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SXSW Interactive: It's About Relationships, not Technology

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Note to Online Video: You know that SXSW guy? He's just not that into you.

Oh sure, he returns your calls, and he'll even take you to lunch. But he's still hung up on the other woman. You know, Social Media.

I know, I know. You arrived at the Interactive party first; heck you've been coming every year since 1994. But ever since Social Media gave SXSW Interactive "friends with benefits" status with Facebook and Twitter, the writing's been on the wall. You need to make your move or forget about him altogether.

OK, enough with the Sex and the City schtick. But I couldn't help walking away from my first South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive feeling like online video isn't getting the attention it deserves among the developers and startups who make up the bulk of the conference's attendees.

While there were plenty of panel sessions and particularly "Future 15" sessions-quick, 15-minute solo presentations-about video, and even one called "Cage Match: Social v. Video," most of them were woefully superficial or even behind the times.

Case in point: Steve Garfield's "Six Easy Ways to Produce Compelling Video (That You Hadn't Though of Before" was a typically practical Garfield presentation. He showed off exactly what he said he would, including streaming live from a webcam to YouTube or services like Livestream and Ustream. Audience members could be seen having visible "a-ha" moments, and Garfield was busy with questions long after his allotted time.

Of course, he's been giving presentations like that at Streaming Media events for years. Is it only now that the digital denizens of SXSW are learning about these things?

If so, it's not Garfield's fault, nor is it even necessarily SXSW's fault. The fault lies with us, the online video industry, for not embracing the world's leading interactive conference with open arms sooner. While online video has had a presence at SXSW Interactive since the beginning, the conference has still taken a backseat to traditional video shows like NAB when it comes to most online video startups and hardware and software vendors. I'm guilty, too; like I said, this was my first SXSW Interactive, and while I wish it had more videocentric content, the fact that it didn't forced me to get out of my comfort zone.

In fact, that was the whole reason I went, and it's why you should seriously consider attending next year. Because even though I went away from most of the sessions having learned very little new about online video, I learned massive amounts about social media, location-based services, and this year's darling, group messaging. All of which, in one way or another, are key to what Gary Vaynerchuck talks about in his latest book, The Thank You Economy: It's not about media; it's all about engagement-giving your customers the tools to engage with your media is perhaps even more important than the media itself.

To that end, SXSW Interactive is by far the most social conference I've ever attended. In part, that comes from its history as being "the" place where startups might get noticed-you never know if that person wiping barbecue sauce on his pants might be the VC who can take your company to the next level.

But it's more than that, I think. SXSW Interactive is a far better networking event than NAB or CES. I can count the number of suits and ties I saw on one hand, but everywhere I turned, people were not only trying to introduce themselves but eager to learn more about what those around them were doing. As Felicia Day said in her keynote, your social media campaign is a long-term relationship, not a booty call.

In fact, that's a lesson worth keeping in mind as our own Streaming Media East approaches in May in New York: It's all about relationships, and you won't know if that person next to you is Mr. Big if you don't ask.

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