Three weeks ago I came back from SXSW interactive in Austin, Texas. Boy do I love that town. The food is amazing, the beer keeps on pouring and the people are friendly and warm. The conferences...? Not so much. SXSW is not the same. This year they had around 40% more people than last year! Crazy! The problem is that the 40% seemed to be talkers - people who do not "do" anything new, but like talking about it. So essentially SXSW has turned into a bloated beast of social media douchebaggery. I remember asking people I just met in last year's convention "what they do for a living?", and the majority answered that they are designers, developers, or project managers. This year the majority of the answers were, "I'm in social media" (what does that even mean?), "I'm an evangelist" (ditto, no clue), or some other obscure title which means basically: I'm riding this thing called the internet for fame and fortune. SXSW felt like a place for talkers and sponsors rather than for those who actually sit down and make something.
Don't get me wrong. I truly cherished the time SXSW allowed me to spend with my dear friends. I also met a bunch of awesome new faces, others who "do". I basically met my entire Twittersphere. There is no conference in the world where that is possible. I may still go next year but only to meet my friends and crash at Trent's place. No conference pass for me.
After returning from SXSW and a few days of hard work, I packed my bags again and headed over to a very intimate event in Greevnville, hosted by the ever so kind Matthew Smith. Grok was really what I needed and stood in complete contrast to SXSW. The event was really all about discussions and getting to know the Greenville co-working space and less about presentations. This small detail was what made it so special, since (let's be honest here) presentations usually bore me. Unless you are Milton Glaser, at some point I will day dream while you present. Just being honest here.
The way it worked was simple. Matthew allocated 3 hour batches of something he calls 10/20s. A 10/20 is a conversation format where each person has the opportunity to lead a discussion about anything they please (ideas, questions, demo something, get feedback etc). The trick is that you have only 10 or 20 minutes (depending on the amount you chose to slot in the Excel sheet) to discuss your topic. This is great because it's like lightning rounds of discussion. Everyone gets to participate in your talk, ideas are thrown around and you hear more than one opinion. It's a live, fruitful discussion. Nothing really goes stale or boring, and if the topic does bore you, you know it's only 10 or at the most 20 min long. Very different from 1 hour presentations, where you just have to sit and listen to some dude talk for an hour whether you are interested or not. Yawn.
Some of the topics I chose to discuss were: How to balance a number of projects at once? How to make money off of web content? and How to revive a stale side project called Tweetment? As you can see the topics varied, yet each created a full on passionate discussion with very smart people. It was extremely fruitful, even when limited to a 10/20 time slot. I could really take something away from this, through my topics and those brought up by others.
After a round of 10/20 your brain is so full of ideas and leaving you wanting more. The rest of the day was allocated by Matthew for socializing, beer, food, beer, time for client work that needed to be done, beer, short trips and beer. Within these other activities, awesome discussions came about, and a continuation of the 10/20s were discussed over, yup you guessed it... beer. Perfect.
It seems that smaller, intimate conferences are on a rise lately and that makes me happy. If Brooklyn Beta made me rethink how conferences should be done, then Greenville Grok made me rethink it again. There is something very pleasing about an event that has around 30 to 40 people. The discussions are more meaningful and you learn much more than you ever will from going to 7 panels about how to reformat your jQuery.
I would really like to thank Matthew and Amy Smith, my kind hosts. When we missed our flight (thanks to Cameron's obsession with Chick-Fil-A) they were kind enough to host us for yet another night. Oh... and their kids are adorable :)
The entire Co-Work crew was also equally kind and opened their heart to us. I can't thank you enough.
I raise a nice tall glass of amazing Greenville beer to more events like these in the future, may it be in Greensville, New York, Texas, San Fransisco or the Moon. But I wouldn't mind Greenville again, the weather there rocks!View original editorial design
Written in New York. © 2013