This year marked my second visit to Austin, Texas for the South By Southwest Interactive conference. While I very much enjoyed myself and having only attended in ’09 I can tell you that things have changed, perhaps not for the better.
Two years ago I attended presentations almost every hour, nearly all were in the Convention Center, they were all higher quality and it was relatively easy to navigate which I wanted to go to.
This year there was too much. You would scroll through long listings picking out sessions and then realize all of that was just the 2 pm hour. Also, a large number of sessions were offsite in hotel conference rooms. It’s bad enough that to walk from one end of the conference center takes about 10-15 minutes, some of the sessions I wanted to go to were as far as a mile away from the convention center.
To make matters worse, a multitude of the sessions were redundant panels with poorly prepared presenters, the bulk of which were still fixating of the importance of “social media” and other buzz words. The kind of stuff you would already have to be aware of if you’re attending SXSW in the first place. Utter wastes of time. By the end of day one I had pretty much given up on panels to spend time with my friends and meet new people.
The idea of having a conference for “interactive” is beginning to feel short sighted. It’s grown so large and out of control it’s simply untenable. Marketers, designers, programmers and content creators are coming together under the banner of “interactive” while many of these people have little in common. With the common thread of the internet becoming so ubiquitous in American life it seems absurd to blanket everything under one banner.
Imagine if we held a conference for all the industries who use paper in any way shape or form, there would be panels on restaurant menu design, proper cardboard box construction and buzz-worded up bullshit like “aerodynamic efficiency in paper airplane design”. Still many of those things would have about as much in common as the sessions at SXSWi.
At the same time, the split between the Film and Interactive portions of the conference seems more and more arbitrary as the line between amateur and professional continues to blur.
The focus this year for me was less on the panels and more about the partying, networking and actual human interaction. This is perhaps evidenced best by the multitude of panels discussing how to best party at SXSW. I can’t be the only one who thinks this is a bad thing. It seems the label of “Interactive” has taken on a new meaning and it seems to be less about the technology and more about social interaction. The thing is though, if that’s the case, why even buy a badge when I can party for free anyway and get about the same?