Why SXSW Sucks

UPDATE: I wrote this in 2010 as a ReadWriteWeb employee. It’s now 2011, I write for Mashable, and my opinion of SXSWi remains largely unchanged.

I am thrilled that many Mashable staffers are going to SXSW and that the company is hosting a 2-day “house” at Buffalo Billiards; but I’m equally happy that the company has allowed me to stay home and mind the shop this year.

While I’ve missed seeing my non-SF friends who have traveled to Austin, I’ve had many more news opportunities in San Francisco, not least of which was getting to observe and report from Facebook’s Hacker Cup yesterday. Lots of luck and happiness to you in Austin; hope to see you in the Bay Area soon!

“Too many people, not enough tech.”

I tweeted that earlier today from Austin, Texas. Last year, I had a wonderful time meeting up with my friends at SXSWi. This year, I have almost had a wonderful time meeting up with my friends but have spent most of my time trying to avoid being harassed, maligned, groped, ogled and threatened by the masses of people – I’m hearing 40% more than last year – who are holding badges. This show isn’t fun, and I won’t be coming back.

How sad that such a wonderful thing has gone so wrong.

My greatest concern at the outset was the relative lack of truly technical content. I haven’t even seen that many startups here this year, and even fewer developers. And non-technical people aren’t here to learn; they’re here for self-congratulation and mutual masturbation. People I’ve never heard of are referring to themselves as Twitter celebrities and generally making me ill. The real “celebrities” are dodging and evading these shallow douchebags, showing up at and slipping away from one official party after another to convene in a more refined, unofficial setting – only to find swarms of douchebags showing up an hour or so after the location is made known. Call me a snob, but the only decent events I’ve been to had insanely good crowd control mechanisms in place.

Walking and skating around the city over the past few nights, I began to see more of the problem. Generally, one feels a sense of camaraderie with one’s fellow badge holders. This week and last weekend, my fellow badge holders have been far from courteous. They behaved like dogs, both to me and to Austinites, who were even less appreciative of such behavior than I. Several people have had gadgets (my netbook and another well-known dude‘s cameras) stolen, and my poor old car was the victim of a hit-and-run in the convention center parking garage. These aren’t the kind of things that hapen among a group of professionally respectful peers.

It pains me that I haven’t found bloggable content yet. It pains me that I can’t get close enough to my friends for more than a few minutes at a time. It truly pains me that my women friends and I are no longer safe to walk down the streets in Austin when South By is going on. And the worst part is that I see the city – the people who live here year round – suffering from the negligence and disrespect of abusive persons.

We all deserve to have fewer people and more and better technology. How can this be achieved without creating inappropriately prohibitive pricing? TED has the veneer of intellectual elitism, but I’m sure the rich douchebags who can afford to attend are just as douchey as the broke-ass douchebags who douche up SXSW.

Can we have profitable conferences that are still beneficial? And what do we do when our favorite conference jumps the shark? What city will we invade next, and how long will we be welcome there? Is invite-only, à  la Kinnernet, the way to go?

263 thoughts on “Why SXSW Sucks

  1. That is why I avoided SXSW this year. It’s gotten way too popular and no one can truly enjoy what it has to offer without the masses cutting in. Sorry you’re having to deal with all that.

    • I had a good experience overall this year — other than one notoriously bad panel, the rest were good — a lot of non-technical stuff per se, but a lot of conversations about technology and social impact (that had nothing to do with business strategy and twitter celebrities). last year, ego-pimping turned me off to a lot of things. I think if you focused on a lot of tech events (the Semantic Web meetup or even the UX workshops were pretty decent), or went to anything involving a buzzword (‘innovation’ doesn’t really mean that much as sxswi anymore), it was going to be a bad time. Also, a decent shot for parties were the parties with a one-drink ticket strategy — the drink til you drop leeches rarely showed up for those.

    • i hope more people decide not to come back…it really sucks these days…bad enough the music is just garbage (as is most in this era of recycled magnetic tape). man oh man has austin died :C

      • Austin hasn’t died — it just leaves town during spring break to avoid the SXSW crowds. It’s lovely now that y’all aren’t here. Come back any time that you don’t have 11,000 of your closest friends with you, and you’ll see.

  2. The problem is that SXSW was not a “tech” thing to begin with. It got co-opted by the tech community primarily for it’s location in Austin, a hotbed of tech startups. But SXSW had been around 20 years before Twitter announced there, so this relatively recent trend for it to be “tech” is conflicted with the actual large number of people who see it as “social”.

