Can Austin Sustain SXSW Interactive? Please, I Hope So…
I’m recovering this morning in Austin, Texas, coffee in hand, after spending the past several days hiking downtown Austin to soak in as much of the South by Southwest Interactive experience as possible. And I’m exhausted.
SXSW celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with another 30-40% growth in Interactive attendance. That’s to be expected – we’re all seeing investment come back to events, along with other signs the economy is eeking its way back – but 2011’s Interactive growth is on top of about the same 30-40% growth in 2010.
In response to last year’s growth – and instead of capping registration or the number of sessions – SXSW organizers spread the interactive conference across 10 venues. What works really well for SXSW music – Austin’s concentration of great music venues downtown which, importantly, are a stone’s throw from one another – just didn’t translate to this year’s miles-apart approach to the interactive venue selection.
The thought was to group related content within a venue, which works in theory, but I was bummed I didn’t have the option to catch half of two sessions this year – because, according to Google Maps, it’s a 32-minute walk from the venue hosting sessions on the future of journalism to the one where sessions on the social graph (with several interesting case study discussions) were held. Or, about 18 minutes from either of these venues to the convention center for keynotes and some more developer-minded content.
I love Austin – I spent my college years here (hook ‘em!) and eight years working in technology communications. But I can’t imagine the city supporting another 30-40% growth in interactive attendees in 2012 without revisiting the structure or length of the conference. But, until we find that out, I wanted to share a few tips with you while they’re fresh:
- Rent a bike – there are pedicabs and some shuttles, but not enough of either
- Bring a power strip, and be the most popular person in any session you attend – aside from the keynote rooms, there were no more than 6 outlets in any session
- Plan your days with a city map in-hand
- You’ll likely only hit half of what you plan
- The SXSW website, as of 2011, made it unreasonably difficult to select sessions, but I hear the official SXSW iPad app was great
- There’s a lot of talk of “influence” during this show, but not of real or thoughtful relationships – these ought to mean the same thing, but I’m not sure they do at SXSW
- The weekend sessions are really crowded, and the content on weekdays seemed better
- Parties are overtaking sessions, and there’s a lot of corporate dough rolling in – HP’s mobile park hosted musicians and artists, and daily happy hours, in a really cool space
I did manage to attend several worthwhile sessions at SXSW this year – most notably around social measurement, a timely topic that we talk with our clients about a lot. Panelists from a session late yesterday will share their presentation this week, so I’ll share more on that soon. But, in short, these discussions revolved around accessing more of the Twitter “fire hose,” automating relevant social monitoring, and the metrics that should matter.
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