13 April 2011
South by Southwest this year was wonderful. From the moment I stepped off the plane and felt the delightfully warm air (weather in Philly had been especially cold and gloomy), my spirits were up and I was ready for my sixth straight SXSW.
Every year as SXSW prep starts, I go through a strange mixture of emotions. Usually a few months out, I start to find out who isn’t coming this year for one reason or another. I also look at the ever-growing number of sessions and extracurricular events to weed through and decide what’s worth attending. All of this usually just bums me out and I wonder why on earth I’m going again this year. Then things start looking up: I start talking to all my friends who are coming and we start to reminisce about years past, getting instantly excited about what to expect this year.
More so than ever before, the truly wonderful times were had with some of my best friends on this planet, outside of any sanctioned events or schedule. I participated in the SXSW Found Type Photowalk, and I did go to two sessions, which were both fantastic. I went to one official party which was pretty lousy; and Happy Cog hosted a private party which was excellent. The rest of the time I spent doing much more important things like grabbing coffee with friends, old and new, in the morning; and pints with the same in the evening.
SXSW is definitely too big for its britches. I wonder if they will ever start capping attendance and making everything a bit more manageable. I sure hope they do, because for several years now the trend to skip the conference badge and hang out has been gaining momentum. I don’t say that with any ill-will toward the people who run SXSW. Here’s what I said under the comments section when I filled out the survey this year:
These days 95+% of my enjoyment of SXSW comes from non-SXSW-related activities (hanging out with my friends, going to a pub/coffeeshop/etc, shooting photos). Every year I’m less likely to get a badge because it’s too big, too overloaded, and the signal to noise ratio is getting worse. I really really want SXSW to succeed and it has a huge place in my heart as the place where I really got started in the web. I miss the days when it was all in the convention center and it was easy to bounce around and make panel attendance decisions on the fly. I hope it gets better!