    Unfortunately, if you want to do a tech scene, you have to leave all that other stuff out. Too many people are into social media, and while those people *use* technology, they’re not techie-type people themselves. The web is no longer the domain of the nerd, it’s the domain of the internet-enabled socialite as well.

    • Agreed. It’s problematic, though, because the real contribution of the “internet-enabled socialite” is minimal at best, distracting and a waste of time at worst.

      I love SXSW because I love visiting one of my home towns and having an excuse to party with friends (just go to local spots with no crowds), but I do wish a much higher percentage of the attendees had the tech chops to drop some knowledge every once in awhile over that beer. The people I’m drinking with certainly do, but they’re too few and far between. SXSW could use a little more Google I/O and vice versa.

      • I went the last few years and I am a woman. I totally disagree with what’s been said here. I had a great time, experienced no harassment (and I am not unattractive) I went to some great thoughtful sessions with people who had huge hearts and great creative content. I have heard the tech stuff kind of ebbs and flows. Last year there was lots of hard core tech, this year not as much, prob. next year there will be more. It kind of follows the birth of new technologies and computer languages in the real world. There has not been that much new in 2009-2010 so not as much hands on geek-hood.

        The social media crowd can be overbearing but by and large most are harmless.

        I would comment that it depends on where you want to hang out. If you want to walk down 6th street then yes rude comments often follow, but that street is famous for college beer bars and dives.

        I went to the FRAY cafe event, AND 20×2 as two of the best parties in town. They were NOT overcrowded. the events were awesome and the people fun.

        I would propose that you get out of sxsw what you put into it, as with everything.

        I hope it continues. And I hope people that are unhappy with parts of it, voice their concerns to the organizers who seem to be very receptive to feedback.

      • I think it is silly any of this (or y’all) are considered “tech”nical. All of you are users of an end product, engineered by technical people.

        SXSWi is appropriately named, “interactive”. You use (interact) with technology that is designed by the real “tech” people (i.e., engineers). I would not include the author of this blog, or anyone I’ve met at these as someone “technical”.

        That is not a cut – but just know who you are. Someone who uses a technical product, designed for you by engineers and technical product managers. We hide the technology from you (making it accessible).

        Go find a way to use the end product to interact, socialize, or make some money.

    • Gotta go with Otto on this one. SXSW was meant for the music industry. Unfortunately, too many folks are trying to glom other industries into the fray to keep the tourist money flowing. Wait another week and you could have experience beer, BBQ, and bands at their finest.

    • Bravo Otto. I know tech startups need to start somewhere and SXSW seems to be one place that they can show their wares and mingle, but as you say SXSW is more than that (despite having never been myself). I agree whole heartedly with your last sentence. It’s hard enough to get ‘real’ people interested in such things if it cannot break away from being a nerd club. There are plenty of people out there who are enormous evangelists for Internet stuff who have never coded and don’t know what an IP address is.

    • “The web is no longer the domain of the nerd, it’s the domain of the internet-enabled socialite as well.”


    • Sorry, Otto. I don’t think you know your history. Sure, music came first, but SXSW interactive first hit in 1994.

      Twitter didn’t “announce” at SXSWi, it just became a hit, so to speak because of the audience and the on-site need and word of mouth.

      The problem is that the event has grown too big without the organizers having enough ownership of the size. They’ve essentially allowed a 500 person event structure to scale into a 12,000 (15,000?) person event without any fundamental changes in concept.

  3. Glad to hear this hasn’t just been my perception, though mine was at a distance. It sounds like it is becoming more and more like the “Tech Spring Break” people have been saying it is. If I go to a conference I want to get some actual work done, not just see which parties I can and can not get in to.

  4. Jolie, Got to this post from a tweet by Jesse Stay (@Jesse). Not being at SXSW I can not comment on the behavior of the masses but I can understand how SXSW could easily have become an event of image and not substance. What I can see is that there has bee precious little useful technical info emerging from SXSW. Time will tell but not much forthcoming yet.

  5. Interesting perspective Jolie. For me, it seems like every conference I go to now days is becoming the same thing. It seems to be more and more that the wanna-bees attend the conferences, while the actual-dos are busy at home or the office doing something.

    Social media has made it so much worse, because if all you care about is following numbers, anyone with a netbook can accrue 100,000 followers and proclaim they are somebody, thereby increasing noise on and off the net.

