity of presentations and discussions of world-leading web designers and developers on latest topics.

I had long wanted to join this event since I heard of it from a Japanese person who participated in last year's event. For this year's show, the Web Standards Project (WaSP), of which I am a member, had planned to organize two panels. Thankfully, the company dispatched me to the show to evaluate the convention and extend my knowledge.

A large number of panels are held during the SXSW period. There are four to seven panels on average at different places in a single time slot, so it is difficult to decide what panel to attend, particularly when there is more than one interesting panel on at the same time. The SXSW website presents an overview of the panels in the SXSW. My brief impressions of each day are recounted below, especially concerning the panels that I participated in personally.

Day One

Among the panels that I joined on the first day, I found "How to Be a Web Design Superhero" particularly interesting and I enjoyed it very much. The presentation was given jointly by two web designers who are highly renowned in the English-speaking world, Andy Clarke and Andy Budd, who explained the desirable skills and qualities for web designers by analogy with those of superheroes such as Batman and Superman. I recommend that you take a look at their presentation material, which is available in PDF format on Andy Clarke's blog.

A panel entitled "How to Bluff Your Way through DOM Scripting" chiefly spotlighted the similarity of the gradually emerging DOM Scripting with CSS. The two key terms of "getter" and "setter" were the key to understanding the linguistic affinity between the two techniques. DOM Scripting may in the future be more widely used than JavaScript as a web standard-oriented scripting language.

Day Two

A morning panel entitled "How (and Why) to Podcast an Event" was the first one I attended that day. It was a provocative session that introduced new ideas concerning Podcasting and what takes place in the events. This practice has been growing recently. In a sense, access to lectures free of charge is very helpful for those who are unable to attend them for some reason. But I realize that it is necessary to consider carefully whether or not to make them available on Podcast or by other means, and even more carefully if they are fee-based events and supported by sponsors.

Another panel, "Web 2.1: Making Web 2.0 Accessible" discussed the future direction of the Web production industry in view of the progress of WCAG 2.0 and the industry's recent efforts on accessibility. The panelists stressed in particular the necessity of conducting user tests. While guidelines and related information on implementation seem to have been considerably widespread, on-site tests are essential in raising awareness of latent problems and in increasing accessibility. Growing needs for these tests are naturally expected to follow the end of debates over and the diffusion of techniques. We, as a company, will study how to handle the situation.

Day Three

A panel on "CSS Problem Solving", which I attended in the morning, was one of the panels for which I held the highest expectations, but regrettably it covered nothing new. Specifically, it mentioned some best-practice solutions to typical problems faced in the process of writing style sheets, such as specifying background images as inline elements, vertical centering and margin offset.

Two afternoon panels, "WTF: WaSP Task Force Panel: Getting the Job Done Right" and "WaSP Annual Meeting", were organized by WaSP as mentioned above. In the first one, the representatives of individual task forces reported on their respective activities. The panel saw many questions and suggestions concerning the activities of the Microsoft Task Force. It reflected the high level of interest in Internet Explorer 7, the release version of which is expected to come out this year or next year.

In the WaSP Annual Meeting, all WaSP members who participated in the SXSW appeared on stage and conversed with other participants. The meeting included some comments on WaSP's history made by its co-founder Jeffrey Zeldman and founding member John Allsopp as well as a ceremony celebrating the revamp of the WaSP website. Created using WordPress, the new website is designed to receive comments and trackbacks from general visitors. During the section in which the members introduce themselves, I reported on activities in Japan, and spoke about Web Standards Blog.

There were several interesting proposals on WaSP's activities. I realized how high the expectations were for its future activities. Personally, I currently find myself at a standstill. I feel that I need to pick up the pace of my activities on the translation of the WaSP website to make known what is happening in the English-speaking world on a real-time basis. I also find that I need to expand my offline activities. And I will increase my focus on two areas: education and mobile.

Day Four

Because of the work I had been doing before I left Japan, I was able to participate only in the panel entitled "How to Convince Your Company to Embrace Standards". It revealed that the Web Standard Advocacy Group, which was formed at AOL/Time, Inc. at a grassroots level, played a key role in the company's shift to standards-oriented web development. Dissemination of web standards requires down-to-earth efforts that are less-than-glamorous. It gave me an insight into future activities to diffuse Web standards. For example, it will be desirable to create a system for loose collaboration of such initiatives that transcend the boundaries of individual companies.

Looking Back Over the Four-Day Period

The above is just a brief description of the panels in which I participated and my impressions of them. However, the attraction of the convention was not confined to the discussions and presentations in these panels. It also provided me with opportunities to meet and have exchanges with panelists and speakers as well as distinguished Web designers and developers that gathered at the event.

SXSW allowed me to speak face-to-face with some people who I had known only through mailing lists without having ever engaged in real conversations and some others who ran blogs that I had been reading without providing feedback. This rare, brilliant experience dramatically shortened the distance I felt with them. Of course, there are some similar events in Japan as well. But SXSW is exceptional in that it provides an opportunity for international exchange.

During the period during which SXSW was held, there was somebody throwing a party every evening. That may have been another good opportunity to exchange views with others. I say "perhaps" because I had to do the work that I brought with me from Japan every night at the hotel. That was all due to my poor management but was unavoidable, since it was a busy time in Japan at the end of the fiscal year.

I am not sure if I can go to Austin for the SXSW 2007 next year. If I can, I would definitely like to participate in the evening activities as well.

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