Monday, March 29, 2010

SXSWi(nteractive) ... My takeaway from SXSW 2010 ...

It's insane to think that one can summarize an event as large as South by Southwest (SXSW).  Only looking at the interactive portion, organizers estimated that about 12,000-13,000 people, a 40% increase from 2009, descended into Austin.  Google indicated that there are about 37,400 search results matching "sxsw interactive recap".  That's a lot to read.  And that's only the published text portion.

Since I have documented quite extensively my food journey in Austin while attending SXSW, I figure I should add a token journal about the actual festival.  It's totally my own observations from attending a relatively very small number of organized sessions, from talking to various people there, and from observing activities that went on during the festival.

Margaret's top 5 observations (in no particular order) ...

  • It's about people!: Even though it's a tech-focused conference, most of the sessions are more about the people element than the technology element.  Either it is about how people are changing because of newly available technology, or about how people are working behind the scenes to deliver new technology.
  • It's a good cause!: Business case is not holding the same weight in the minds of the new tech entrepreneurs as old business minds.  At least on the surface, a lot of talks about about the transformational factors and social value of new technology, and very little about the monetization.
  • It's about pooling resources!: Crowdsourcing is becoming more of a trend, and communications & collaboration becomes easier with the Internet.  I recall being in Silicon Valley back in year 2000, where buzzword B2C2C was everywhere in startup lingo.  After 10 years, this is finally becoming a viable reality.
  • It's NOT about devices!: The number of devices on the market & their proprietary operating platforms (yes, that's you Apple!) are fracturing the development world once again.  Consumer technology development went from PC vs Mac applications into the web-based applications back in the 1990's, where we started having hopes of one day developing one application that can run on any computer.  That dream is now crushed with all the proprietary mobile devices.  Growth & adoption of any new consumer applications will highly depend on cross-platform compatibility.  Think of all the ways one can tweet! 
  • It's NOT about North America!: A few eye-opening sessions for me are about technology use in other parts of the world.  We think North America is so innovative with Facebook & Zynga games?  That has already built numerous successful Internet business in China since a few years back.  (Do you know that the 3rd largest Internet business in the world, after Google & Amazon, is Tencent in China?)  We think privacy is a big concern in North America?  It's literally a matter of life & death in Latin America.

    Margaret's presentation picks ...

    Social Networking:
    Socialnomics – Erik Qualman

    How to Create Viral Video (#howtocreateviral) – Panel consisting of Damian Kulash (OK Go), Margaret Gould Stewart (YouTube), Jason Wishnow (TED) moderated by Jonathan Wells (Flux)

    Social Media & China: Different Than You Think – Panel consisting of Jacqui Zhou (Dell), Benjamin Joffee (Plus Eight Star), Sam Flemming (CIC)

    Changing Environment:
    Making Sense of Privacy and Publicitydanah boyd
    [Full transcript is posted here.]

    Thought Starter Technology Usage:

    Augmented Reality: Gimmicky Trend or Market-Ready Technology (#sxswar)  – Matthew Szymczyk (Zugara)

    Interactive Infographics (#interinfo) – Panel consisting of Casey Caplowe (Good), Eric Rodenbeck (Stamen Design), Shan Carter (The New York Times) moderated by Ben Fry

    For those who love technology ...

    Check out the finalists of the Accelerator (like a start-up Dragon's Den) here.  These are fine examples of the up & coming technologies coming to us.

    For those who love videos ...

    Interactive films - Water Life (SXSW Web Awards / Activism), Prison Valley

    Presentation snipits: SXSW YouTube channel

    My final words about the festival ... Check out the Gary Vaynerchuk talk.  Having worked with many corporate clients on customer-centric business strategies since the 1990's, I am shocked to hear that marketers nowadays are thinking that corporations deliberately not serve their customers well.  I know first hand that many marketers deal more with the sales and dollars side of the business, and not the delivery side of the organization.  The truth is many delivery teams are treated as second-class citizen when it comes to corporate resources.  Even in corporations that proclaim to be customer-driven, many of them have the spotlight on cost when it comes to delivery & post-sales service.  Many marketers & sales people, as well as senior executives, don't put the time into understanding the complexity to implement what they perceive as a simple vision.  Hopefully people will see this talk more as a wake-up call that marketing (and sales) need to be more collaborative with delivery & post-sales service to form a total customer experience, and not another slam on the delivery teams for how they have failed to live up to marketing's expectations.