    Maybe we should start an invitation only conference. 😉

    • I think these things go in waves. I remember when COMDEX was an interesting event to watch the news from. Then it started to wobble, become a pile of glittery crap, and then it was gone.

      Oh well; SXSWi was good while it lasted. Let the US tech convention scene lie fallow for a year and another event will emerge that’ll be good for a few years before it too needs to be abandoned.

      The invitation-only conference might avoid this particular fate, but I don’t think it’ll be what you want, which is SXSWi without the present idiots. I don’t think that’s possible in the long run; anything good and open will get overrun by idiots but anything not open won’t get good in the same way.

  6. Bravo! very brave comments here. Sounds a bit melodramatic, but I for one, was asked by everyone I knew professionally and personally, to come down. Happy I didn’t. I stayed in NYC and ya know, did some work

  7. Jolie,

    I came to SxSW aboard the Startup Bus and had a blast (thanks for taking the time to speak to our crew).

    The creative spirit aboard the bus was unmatched, the the projects that emerged were as innovative in terms of business and technology as any others I’ve seen (not saying much, since we were 25 strangers hacking aboard a moving bus with spotty internet connection).

    Would be great if the SxSW organizers tried to bottle up more of this spirit with more on-site hackathons and features of more innovative (even crazy) projects.

  8. It’s funny, because I was lamenting not being able to go to SxSW for the last few months. But once it was upon us, I’m realizing that I’m really glad I didn’t go. It sounds like it has become everything that I hate about live in Hollywood, except with uglier people. I’m seeing tweets like “been in line for the Digg party for an hour, can anybody hook me up?” or “I’m in the VIP room with @douchebag, @otherdouchebag, and @wannabedouchebag.” I expect I’ll soon see pics of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan in the laps of some tech CEOs.

    What I haven’t seen is any actual tech news. I’ve been tuning into tech blogs first thing in the morning to read about some next big thing, but I’m getting nothing. All I’m seeing is an annoying increase in Foursquare and Gowalla check-ins in my Twitter and Facebook streams … but nothing has happened that has made me care.

  9. This is my first SXSWi; I go to 3-5 tech and media conferences a year, speak at 1-3 of them. I was pretty disappointed so far. The “party” atmosphere was fun on the first day of events, and unusual, but the evening parties were horrible – massive droves of uninterested and uncaring people crowding-out the much smaller number of people who had a genuine interest in being here and talking about the things they love.

    I thought it might be a product of size, but I’ve been to big conferences which still have a really positive atmosphere.

    Having been to other Austin conferences, I think it’s an issue of image – how people coming to Austin for the conference already perceive Austin. SXSWi feels like “6th street carried into the convention center”.

    Other, smaller, Austin conferences manage to co-exist with the presence of 6th street without inter-mingling with it. If you want to go down 6th while you’re there, you can – but the conference itself exists apart from it. It feels like SXSWi has embraced 6th and forced us all to be part of that, no choice allowed.

    Personally? I’d like to see SXSWi 2011 take place in San Francisco. (bearing in mind that I have to fly from Europe, so this isn’t an issue of convenience). SF is big enough to accomodate the influx of people (hotel prices in SF don’t go up by a factor of 3! Unlike Austin right now 😦 ), and allows for a lot of partying, without the lowest-common-denominator mentality.

    Just IMHO…

    • We could call this new SF conference, WXWC – West By West Coast. We could have it at the Moscone center and all tech and social media people could converge on the city and talk about tech and social media. There could be a huge keynote that is hyped and never promises every thing we want. Oh, wait. They already do one. It is called Macworld. Or this is just San Francisco every day.

      Really, we could do a different conference, but why not focus on making a better SXSW?

  10. That’s unfortunate about your take on SXSW. No one should ever feel that they are “being harassed, maligned, groped, ogled and threatened by the masses of people.”

    This year was the first time I attended interactive (I typically attend music). I don’t know what category of individual I fall in from your blog post but I would say that the events did feel overcrowded. Most of the time I had to wait in line to attend high-level panels. In addition, the networking parties seemed to be extremely packed. Having said all that, I had a really great time meeting new acquaintances and would definitely recommend to others interested in interactive professions to attend.

    My industry and my passion is in online media, including social media. There is no event I have attended recently that allows me to connect with the people I have fostered a minor relationship with online and extend upon that introduction face-to-face. And, in the end isn’t that a big component to SXSW? I know for me my main goal was to meet with individuals who share the same passion and work towards a commonality to better our profession.

