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Highlight quotes from SXSW

I have about a million things to post on between ETech (last week) and SXSW (where I am now), but here are some of the things I heard. I promise much more content as soon as I finally get back home.

Warning: these were from my hurriedly-scratched notes on a hipster PDA. We'll have to wait for the podcasts to get these quotes exactly accurate, but they're close.

From a keynote with Jason Fried of 37signals:

"Not everything needs a software solution. Sometimes the human brain is the solution. I can capitalize my own words and decide when something is a bullet point."

"Learn to do the development yourself. You'll be forced to build something simple because you don't know how to do the complex stuff."

"Hire curious people. Even if they don't have the exact skill set you want, curious, passionate people can learn anything."

"Make it up as you go along. You're in a much better place to make a decision when you're in it, than when you're planning."

When questioned about whether the 'no-planning' notion was a nice utopian vision, but not practical in larger development worlds:

"I think it is MORE utopian to think you can plan everything in advance."

"We don't use functional specs... we use stories."

From the guys from skinnyCorp, the wildly innovative and community-obsessed minds behind Threadless, the third (I think) largest T-shirt company in the US. We're talking 60,000 shirts a month.

"Community replaces advertising."

"The community could kill Threadless... we don't think they will, but if the community thinks we deserve to die, we probably deserve to die."

"It's not like our idea to make stickers came out of some big marketing plan. One day someone said, 'Let's make stickers cuz that would be awesome.' so we did."

"We turned down Urban Outfitters, because if we put our shirts there, then we'd just be one more cool shirt on a rack of other cool shirts. There would be no story and no community. Then our work becomes just cloth and ink, and that's not why we did it."

From a session on polling data and other forms of research on what people are doing online. I was too far back to have any idea which person was speaking:

"'Google' is the number one search term on Yahoo. 'Yahoo' is number three."

"A washing machine manufacturer was shocked that they started getting fan mail. We found the online discussions where people were talking about it, and followed the narrative. We discovered that much of the discussion was around ways to challenge the machine by taking it to the limits. People would post the extreme things they were trying to do with it..."

"'Music' is very, very important. It's the number one search used by 13-17 year olds. 'Sex' is number two..."

Craig Newmark, founder of Craig's List (millions of users each month)

"Tivo will save democracy."

"It's the patriotic duty of all of us to skip political commercials."

"Bad people are early adopters."

"As more and more good and trustworthy people are now coming online, the crooks become an increasingly smaller percentage of the online community."

"We expected to have problems in the political forums, but it turns out we have a lot more problems in the pet forums..."

[Jimmy Wales joked that there are more fights over the pet-related topics in wikipedia than in the Palestine/Israel topics. He wasn't laughing though, so it may not have been a joke...]

Dr. James Bower, neuroscientist, during the "Serious Games" session:

"Are you over 15 years of age? Then you have no idea what's going on."

on the ethics of corporate sponsorship that involves content:

"Which is better -- a 30-second TV commercial trying to get kids to buy some super sugary cereal, or an interactive module where kids learn how cereal is manufactured?"

And perhaps the creepiest thing I heard all week, from an army guy in the same session:

"We've ported the army game to XBOX and Playstation, and we're using it for recruiting purposes, to reach younger ages."

more to come...

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Posted by Kathy on March 13, 2006 | Permalink


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I saw your SXSW presentation on Saturday and it's been the highlight of the Interactive fest for me so far. I'm part of a product development group at Palm, and while I'd already forwarded some of your posts to my group in the past, I'm going to really try to apply some of your ideas about "user levels" in the new work we're doing.

Posted by: Ben Combee | Mar 14, 2006 3:07:24 AM


I agree - while there is still a day left, I think you'll be the highlight of the show.

Posted by: Jef L | Mar 14, 2006 9:09:25 AM

I've been collecting notes and quotes too, and the longest list of all is for your presentation, Kathy - it was definitely the highlight of the show for my wife and I.

Posted by: Michael Moncur | Mar 14, 2006 9:23:56 AM

Kathy - fantastic presentation. I follow your blog daily (as an RSS feed) and there was no doubt I would attend your presentation. Great ideas. I wish I could get the presentation in it's entirety (although I have found most of it in your blog). Thanks so much!!

Russell Wilson
Director of Product Design
NetQoS, Inc.

Posted by: Russell Wilson | Mar 14, 2006 9:57:01 AM


I can not thank you enough for your presentation this weekend. I do not exagerrate when I say it made me completely re-evaluate the way I handle my art, and the business that surrounds my art.

I am an online, daily comic strip cartoonist. Currently, the strip resides on the rather cold, heartless, community-less pages of United Media syndicate's comics.com. But largely based on your talk, I am now actively planning my move to an entirely new and independent site that puts infinitely greater focus on my readers as you outlined it.

There are so many exciting thoughts that you've inspired....all I can do is thank you. (I'll make sure to drop you a line when the new, revamped site is up and running, and a whole new reader-focused community has started to form.)

