I’m enjoying a nice little break between conferences. I’m taking it easy with my in-laws in the warm climes of Saint Augustine, Florida where I’ve been spending my time soaking up the sun and gently freaking out about my upcoming talk at An Event Apart in Seattle.
This break comes at the just the right time after all the hustle and bustle of South by Southwest. I’m not the only one reflecting on this year’s event. The general consensus from just about everyone is that they had a great time, even if opinion is divided on the value of the conference portion.
SxSWi is in danger of growing too big for its britches.
Whilst the key reason for visiting SXSW remains being able to meet up with so many people at the same time, the diminishing quality of topics and sessions means its harder to justify the price of a ticket.
This year I finally gave up on the conference itself, going to a handful of sessions. I met many more who hadn’t seen a single session and several who didn’t even bother buying a ticket. Instead people spent time seeing friends and maintaining the weak ties in their social graph. I say that somewhat wryly, but SXSW really has become about networking in the most real and genuine sense of the word.
I had a great time, once again, but only in the sense that Austin is a fine city and you can’t help but have fun hanging out with good friends from across the country (and globe) whom you see in person only rarely. The conference itself, though, is a mess.
That’s a bit harsh but then again, I’m fortunate enough to go to plenty of conferences so I don’t have great expectations for the sessions at Southby. If it were the only conference I was attending, I’d probably want to get more obvious benefit from the presentations—Jessica noticed that even the good talks she saw still suffered from being somewhat superficial, lacking a real “deep dive” into the subject matter.
That said, I made some pretty good choices and wound up at some excellent panels. On the whole I was trying to avoid panels directly related to work so I was sure to check out the superb Made It So: Interface Makers in Movies featuring Mark Coleran and other stalwarts of cinematic sci-fi. But I felt duty-bound to attend panels on HTML5 and microformats—they may as well have been titled The Politics Behind HTML5, Jeremy, The Future of Microformats, Jeremy and Browser Wars IV, Jeremy.
Good thing they turned out to be highly entertaining. In particular, Arun’s moderation of the annual Browser Wars panel was a joy to behold. I didn’t need to rush the stage or grab the mic or anything—Arun took care of asking all the tricky questions without mercy. And let’s not forget the brilliance of Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel, made all the more wonderful by the zinging wit of Mandy’s one-liners.
Still, I can totally understand why quite a few people chose to come to Austin but not attend the conference itself. The conference part definitely plays second fiddle to the social aspect. Josh sums it up nicely when he writes:
I don’t know what the future holds for this conference, but I am thankful for the opportunity to deepen old friendships and create brand new ones, all while geeking out and wandering around the beautiful city of Austin.