    Keep Austin Weird.

  11. I feel the same. I will not return. A colleague & I went to our first SXSWi with the need to involve our company more in the social media area. We are a Wholesale Distribution company & feel that we need to get more info out there for our dealer base. No need to sell our brand since we are the ones to choose our dealer base. Just wanted to see fresh ideas.

    First day was actually great. Not many people & the panels were interesting. Second day was NUTS! WAY too many people there! Panels were fine but rude people everywhere. This is not what I am used to at conferences. We live in and around Austin & this was NOT what I expected. Seemed like people were worried about themselves & proving there social real estate than really networking. Lack of manners everywhere I looked.

    I did see some great bloggers & vloggers. I really wanted to just say hello & thank them for all they do. (I am a one man show for tech at our company so I stay up on the happenings by reading blogs and watching web shows.) But after the “How Not to be a Douchebag” panel I felt like just wanting to say hello & just thank them was not right anymore. The one time I finally got up the nerve to say hello, after the second day taping of BOL, I was nervous as heck but said “Hello and Thank You” to Veronica Belmont but just left after that with a sick stomach. And I really wanted to thank the rest of the BOL group but felt “Douchey” already. I remember when a handshake and “Thank You” was respectful & the right way to respect others works. I did not want them to plug me on Twitter or take a picture with them to post all over the interwebs to prove I am somebody. I feel that personal connection has really died. Sad. Really sad.

    SXSW made me feel like I had to fit in by partying & chumming it up after hours. I did attend one Meet Up at Malverde for BOL. It was great and we met a few other attendees. Really the only other ones that really talked with us. They were from Austin & were great. I never had the nerve to chat with the BOL crew but it was nice how they took the time to meet & take pics for everyone there.

    SXSW has gone Fanboy & Stalkerville. I had opportunities to speak to Chris Pirillo, The BOL Crew, iJustine, Cali Lewis, etc. But it seemed that, thanks to others who want something from them, really ruined it for people in the trenches whom just appreciate what they do on a normal level. Who just appreciate there time & effort.

    I wish SXSW would honestly just take less attendees. There were way to many people. I like that WWDC for Apple has a number and they sell out of tickets. I can see why now. It makes sense. I feel more at home & comfortable chatting with others there. You do have a few egos there but those are few. Most are just normal people there to learn. Like me are not there to get more business but want to meet others that have a common interest. Like just being human & talking with others. Wow amazing concept.

    There were nice people here. The Volunteers were great! Panels were fine. (Sunday we just stayed home. Tired of all the people and wanted a break. Also skipped Tuesday had enough of the crowds.) This was not a complete doom and gloom conference. We did bring back some ideas & some info from the Expo Floor. All in all a 70/20 on the money spent. The 20% was the good we got out of it.

    From me to all the bloggers & vloggers out there- “Thank your for your time & effort!” And to Jolie for your efforts on your Twitter Posts & Blog! Sorry your computer was stolen & car damaged. This is not a true representation of Austin or this area. I hope to one day shake your hand and just say Thank You. Just not at SXSW

    • Don – your comments were insightful and thoughtful. It would be nice to have you part of any event.

      Artificiality and huge egos are unwelcome everywhere, in my book.

  12. “Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.”

    Mark Twain

  13. If you’re looking to connect with developers and do some learning on the technical side (still trying your hand at Python?) I would highly suggest you come to Open Source Bridge in Portland this summer.

    This is a developers conference at the core, though there are non-technical speakers and tracks. It’s only its second year, but the location is awesome (24-hour hacker lounge in an art museum? Yes please!), there’s been great content, and there are basically zero douchebags. The only downside for you is that it’s not the kind of place you’re going to catch a lot of newsy stuff from startups.

    • Another vote for Open Source Bridge. Had a brief sit-down with @reidab and the founder of @whiffies a few nights ago and he spoke of a mid-sized (last year at least), developer/startup focused conference, complete with hackathons and alternative living sessions that he seemed passionate about. It made me smile inside when he said “What’s your Twitter username?” and I told him, @joelgibby and he smiled and said “Oh – you’re already following me, ha!”

      I wouldn’t go as far as to say invite-only would be the way to ensure quality participants (attendees seems so 2004), but there should be a way to “vouch” for people who you believe would bring value to the discussion and when they have enough weighted endorsements, they would be invited to play. It sounds exclusive because it is.