    More to come on some thoughts on the not-so-official part of the SXSW festival next ...

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    SXSWf(ood) ... Getting Chubby in Austin

     This is the first year I attended South by Southwest (SXSW).  It's arguably one of the largest music festival in North America.  But in recent years, interactive (affectionately known as SXSWi) is becoming a much more significant part of the festival.

    Of course, I used this opportunity to sample some great food offered in Austin.  I was pretty much around the main 6th street area of Austin throughout the stay, so I did not have a chance to check out some Austin staples like Magnolia Cafe.  But there are more than enough tasty treats downtown to keep my taste bud interested for the 5 days I was there.

    BBQ: When in Texas, eating BBQ is a no-brainer.  I went with my colleagues to the famous Stubbs Bar-B-Que one night to chow down some local favorites.

    I kick-started the meal with some fried green tomatoes.  The shell is crunchy, with just enough tartness in the green tomatoes to counter the grease from the frying.  A refreshing accompaniment to a pint of Franziskaner Hefeweiss beer after walking in the sun for a while.

    My pick was the Stubb's Minor plate with fairly traditional combination of beef brisket, ribs, fried okra and coleslaw, and of course a slice of white bread.  The meat is well seasoned with a dense smoky flavor.  The original BBQ sauce has a good balance of sweetness, sourness and spice.  I did find it a bit salty if I put it liberally on the meat.  Everything in moderation, right?

    And now a confession - I liked it so much that I hand-carried a pound of brisket and half rack of ribs along with a bottle of Stubb's original BBQ sauce home to extend that Texas feeling!!!

    Breakfast Tacos: Even the NY Times wrote about the significance of breakfast tacos in Austin, so it totally deserves its own category.

    My first encounter with breakfast taco was at Taco Shack, a taco fast food chain in Austin.  My pick was the Shack Taco, with scrambled eggs, chorizo, potatoes & cheese in a flour tortilla.  The chorizo was more like ground beef, with no chorizo-like spicy flavor.  The texture of potatoes in flour tortilla was also a bit strange for me.  The biggest flop was the shredded cheese on top that was not melted - that would have greatly improved the yumminess of the breakfast tacos.  (Little did I know, the non-melted shredded cheese seems to be the norm.)  I must say the salsa was really tasty, good hint of smoky chipotle.

    I also had breakfast taco from One Taco, a famous food truck in town.  I had very high expectation of this meal, after reading all the positive reviews about One Taco.  I tried going 3 times with no success getting tacos since the line was too long.

    When I finally made the line-up, I picked the One Fried Egg Taco with corn tortilla and chorizo and the One Barbacoa Taco.  Fried egg as the filling for a taco is an interesting concept.  However, the mashed glob of chorizo was not what I expected at all.  It has the spicy chorizo flavor, but the consistency does not relate to chorizo at all.  The barbacoa taco was a much better combination for me, even though the barbacoa was also mashed up in a glob.  I am not sure if the barbacoa was made with the traditional ingredient or just beef; it does have a bit of the gamey flavor that went very well with the beans and the spicy salsa.

    The last entry to the breakfast "taco" category is The Big Oh!, a breakfast "waffle" from Before Cone ... There Was Bacon (or simple BC).  This is an odd combination of a waffle cone stuffed with tortilla strips (probably to prevent the bottom of the cone from getting soggy), scrambled egg and bacon, topped with pico de gallo.  The concept is great for eating on the go, and I didn't have too much mess issue eating it.  If the waffle cone was not made so sweet, it would be a pretty interesting snack option.

    Tacos: Now onto other tacos.  My colleagues & I went to Iron Cactus for dinner one day.  Sitting on the outdoor rooftop deck to dine in the perfect combination of sun & breeze was amazing!

