SXSW 2010, The Pitchforks Come Out Once Again (hey, it rhymes)

As my previous post noted, Evan Williams was the Keynote Interview on Monday at South By Southwest Interactive at 2:00 pm (SXSWi). I stopped writing that post shortly after the one good quote that Evan made about openness because the wheels began to fall off of the wagon of the interview at that point

In 2007, Sarah Lacy famously crashed and burned when she interviewed Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, at SXSWi. Lacy was criticized for asking softball questions and generally getting too personal and seeming too comfortable with her interview subject. The Twitter backchannel, or conversation of audience members on Twitter while the interview was going on resembled a virtual pitchfork and torch mob who revolted in mid-interview. Things only got worse when Lacy turned over the interview to Q&A from the crowd when the crowd started to get audibly frustrated and hostile. It went down in history as the most notorious SXSWi Keynote Interview and many thought it's lessons would prevent anyone else from ever flopping an interview with a tech illuminati again.

That all ended today. One half-hour before the interview began, the room started to fill quickly. My wife and I arrived about 15 minutes before it began and had considerable trouble finding 2 seats next to one another near the back of the room on the left side. Several announcements were made for audience members to fill in seats and the interview started a bit late as more people tried to squeeze in. Many people were standing along the walls and near the back. And then it began

Umair Haque and Evan Williams walked onto the stage from the right. They quickly sat down and it took a minute or so for Umair to clear up a microphone issue he was having. At that point they briefly mentioned that Evan had an announcement to make about their new @anywhere feature they were rolling out soon. Evan breezed over this information rather quickly, showed a very short video demo, and they both moved past the news. I think many people were still contemplating this news, and wanting more info, when Umair started talking about anything and everything except what the audience wanted to hear from the interview. Within 20 minutes people started standing a leaving. I began to notice snarky tweets coming across my stream from people I follow noting that Umair kept talking about his own personal stories with twitter and his own blog posts. He would sometimes take 2 or 3 minutes to ask a question and then jump in quickly after only letting Evan talk for a short bit. His questions were uninteresting and boring. Consequently, whenever he allowed Evan to answer a question at length, his only response would be "Interesting." or "Fascinating". People started to make jokes on Twitter adding fascinating after their tweets mocking him.

Oh and during all of this? People were leaving. Now just a few people, but a LOT. 1/2 hour into the interview there was almost a line to get OUT of the Keynote because the volunteers weren't letting people leave through the rear doors, but instead, out of a set of large double doors on the side of the hall. This was because the hallway outside the keynote had already gotten so crowded from people leaving that people had no where to go once they got outside. My wife and I stuck it out until about 15 minutes before it was over. By the time we left at 3:00 (the interview ran until about 3:15 I think) there was a sea of empty chairs with a person or two every 2 or 3 empty chairs. I guess that about 60% (or more) had left at that point. You can check out some of these articles on other sites to see what people were saying on twitter. Look for yours truly in the Huffington Post one.

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