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Why SXSW Sucks (jolieodell.wordpress.com)
68 points by AgentIcarus on Mar 16, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments

I think a lot of SXSWi's downfall is due to the "Social Media Experts" who are starting to infiltrate our world. I saw a tweet the other day that said it best... Social Media Experts are just people who can't design or build. I can't agree more.

I went 2 and 3 years ago respectively, primarily because I had heard so many interesting things about the panels. I'd see tweets or blog posts about interesting design panels and new technologies or startups being announced and talked about in Austin. I remember really enjoying the scalability one with the guys from Automattic (Matt Mullenweg), Digg (Joe Stump), etc... I haven't heard a single thing like that this year, and am glad I didn't go. I don't doubt that there were some decent panels, but no one seems to have cared about them.

Why? It's become a place to party among the twitterati and "elite" of the startup and web world. It's like going clubbing on Sunset in Hollywood and hoping to run into Lindsay Lohan shooting up in the bathroom. Spotting guys like Kevin Rose, Daniel Burka (digg designer), Gary Vaynerchuk, Ashton Kutcher, (and girls like) Justine Ezarik, etc.... I'm not saying it doesn't sound like fun going to parties every night and getting hammered, but thats really all that it has become.

I could go on and on complaining about how lame SXSWi was... my company was going to pay completely for me to go last year and I turned it down knowing it would suck. There are much better things to spend money on. If I lived in Austin I might go just for the social aspect... but really the conference itself is worthless.

Social Media Experts are just people who can't design or build.

In other words, they're like the other 99.9% of humanity? The ones we built the web for, the ones who bring all the money and attention and customers? ;)

Social media experts are best considered as the power users of the stuff being built by the hackers and designers. They have an audience and can be an influencer for you, but at the end of the day, they're squarely on the consumer side of the divide. As such, it's important to reach out to and build relationships with these folks, but not to act to surprised by the uberconsumer behavior, which we all display at some time.

SXSW isn't a tech conference. It's a music/film festival with an "interactive" section.

I don't think I would consider the interactive section which is primarily made up of bloggers and web startups(and not focused on the tech they use) as a tech section. Bloggers are not tech oriented(unless they primarily write about some sort of new technology).

I went a few years ago for just the music festival and had a blast. Andrew W.K. showed up and did a scavenger hunt under a highway overpass. I had one of those expensive badges and found other badge holders were pretty nice. Chatted with someone from SOMAFM for a while.

It's funny, I first heard of SXSW only in the context of the music/film stuff and was thoroughly confused later when I heard it mentioned as some sort of "tech" event and actually thought maybe they were two different events. It's good to know I wasn't totally off-base.

I think it's also only recently that the interactive part has been big at all. Not entirely sure, but it feels like 2007 or 2008 was the first year it was one of those big all-the-cool-kids-in-SF-must-fly-to-Austin deals. Certainly the late-90s SXSWs didn't have anyone flying there for the tech content (though plenty were flying there for the music and films).

I know a number of web designers who refer to SXSW as "geek spring break", and could never quite figure out just what was so geeky about the event. Outside of the music/film part, it's a marketing schmooze fest for "Web 2.0" types.

True. The underlying assumption in bolting the interactive conference onto the rest of SXSW is this:

Interactive apps are entertainment properties and will have a similar development trajectory to bands and films: experiment -> indie -> niche hit -> mainstream hit.

If you're building a piece of software that actually delivers value, this is not a likely trajectory for your project. And if you're a techie building something that actually is an entertainment product, SXSWi is a great way to see how the industry funnel operates, and just how brutal it is in culling thousands of conference wannabees (these are the people giving out shirts and stickers) to just a handful of big hits (people who draw the biggest crowds at sessions and parties). The 2008 iteration was a pretty convincing argument that the startup I was then working at wouldn't win at what it was trying to do.

Why SXSW is awesome:

- Discovering a lot of up and coming talented musicians

- Seeing artists like Arcade Fire, Beirut, Muse, Ben Harper, and Tom Morello play at small bars.

- Catching the world premiere of a film where the director and all of the stars are in attendance

- Free day parties with free beer

- Seeing Ice Cube, Public Enemy, Talib Kweli, and Del tha Funkee Homosapien perform for free by the lake.

