Where No Man Has Gone Before

What Jeffrey Zeldman thinks about Jeffrey Zeldman's induction into the SXSW Interactive Hall of Fame

Where No Man Has Gone Before
Photo courtesy of Tony Quartarolo

Web design pioneer Jeffrey Zeldman will be the first ever inductee to the South by Southwest Interactive Festival Hall of Fame on the evening of Tuesday, March 13. This is a fact, and not a single discouraging word has been heard. Such words, if they existed, would of course form opinions – and we all know what opinions are like, right? But what about the opinion of the king of Web standards himself? What does Zeldman, publisher of A List Apart and founder and creative director of the Happy Cog design studios, think of Zeldman being the first person to be so honored? 

Austin Chronicle: Jeffrey, you're the man – the man – known for creating and promoting standards of Web-based interactivity. What about the standards being set here? With all modesty aside, what are the pros and cons of Jeffrey Zeldman being SXSW Interactive's inaugural hall of famer?

Jeffrey Zeldman: I'm not worthy. But I like the unexpectedness of the choice. Imagine if SXSW had picked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. ... No one can dispute that Mark's had a huge impact on computing, the Internet, the Web as it's used on mobile, the people with whom we keep in touch, and just how we interact with those people. ... There are other people who have also had a huge impact – the kind of impact you don't have to be a Web savant to understand. There would have been nothing wrong with SXSW choosing a genuinely famous or ridiculously wealthy Internet entrepreneur as their inaugural inductee. Yet they didn't. And I think that speaks to the quality and nature of SXSW – and to the Web culture it reflects and has helped to shape. Instead of a famous billionaire, SXSW chose a working-stiff Web designer – one of the people who actually attend the show year after year. And on that basis, I'm proud to accept the award – not for myself – but as a representative of all those hard-working designers, developers, and UXers who have made SXSW their unofficial home.

AC: You go to several conferences each year and, hell, you are the force behind the renowned Web developers' An Event Apart. But even the fiercest of those gatherings can't match the almost 24/7 networking party and data-dispersion epicenter that is SXSW Interactive. How do you survive such a thing with your sanity intact?

JZ: I don't try to see everything – I pick a few sessions I really want to see and have a backup plan if the session is too crowded for me to get in. The mobile Web app Lanyrd [www.lanyrd.com] helps a lot! It lets me see who is speaking, where their session is located, which of my friends are attending that session, and more. Sched [www.sched.org] is another good app that does this. ... Some of my favorite learning experiences at SXSW came when I couldn't get into a crowded session but discovered something amazing and under the radar at a less popular one.

I also have a permanent backup plan for my backup plan: namely, to just take it easy and relax. Sometimes the best times at SXSW are the unplanned, in-between times. ... Like all the best things in life, SXSW is people. The content is great, but don't let any content get in the way of a great, small personal interaction.

Related Events

Go Forth & Make Awesomeness: Core Values & Action

Sunday, March 11, 5pm

Austin Convention Center, Ballroom A


Interactive Awards Pre-Party and Ceremony

Tuesday, March 13, 6pm

Hilton Austin Downtown, 6th floor

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Jeffrey Zeldman, SXSW Interactive, Interactive Hall of Fame, A List Apart, Happy Cog, An Event Apart

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