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Even as I made my thorough and carefully-detailed plans for this year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival, I knew that at some point during my time there, they would completely go out the window.

It’s just the  nature of the event. You discover something unexpected that grabs your attention; you find yourself engrossed in a demonstration or in a discussion; or you run across someone in the halls that you’ve always wanted to meet, or who you haven’t seen in ages. Meanwhile the panel you really wanted to see is starting at any moment, but…this thing that’s happening now is just too good to miss out on.

On Sunday and Monday, my time at SXSW was all about the social network.

I went to a brunch at the Old Pecan Cafe co-sponsored by Weber Shandwick, and not only connected with colleagues from around the network but met three people from StumbleUpon who gladly answered my questions about how brands can use the service to reach audiences. (Answer: high-quality content delivered through targeted advertising.)

I walked into a blogger lounge and found myself in the company of fellow Seattleites Eric Berto and Colleen Carrington. On the way out I ran into ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick; and while we were catching up, who should walk up but Jim Long, a network news cameraman turned new media entrepreneur whom I’ve followed on Twitter for years.

I toured the ScreenBurn Arcade and saw an amazing demo from Tony Howlett, who is turning the classic science fiction role-playing game Traveller (I owned it when I was 14!) into a mobile augmented-reality massively multiplayer game called Traveller AR. He fired up the game and showed me the view through his iPhone: the room around us was now filled with spaceships, and when he pointed it upward a large blue planet with an orbiting space station loomed over our heads.

After lunch with Jeff Oswalt of interactive design firm 14Four I dropped in at Mashable SXSWi House, which provides weary attendees with a haven and watering hole as well as hosting a variety of activities, and said hello to the delightful Karen Hartline. Karen and I worked together when Weber Shandwick sponsored the Mashable Summer Tour.

And on the way to the airport I finally achieved something I tried and failed to do last year: I made it out to South Congress to check out Austin novelty shop Monkey See Monkey Do and Big Top Candy Shop, where owner Brandon Hodge gave me the grand tour. Brandon is also a rising new talent in the game design industry, and SXSW made it possible for us to finally meet in person.

All in all, I have to say that this year’s SXSWi was one of the best I’ve attended. I learned a tremendous amount, met some smart, creative people, and saw lots of exciting products and services. Thanks for coming along.

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