- Having some drinks with a bunch of business guys at some startup-of-the-month's party

- Making new friends

- Making business contacts that lead to jobs or business opportunities

I live here in Austin and SXSW is my favorite time of year. Yes there are some sucky tech panels, but there are a few gems. I saw a few great panels such as "Beyond LAMP", discussions on location based services and mobile advertising, and talks by DHH and Jason Fried. Best of all, I got to do all of this for free by volunteering, and got a free music badge for doing so. Here's my music schedule:


How exactly does it suck to go to hundreds of concerts, see dozens of movies, and party with thousands of technologists and entrepreneurs?

The author should rename the article to "why SXSWi sucks" at least, because SXSW is a lot more than a tech conference.

Anyone saying the interactive section is not tech-focused is out of the (tech) loop.

Case in point: I attended the Infochimps Data Cluster Meetup. They kicked it off with a debate around SQL vs NOSQL. 5 minutes into one of the NOSQL guys saying why his stuff is great, Werner Vogels gets up and basically lays the smack-down on the guy. This talk is followed up by BOFs on different aspects of working with big data.

I guess this wasn't an official SXSW party, but you'd really have to not be keyed into the events around the conference to not know it was going on.

EDIT: I should also point out that the guys from Factual, WolframAlpha, Rackspace, Cassandra, (oh and me from 80legs :) were there. It was really awesome.

First that type of panel was rare. For every panel like that there were four such as "Twitter and Dating in 140 Characters or Less", "Crowd Sourcing Innovative Social Change", "Interactive Documentaries: A Multidimensional Narrative", "Millionaire or Artist? how about Both?"

Second "tech" focused has different meanings for different folks I don't think debating SQL vs NOSQL is very tech-focused. Tech focused for me is here's this thing, maybe some of why/how we built it, but definitely some how you can use it, and esp here's the code.

SXSWi maybe a tech conference. It sure isn't a developer conference. But, I'm glad it's not. People whining that SXSWi is not the type of conference they want need to stfu and go to the correct conference.

Well I think your definition of tech-focused is too narrow for me, but fair enough.

User Groups are more for that stuff. The cool thing about SXSW is that you can totally set up an impromptu user group and get 20-50 attendees if you want. In fact, that is how the Data meetup happened last year.

"here's the code"? I thought "tech" was short for "technology" only part of which involves code.

Could you summarize the "smackdown" please?

My take is that NoSQL is a return to the hierarchical databases that the relational model replaced for many uses (both have a place of course).

Did anybody get some video of this smack-down?

The first video should be available today from The Changelog, and a better quality copy in the next few days: http://twitter.com/changelogshow/status/10581052288

I think they had video there.. check the Infochimps blog for info: http://blog.infochimps.org/ (not there yet, but hopefully they'll post it if it exists).

I've seen a remarkable dearth of "genuinely interesting tech stories out of SXSW" reports in the last...well, ever.

The music side of things is rather more interesting; I'd actually like to go to that, one day.

I got some good interviews done last year, but this year, it's been much more challenging, if only because I've had to jump through hoops to track down the newsmakers this year, while last year, they were all kinda hanging out together in the Blogger Lounge.

I've been laying low for a couple days and plan to come out only when Interactive is over and Music is in full swing. Next year, I think I'll just buy a Music badge.

I hope the music portion is much less douchey. :)

Did you read that before you hit publish?

Beg pardon? Did I miss your mentioning that you'd be there?

The technology is some geek bolt on anyway. SXSW is originally a music event, and in that regard it's fantastic. I'd love to be at Antone's right now sipping a Corona and taking a break from the constant gnawing of tech puzzles, possibilities and opportunities that weigh on me during the business day.

meh. i've not really ever viewed SXSW as tech-focused. i consider it basically a communal geek vacation/retreat. and if you treat it as such, it fits pretty well into your expectations.

I had the same worries about SXSW, and while I agree there was too much walking, talking spam this year, that didn't prevent me from having an awesome time, and great conversations from some of the most genuine people I've ever met. I'm not exactly sure what "we all deserve to have fewer people and more and better technology" means, but it seems we should be happy to see technologies turned into tools that all these "douchebags" can be excited about.

It's sad to see it become less of a grassroots conference than it was, but that's how a market evolves. Then again, the first time I ever went was only three years ago, so maybe I'm just not cool enough?

I am on a fight back from Austin. On my trip I got to meet dozens of happy users, answer customer support questions in person, hang out with my co-workers in a non-work setting, meet with a number of company founders and brainstorm on ways to make our products better, and chill out with some really interesting folks from Skype.

So no, it did not suck.

