The gray cloud that ate Austin: Where's the amazing at SXSW '09?

I just had a guy stop me in the hall at SXSW.  We passed each other in the middle of a session block so it was obvious where I was coming from.

"Hey, did you just come from a panel that sucked?"


"What was it?"

I think that's how a lot of people were feeling.  Except for Leah Buley's panel, I haven't seen very many "amazing" mentions in my SXSW Twitter stream.

There's definitely something in the air here this year that hasn't been here the last two--or something lacking, rather.  I feel like people are waiting for something--perhaps a little expectant--both the attendees and the panels.  The assumption that something amazing would happen simply by getting a critical mass of creative people in Austin for a few days... just... well.. hasn't really panned out before.

Maybe it's Twitter's fault.  People have been asking and wondering what the killer app of SXSW was going to be this year--as if what happened in 2007 with the Twitter explosion just happens every year.  The idea that the gods of SXSW just magically pick a startup to bless each year is kind of silly. 

Get over it: Twitter was *the* perfect app right at the right time at the ideal venue--stars aligned, lightning strike, never going to happen again.

And the panels...  Well, they just seem kind of... tired.  I've never been picked to be on a panel, but if I was, boy would I go out of my way to setup something exciting.  I'd be doing cartwheels on the panel...getting up from behind the panel and walking through the audience.  INTERACTING (since this is SXSWinteractive, right?)  I don't feel like many of the people I've seen have been particularly appreciative to get their spots.  A lot of people say that if you've been picked before, you've got a good chance to speak again.  Maybe that shouldn't be.  Maybe we should do a clean slate next year--all new, first time voices--unless you totally rocked your panel so much that no one said it was bad and people were talking about it for days--and maybe that's like 10 panels... tops.

The economy has forced people to rethink their businesses to focus on the bottom line.  How do we drive revenue, drive adoption, focus, focus, focus?  That is, except for companies that got a bailout. 

Perhaps SXSW is the victim of an emotional bailout--the carryover of buzz from the past, because I don't see it refocusing itself on the bottom line: amazingness.  People here seem to be waiting for a government bailout of a billion amazingness points instead of creating amazingness on their own. 

I'm going to be spending more time with the education track folks in the next day or so, because they're fighting a good fight and I think the kinds of teachers that are here are the really passionate ones... but if I run into another social media marketing expert looking for the next killer SXSW app, I'm going to throw up the ribs I ate for lunch the last two days.