XOXO 2013

XOXO 2013 was about one question, though it appeared in various contexts.

One context: already-successful creative people exorcising their demons onstage. Jonathan Coulton coped with feelings of inadequacy stemming from discomfort with the epithet “internet musician.” Marco Arment sold off his popular software projects Instapaper and The Magazine after intense anxiety over dealing with his competition. Jack Conte’s band Pomplamoose became obsessed with writing a “hit song,” and their impossibly high standards forced them into an accidental hiatus. Cabel Sasser teetered on the edge of a mental breakdown as his company Panic worked on a long-awaited update to their flagship app Coda.

Another context: taking the community to task for its shortcomings. Molly Crabapple spoke about the continued dominance of the wealthy and the exploitative nature of social networks, concluding that eschewing publishers has not leveled the playing field as much as we’d like to believe. Jay Smooth pointedly criticized the lack of diversity, both at XOXO specifically and in the culture it represents more generally. Christina Xu warned against categorically rejecting systems because of a misguided obsession with disintermediation, and explained that requiring creative people to take huge risks in becoming independent disproportionately benefits the privileged.

A third context lingered around the edges of the conversations I had with other attendees, and was crystallized in Andy Baio’s closing remarks. He noted that he frequently hears XOXO attendees describe the experience as “inspiring,” and then called our bluff: if we’re so inspired, he said, we shouldn’t stop at blogging and tweeting platitudes—we should actually make things. If he saw evidence of this in the coming months, he would consider organizing a third festival.

This isn’t everything that happened at XOXO, of course. But it is—in my mind—what XOXO was about, because all of those talks are really about the same question: What now?

You’ve made it (whatever that means) as an independent creator, and to some subset of people you appear to be living the dream. What new challenges do you face? What scares you? How will you move forward?

The economy represented at XOXO, built on services like Kickstarter and Etsy and Breadpig and Patreon, is now well-established. What old problems are still endemic to this system? What new ones have arisen? How can we make it better?

And if you’ve been inspired to create or to change, will you do anything about it?

What now?

I don’t know that I have a good answer. Maybe the bloom is off the rose a bit since last year, but I’m excited to see people looking forward.