      In some ways, SXSWi is exclusive, but only because most “regular folks” don’t have $550 for a week-long leg of a three week conference, not to mention $800 for round-trip coach airfare. Shift the exclusion from people who have money to people who have something valuable to add to the mix. As much as I hate how that sounds:

      “What we’ve got here is “failure to communicate”. Some people you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week. Which is the way they wants it. Well, they gets it. And I don’t like it any more than you folks.[4]” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_Hand_Luke (edited for non-penal context)


      Stay cool,

  14. Anyone saying the SXSWi doesn’t have good tech stories is not plugged into the tech community well-enough.

    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.

    Another great real-tech event was the SemWebAustin meetup. We had guys that developed SPARQL, worked with Tim Berners-Lee, and from the Open Data Project.

    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.

  15. I’ll preface this by saying that I haven’t attended SXSW (to be fair), but even from the flood of posts, tweets, etc. the last couple of years, my biggest problem is that I don’t get what it is. The show seems to have undergone an identity crisis: Is it for start-ups, techies, artists, musicians? Is it a hang-out for the Silicon Valley crowd or Austin’s answer to Burning Man? I honestly can’t tell, and that’s not much incentive to shell out the cash.

  16. Not that I’ve ever gone to SXSW but I usually expect my google reader to be filled with startup announcements at this time, and this year – nothing. Maybe one or two and nothing too exciting.

    Might just be that the businesses being created today are a lot more conservative than they were in 2008. But I also get this sense that bloggers are increasingly reluctant to write up startup launch announcements unless they win some sort of sponsored contest. Am I right? Or is there really just a major slump in interesting startups?

    • There are 3 different conferences – music, movies and interactive.

      This is not a conference – nor has it been in 18 years – where businesses are “launched.”

  17. I just got back from my first time at SxSWi, and I have mixed feelings about the show. I agree that there were too many people, and there were a lot of themes / topics competing with each other (film! tech! gaming! blogging! social media! etc. etc.). Most of the panels I attended had people who didn’t know how to moderate the panel, and only a few monitored the Twitter stream to ask questions posed by the audience. The audience chatter was very snarky and bitter at times, as well.

    I agree with your comment about the self-congratulations and the so-called celebrities – it’s extremely cliquey and for a show that celebrates social media, there certainly was a lot of people just staring down at their phones looking at their Twitter streams, and almost no conversations.

    Other than that, it was a typical tech trade show in a location that has suddenly gotten too small for the size of the crowd that wants to attend.

  18. Jolie,

    We met briefly at BigOmaha last year…

    I was regretting not going to SXSW and sad-ish that I couldn’t hang with all the down-to-earth folks I met at BigO. But after following your tweets and reading this post, I am glad I stayed home and was productive.

    I am sorry that you had a bad time.

    By the way, I love this line, “…just as douchey as the broke-ass douchebags who douche up SXSW.”

    …you had me at douchey.



  19. Hi Jolie, I agree with you; posted some related thoughts in your RWW open thread on tech conferences a few days ago at http://bit.ly/9Xl32v.

    While connecting and networking are certainly valuable, the #1 reason I go to these types of conferences is to learn something new and stay on top of industry trends or tools, or tech (as you note)!

    But I don’t think that the conferences have to become more exclusive or drastically downscaled. I think there are some simple things that organizers can do to scaffold the kinds of meaningful insights and interactions you mention:

    *Ditch the ubiquitous and largely ineffective panel format. They just aren’t conducive to interesting insights, and force very smart speakers to regress to the very bland/shallow mean. People are interested in the speakers, not the format. (I think it’s funny that some tracks are labeled “interactive”; whether keynote or panel or breakout everyone of them leaves some mode of Q&A).

    *Cap or filter attendance; enforce early deadlines. This can still leave the conference profitable and could help self-select truly committed and quality attendees.

    *Carve out some time for loosely structured mixers in between the back-to-back sessions and parties (which, let’s face it, aren’t at all conducive to hear-yourself-speak conversation and don’t really facilitate out-group conversations). This would facilitate a more positive spirit and mixing beyond cliques.

    *Solicit diversity. I don’t mean ethnic or gender diversity, but diversity in viewpoints. While the echo chamber is inevitable among early adopters and technophiles, organizers can still try to solicit speakers with perspectives that are literally opposite of the conference theme or mission. Not only would this add to the dialogue, but it could stretch thinking about tech trends and provoke the reflections-on-the-profession which many of us don’t have the time to think about in our busy, day-to-day lives!

