Just a couple of quick thoughts on SXSW '13...
Last year, people seemed pretty disappointed, because of where their expectations were. They still wanted to take in the whole conference, but it was just too big to do that, so it felt overwhelming. This year, there seemed to be a dozen little splinter conferences and threads--Edu, Social Good, Startup America, and so people just punted on the idea that you could swallow the whole thing in one bite. Gone are the mass texts, tweets and checkins of "Where is everyone going?" because this year, it's more about who you're with now and where you are at the moment, and making the best of it. In some ways, it's better--people seem less worried about missing something else, and more willing to get to know the person at hand.
In some ways, it's worse. Gone are the days when every single person you met left you with the feeling of "I can't believe I met that person." The conference has scaled and you're statistically more likely to run into a an assistant social media marketing intern from Unilever as you are to run into the team behind that awesome thing that inspired you that you use everyday.
For those that are already well tapped in to their industry, that means that you're more likely to stay close to home in your own circles--and hangout with friends. In a way, it's an analogy for what's gone on in the world of social media over the last year or so. We realized that being superficially connected to everyone isn't as meaningful as having a few close ties to people we genuinely want to get to know--and we tend to know a lot of those people already once we go deep into our passions.
When you've got people more focused on partying with friends, the invite lists don't go as wide, you wind up with more, smaller options, and even a huge party like Foursquare or Mashable seemed a little less #epic. Even a GaryVee secret wine party didn't quite carry the same buzz to it.
In fact, the diffusion of scale seemed to dull a lot of the potential for conference-wide buzz. Without a lot of cross- pollenation, you didn't get the sense that anything could break through and take over the whole conference from an app perspective. People relied on the tools we used last year--Foursquare, Groupme, Twitter, perhaps with a bit more of Instagram mixed in, but nothing really that new.
The keynotes seemed pretty compelling this year--lots of people were talking about Elon Musk and a rare public speaking gig from Swissmiss was a real hit, but the conference failed to help channel folks to the best non-featured panels for them. That is, unless you wanted to spend two hours researching. I felt like people wanted to go see some panels this year, maybe because there were so many new folks, but the user experience behind sorting through them was a disaster. Panelist names weren't even in the mobile app. I might want to go see a 3D printing panel, but it's really going to depend on whether Bre is giving it, or it's Abe Vigoda. SXSW needs to do a much better job of exposing panels--maybe a Twitter/LinkedIn integration where I tell you who I am, you give me a slider on how exposed to new things I want to be, and you recommend a series of panels for me. You tell me who I know that is speaking, who's speaking on the topics I tweet about, and then throw in a few sex hacking panels to broaden my perspective. That would have been something.
As I biked back to my AirBnB last night, I was telling my friend that I had met a potential startup investment, a potential fund investor, and had some awesome meals with cool people. That's enough to get me back--but that doesn't mean that SXSW is the same. It has matured, stabelized, and it seems that it will now forever be something you know what you're getting out of, versus something where seemingly anything could happen that would affect the rest of the world.
That isn't a bad thing. It's just different, so pour one out for SXSW '07 and come back next year.