I have a feeling this is going to become a meme of some sort, as people begin to bail on SXSW for “jumping the shark” or, “not scaling”.
So I AM going to Austin in March with between 2 and 3 dozen members and friends of Indy Hall. Some are first timers, others are veterans like me (this will be my 5th). I’ve been asked quite a bit about what to expect, so here’s my take:
SXSW Interactive is 2 separate concentric events: a Conference and a Festival.
The conference is about things like “learning” and “networking”, regardless of your industry. Over time, it’s become more about one and less about the other, as is evident by the quality of the panels and the presentation selection system. So much to the point where I’d say it’s no longer about learning and it’s ALL about network – but the conference unfortunately parades as an educational opportunity.
The attendance is simply too large and too diverse for anyone to know what they’re there to learn – or who they’re presenting a lesson to. The conference suffers from the “tragedy of the commons” between industries represented.
The festival is about things like “reunions” and “serendipity” and “tacos” and “chaos”. The festival is fundamentally about gathering great people and seeing what happens. That was the ethos of what made SXSWi the conference so magical, and unfortunately, seems to have many people increasingly morose about the event.
My take on SXSW Interactive is that I’ve outgrown the conference – but still crave the festival. As the radius of the conference has swelled – with the convention center at the epicenter – the festival has been pushed to the physical fringes of that radius.
So this year I’m experimenting – I intend to stay a mile away from the convention center. Just far enough from the blast zone, but not so far that it’s inconvenient for friends to bump into each other. A number of us from the Philly contingency have booked up a significant ratio of rooms at a couple of amazing boutique hotels just off south congress, not far from the river.
We’ll be there, kibitzing, enjoying music, drinks, tacos, and friends. Geoff and his crew at P’unk Ave have been doing this for the last couple of years and during my visits with them on their South Austin “campus”, have had some of the best times I’ve had at any SXSW.
If you’re comfortable with being done with SXSW the conference – as I am, I feel some form of closure in the relationship with the event – maybe consider visiting SXSW the festival.
I’ll let you know how this year’s festival is – if you’d like to join me, send me a note when you’re in Austin. I’d love to meet you or catch up.