  20. I lived in Austin for 20 years (’68-’88). SXSW is not Austin, it’s wannabee plutocrats who piss in the local punchbowl. I recall when RVA tried to do it in Route One, South. Wishful thinking.

    Stay home. Get real jobs.

  21. Too bad to hear of the groping and the robbery, that’s simply unacceptable.

    However, as a local and a techie (not “former mortgage broker turned social media marketer”) I can’t agree with you on the tech content. Did you attend the talk on server-side JavaScript and how most MVC implementations are doing it wrong. That was pretty technical, so technical it was over the heads of most of the folks in the room, YET they stayed because it was total brain food.

    Also, there were local tech-events that took place that weren’t sponsored by Pepsi or Chevy (which on the surface aren’t tech-focused). The WordPress BBQ, the Austin Rails party, the Austin JavaScript Meetup party (which I threw) were all a blend of tech (and non-tech) individuals having a good time and benefiting from solid networking (not ass-grabbing) and technical discussions.

    The thing is, you have to know this going IN to SXSWi, otherwise, you end up at the WRONG events.

    • > Joe: “former mortgage broker turned social media marketer”

      So true, so funny, so sad.

      > Jolie: “How sad that such a wonderful thing has gone so wrong.”

      Thanks for making me feel better about not blowing a couple grand on transportation and accommodation in order to attend SxSW(i) this year.

  22. “they’re here for self-congratulation and mutual masturbation.”

    I could not agree more, i figured this much in the first 20 min of attending just 1 sxsw event. Tons of people who are not technical enthusiasts and only self promoting “social media” coordinators, chiefs, twitterers etc. I almost felt like these people like the sounds of their own voices more so then the people hosting the events.

  23. Actually, there is a good tech conference happening right now, with lots of very exciting fresh tech: Mix 2010.

  24. I went to SXSW for the first time last year, and didn’t really get a lot out of the conference. I learn more and get to talk to as many interesting people at Gnomedex every year, without the madding crowds and tradeshowery. It seems to me that SXSW is much more about the parties than the tech, and that all the important schmoozing happens, half-drunk, between 10pm and 2:00am.

  25. hey jolie,

    hear where you’re coming from. but, while there are “too many people,” it’s *all about the people* in the end. as with previous sxsw’s, I got to know a lot of amazing folks by avoiding the big jerk-off parties and just kicking it with *people* I enjoy, wherever that took me.

    so let another 5k people show up… I look forward to meeting the best of them at lounges and spots off the beaten path with the glue of shared friends and visions of what we want to do in the world.

    btw, found this post via @micah (context)

    rock on

  26. As an Austinite, I’m sorry to hear about this. I do hope you get to visit us and SXSW again in the future…

    From my perspective, it was fun for me. Saw some good sessions, re-connected with tech friends from out of town, good parties and good business/networking…

    I really hope you come visit us again, I that I get the opp to meet you F2F.


  27. This is truly disappointing! I attended the Interactive festival last year and had an amazing time. I came home to San Francisco inspired and refreshed, and so full of ideas. I was really bummed about missing it this year, but your post certainly doesn’t make it sound like I missed much.

  28. I agree with you sentiments regarding very little tech content at the conference. Topics are too general, and very rarely do they get into any kind of specifics. A good example of this was the browser talk by the engineers from opera. So much potential, but what an utter waste of time.

    What I do wonder is your sense of entitlement. Fake web celebs? The masses? Is there some follower or facebook friend minimum one must meet to attend or be considered a worth attendee?

    “Call me a snob, but the only decent events I’ve been to had insanely good crowd control mechanisms in place.”

    Very telling attitude that may paint you as just another one of the douchebags at these parties and events during the week.

  29. Last year’s panels put me off – I wasn’t there this year and seemingly missed maybe a day’s worth of panels etc that I would have enjoyed.

  30. Thank you for being the one to shriek: “The Emperor has no clothes!” I am just back from SXSW and concur with virtually everything you’ve written.

  31. oh please, you’re just jumping on the anti-sxsw bandwagon now that it is both safe and trendy

    i dare you to not erase this comment

  32. I stopped going to SXSW years ago, for tha reason. But it’s not a bad hing. There are tons of tech conferences. Few tech parties. It’s an event for people who want to go to a tech party.