Thank you for making a difference in one artist's life,
Dave Kellett

Posted by: Dave Kellett | Mar 14, 2006 3:53:10 PM


I wanted to thank you for all the great head first books - they are awesome and very engaging. I actually grasped many design patterns after reading HF design patterns - i remembered how well the book imparts knowledge when i was working on a problem at work - and the template method design pattern popped right out - i actually remembered the book's example/code(!!) and was able to apply it to my project's design - in short the HF approach works very well and kudos to you and all the authors for making technical books so interesting, entertaining, and most important - the books make the reader kick ass! Keep these books coming.


P.S. do you have plans for a HF Web Services? i might be wrong but i have looked around a lot for a good (i mean reader-friendly) J2EE web services book and i have been unsuccessful. I would be delighted if a HF book is written to fill the void in this space.

Posted by: Vijay Narayanan | Mar 14, 2006 6:02:09 PM

As I emailed you, the 1/2 hour I spent in your session was worth the entire trip. Unfortunately 4 days later and 1 million brain cells shorter, I'm hoping to get your presentation so I don't have to decipher my notes. Is it available?



Posted by: Susie Wyshak | Mar 15, 2006 2:59:07 PM

I don't know what to say -- you guys have really given me a huge reward here by telling me that the session made a difference for you.

Dave: I'm certainly aware of your work, and I'm THRILLED that you found some inspiration there.

Ben, Jef, Michael, Russell -- thank you for taking the time to tell me.

Susie: as I said in my email, you made my week : )

Vijay: Thanks for the comments on the books -- this is what makes it worth it for us to keep doing them. But that said, we have no plans for a Web Services book. It IS the most-requested topic for us to do a book on, but the specs are in flux, we don't know how it's all going to play out -- so we're really waiting this one out for a while. A year from now might be another story... Sorry : (

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Mar 15, 2006 7:11:57 PM

The Army is using XBOX video games for recruiting purposes? This reminds me of that classic 1984 movie "The Last Starfighter":

"You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the
Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada."

Another sign that yesterday's science fiction is today's headlines.

Posted by: Bob Shepard | Mar 16, 2006 9:34:39 AM


I just wanted to echo the other comments above, and say that your presentation was by far my favorite of SXSW. So much amazing insight that we can apply in our business and "real" lives. I would have loved to have seen the full version (since I believe you said you condensed it down from a 3 hr version), or even the same one a few more times so I could glean different points.

Out of the 16 pages of notes I took from all of SXSW, the notes from your presentation took up 4 of them. Every person at work who has asked how the conference was has been given rave reviews of your presentation and a quick synopsis of what you shared... oh and a mention of the "other panels" that didn't hold a candle. ;)

Thank you for the great presentation, and I hope I have the privilege of hearing one again.


Posted by: Aaron Barker | Mar 16, 2006 10:38:53 AM

Hi Kathy,

Sorry if this is redundant, but I'd also like to say that your presentation was the BEST one at SXSW! :)

It was just SO in tune with things that I've been discussing with friends lately as we all read books like "Blink" and talk about how to get users more interested and excited about web content.

I hope that maybe you will share some of your slides or that there will be a podcast or video of your presentation somewhere. I took notes, but I just couldn't seem to write fast enough that day. When is your book coming out?

I just bought "Flow" yesterday since you mentioned it.


Posted by: Laurie Snyder | Mar 17, 2006 5:45:50 PM

THANK YOU for thinking the army guy was creepy. I told my husband about him and what he said about America's Army (the Xbox and PlayStation game in question) and he said it was a good thing. He thinks that those sorts of kids will be playing these first person shooters anyway. They help recruit the right people.

I thought the guy was evil and I just sat there wishing they had given more time to Dr. Bower.

Posted by: Laura Moncur | Mar 18, 2006 6:19:51 PM

Laura -- glad I wasn't the only one!

Everyone... there will be *some* form of my presentation online, but I don't yet know what form that will be. I'll post something to the blog here the instant I know! (and I may try to post some slides up soon myself)

Cheers and thanks everyone -- again, I can't tell you how happy I am to hear you enjoyed SXSW.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Mar 19, 2006 7:27:29 PM

Another Laura creeped out by the Army guys. I guess I wouldn't be so creeped out except that they're recruiting folks for an actual war. I really like Dr. Bower, didn't get a chance to talk to him afterwards, but my kids did sign up for Whyville.:)

Posted by: Laura | Mar 19, 2006 8:39:25 PM

I'm still following thought threads and contacts from SXSW, but I want to add to the chorus with a twist:

Kathy, you made THE best presentation at southby bar none. I've been a part of Greenpeace for two decades now, where we do have passionate users. There are times when we get it right, and others when we fail to harness that passion and sometimes even chill it. You said something about a good sign of a passionate user base is when your users get accused of being a cult. Well that raised a smile.

I took everything you said in the context of game design and was able to map so much of it to organisational communications and web experience.

Thanks for a brain-channel shifting experience. It definitely got past the crap filter!


Posted by: Brian | Apr 3, 2006 3:41:22 AM

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