    We started off with 2 appetizers to share - Ahi Tuna Ceviche, and Mexican Shrimp Cocktail.  I really like the texture & depth in flavor from the avocado in the ceviche; definitely something to copy in the future.  I rounded up my seafood dinner with the Yucatan Fish Tacos, served with mango salsa & jicama slaw.  All the seafood is very fresh.  The slight sweetness in the mango salsa goes very well with the tartness of the El Agave Margarita!

    Another memorable taco experience comes from Chi'lantro BBQ, a Korean BBQ taco truck.  Wait!  Am I not a purist?!  Normally I would prefer the original / authentic food over fusion.  But this fusion combination definitely works!  Korean BBQ beef & lettuce with spicy sauce, served in Mexcian style with double corn tortilla & lime.  The flavor is somewhat close to bibimbap, and somewhat close to asada tacos.  I wish I had more time to go back & try their other combinations.

    Empanadas ... Or should I say mmmpanadas: Another food truck find is mmmpanadas, of course famous for its empanadas.  I encountered this truck the first night I arrived in Austin.  Upon recommendation from the person at the truck, I got the Argentinean.  Honestly I was a little disappointed, as the filling was not as flavorful as I normally get at Jumbo Empanada here in Toronto.  The lack of raisin (or other dried fruit) was definitely a miss as well.

    However, by chance, I attended a party catered by mmmpanadas.  They served hors d'oeurve sized empanadas at the function, so I was able to try a variety of filling.  Soy chorizo with brie, spicy black bean, pulled pork & mango ginger (yes dessert!) were all amazingly tasty!  I had to really control myself to not overeat these yummy treats.

    Burger & Fries: One of my favorite Food Network show is Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.  So when "triple D" covers Casino El Camino in Austin, I put it on my to-eat list for this trip right away.  The decor of the place, as shown on TV, is dungeon-like, definitely stand out from the generic bar scene.  The patio at the back is a tranquil oasis.

    Back to the food.  I had the quintessential buffalo burger and verde chili fries (even though I know there is no way I could finish all the food).  The home made buffalo wing sauce was quite hot, even though I only ordered medium heat.  I never would expect wing sauce, blue cheese & medium-done burger to work together, but they do.

    The star of the show is totally the verde chili fries.  The tomatillo verde salsa is on the extreme garlic scale.  It livens up the traditional fries & cheese sauce combo, giving it a kick in the taste bud.  The fries are crispy, and the home made cheese sauce is light, a bit runnier than the usual cheez-whiz-looking glob at other pubs.  Now if only they would have burger topped with verde salsa & cheese ... Mmm ...

    Casino El Camino is definitely a food destination in Austin!  Thanks Guy for the tip!

    Hot Dog: Now we can't talk about burger & fries without also talking about hot dogs.  There are lots of gourmet hot dog carts / trucks in Austin.  I did not get a chance to try the crowd favorite The Best Wurst.  What I tried was the Cuban Franks from Chupacabra.  It's a hot dog topped with pulled pork.  Yes you heard that right - pulled pork on all beef frank!  It is like eating 2 sandwiches at the same time - pulled pork sandwich on top, hot dog at the bottom.  I do wish the cheese on top is slightly melted, bringing the two together more.  Interesting combination nevertheless.

    Ice Treats: The final category is dedicated to my new found love - Ice Cream Man.  These guys travel around to different music & culture festivals, and give out free ice cream & popsicle.  Check out their website for more information about the crew, and their mission.  Don't miss the Off the Wookie magazine they publish!  Check out their whereabouts, and follow them on twitter (@icecreamman) if they are in your neighborhood!

    What they give out is not your run-of-the-mill ice cream either.  They were giving out GoodPop popsicles and Blue Bell ice cream, both local favorites.  I focused all my visits on the various flavors of GoodPop, trying out mango, mango chile, pineapple basil and watermelon agave.  All of them are really good, although my favorite for a hot summer night is most definitely watermelon agave; it's like eating frozen concentrated watermelon with honey drizzled on top.

    So this pretty much sums up my chowing through Austin.  Being a street food fan, I love the food cart / truck culture in Austin.  I am also constantly amazed by the creativity in the fusion of flavors at the local joints.  I definitely look forward to visiting Austin another time, and exploring more chow.

    Watch out for my other SXSW 2010 sightings coming next!