It's ironic that a journalist is complaining about a lack of developer attendance. And I appreciate that the web has a growing and vibrant culture. There are whole categories of jobs that didn't exist when I went a few years ago. I had a great time, the more the merrier!

It seems that this will be the third time on a reasonable followed site/blog that I have to explain to so many whiners why SXSWi is cool/fun/beneficial: the tech splinter parties/events/hackfests that AREN'T associated with SXSWi. Now granted, to say that there was a "lack of tech" is total horseshit. Web frameworks face-off, server-side JavaScript, CVC not MVC, even the Google hackfest brought out just that: real hackers. And the this list goes on from there...

Moreover, the events/parties with the most DBs (douchebags not databases or decibels) were mainly the ones that were officially associated with SXSWi. Note to anyone especially those trying to find movers and shakers to interview them or simply network: the movers and shakers are NOT at these parties.

You need to check places like the Hotel St. Cecilia, The Highball, the East Side of Austin in general, all within 1-3 miles of the convention center.

Finally, local Austin groups put together some stellar parties/events/hackfests: Austin Rails, Wordpress BBQ, Austin JavaScript Party, etc.

Yes I am a local so I didn't have to pay for flight, hotel, rental car, etc. but what I do have to do is continue to defend the techies of Austin that make SXSWi fun and worthwhile.

BTW, I'll be at the (mt) closeout party tonight at Mohawk. Come say hi, we are friendly in Austin... ;-)

Personally I don't see that much evidence that SXSW has gone down hill. Of course things change from year to year, and one year you might have a bad experience with other attenders being rude, but overall I think it is still a great opportunity.

Of course I live in Austin, so I am probably biased. Also I don't have to pay for a flight to Austin to attend, so the value for cost is much higher.

The tweets I am reading suggest most everything is regurgitating things we've all read in our aggregators? I heard about the Digg redesign, and that a couple of the interviewers suck, and some other self-help-sounding axioms, but that's all I've seen come out of there. Anyone know of anything else really big?

This is the biggest thing I've noticed. For example, the HTML 5 sessions were all stuff I've read about. The thing to know is SXSW isn't for the we're all hardcore HTML5 experts lets get into the grittiest depths of the subject. It's more hey all you folks who don't have a clue, this is why HTML5 is hot.

The key to SXSWi is to go to panels you know nothing about, and/or you're not sure are that applicable to your "world".

Both this year and last year the best panels were the ones I ended up in cause I got lost and went to wrong ballroom or I thought were gonna suck.

Shame to hear it's gone downhill so fast.

I'll always have a soft spot for SXSW, since they pretty much put Twiddla on the radar by giving us the Technical Achievement award a few years back.

That was the only one I attended, so I can't comment on whether it's getting better or worse. All I know is that it was pretty cool back in 2007.

There is no question the growth of the conference has made it harder for the hallway conversations to happen.

As for the changes in the content, you can judge for yourself, here's an archive of the 2006 schedule which includes 14 sessions with the word "blog":


Just another reason the serious hackers and geeks amongst us just stay here in the Bay Area. We can all go get drunk with super famous geeks and then take BART or CalTrain home. And the only douche bags here are at the W hotel.

Interesting variety of "douche" usage:

douchebag (n), douchey (adj), douche up (v)

Still, I think she needs a new word.

Yeah, I think I had 9 instances of "douche" in one sentence.

Comedic value aside, it wasn't exactly Shakespeare.

I prefer the word "database."

I imagine the event sucks a little bit more if you're a journalist. Or an attractive woman.

The author is both, which probably makes for the worst SXSW experience possible. The theft and hit-and-run are the cherry on top.

Interestingly enough, Jolie didn't approve my comment on her blog that suggested she might be out of the loop.

Having the best time ever at SXSW. Like anything else, it's what you make of it.

Douchebags ruining things isn't unique to SXSW, it's more a universal constant.

TL;DR SXSW sucks because when you leave your shit unattended it gets stolen and nothing interesting came and knocked down her door.

Instead of dismissing people she's never met as douchebags maybe she should talk to them and she'd find something "bloggable". "Content" isn't bloggable, it's the context and the story behind it all and how it relates to people. I guess when all you have is a douche, everything looks like a douchebag. The last thing the world needs is yet another blog entry about "twitter" or whatever the latest fad is. The tomorrow's stories are in today's crowds, a big part of finding the next big thing first is sorting an incredibly huge pile of shit.

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