    If you do want to go to a tech conference, there are lots of great ones on all sorts of topics. Startups at dealmaker or TC, weird tech at ETech, developers at OSCON and the millions of technology-specific events…

  33. We solved this once by moving a very popular, internal only IBM conference from San Jose, CA, to Rochester, MN in January. Believe me, only the ones that really wanted to be at the conference to learn about the technology came.

  34. I know so many different kinds of people who attend SXSW, from so many occupations, it’s hard to know what the conference focus is besides a series of great parties and social networking. I found it interesting in the midst of all that activity in Austin on Sunday night, the conference wasn’t trending on Twitter but Hannah Montana was, at #4.

    Do you think both the network and conference have lost their edge & gone mainstream?

  35. As someone who wants to make the trip to the States for SxSWi some day, reading reports like this disappoints me. Not so much that people are self promoting/pushing their own interests, but that people can’t control themselves enough to a point that makes you feel uncomfortable in a public space.

    Thanks for the post Jolie.

  36. This was my 10th SXSWi in a row, and the first year I never set foot in the Convention Center (not even to pick up my badge).

    I still had a great time, but only because the people I wanted to hang with were easy to get in a place of our choice each day. To be honest, I was a bit sad about it.

    But things change and life goes on.

    Sorry I missed meeting you though. That would have been cool, but there are other events, right?

  37. The presence of obvious boothbabes was jarring too. I’ve sort of expected them in Screenburn – it generally wasn’t *too* bad – but their presence in the vendor hall was just odd.

    Also, while camped at Java Jive yesterday, we were approached by a three homeless guys in a matter of minutes.. one of whom wouldn’t leave. A buddy noted that was a new experience for him (his 5th year?).

    Next, as a developer – an organizer of DCPHP to be specific – there was little content for me. And even most of those bits were done by people that I know and see in other circles.

    Regardless, I still had a good time. It just meant careful session hunting and not doing most of the official stuff to meeting up with friends and contacts in other venues.

    My 0.02.

    • I was also shocked by the scantily clad girls at the solar server hosting booth.

      I didn’t see them at first. Went into booth thinking it was some emergency shelter tech company based on the weird style of their booth.

      Saw the girl and was like… Ok…

      Me: Asked what their business was.

      Her: “Solar powered server hosting.”

      Me: “Cool. Do you provide cloud hosting services?”

      Her: “No, we provide solar powered green hosting.”

      Me: blank stare

    • I agree with the amount of booth candy. That was a bit weird and came from companies that really don’t get it. It was my best year so far because of two things – staying across the street and going to off the radar and private invite stuff where the connections really mattered.

  38. It is a Tech PR event – it’s for the PR people to meet the bloggers. It’s not really a blogger and news event though, as the major tech players mostly don’t attend. It’s for the PR professional to get in front of people with an audience. I keep hearing from CEOs and founders “I’m not going, but we sent our PR team”.

    • Really, Jesse? ‘Cause when I was the bar waiting to get a drink and ended up chatting with the founders and CEOs of some of the most cutting edge companies they didn’t mention sending their b-teams.

      So I’m not exactly sure what people you are referencing but this is SXfuckin’SW…. you aren’t going to get Fortune 100 old school CEOs there. If you think those are the types of folks here, you have never been to the show.

      Look, I’m not a total fan boy (this year was only a weak B for me) but the bashing by folks who obviously have no clue about the event is worse than the worst douche at SXSWi. Seriously dude, stick with DEMO if you want to hang out with CEOs that can send PR teams to handle their business at SXSW. Me, I think I’ll put up with the crowds for the opportunity to meet my peers.

  39. Pingback: Has SXSW Peaked?
  40. Hi Jolie,

    This was my second SouthBy, and the crowds this year definitely changed the dynamic. However, I’m not totally onboard with limiting the attendence. If it’s the only solution to a manageable, enjoyable conference experience, then ok. If there’s a better solution, like:
    1) reworking the panel structure (less is more)
    2) train moderators and panelists (nothing provided currently to my knowledge)
    3) place technical people on the panels. There are a number of tech-savvy people who would otherwise participant but are shut out by the gravitas of Internet celebrities, who for the most part are bloggers and non-savvy Internet users.

    I carefully selected panels that matched the level of technical depth I needed, but the process took a lot of time.

    Finally, as a guy who’s happily married, let me say that the exploitation of women at this year’s conference was over the top, far surpassing last year. Just walking down the street at 2pm, in broad daylight, I walked by 5 bikini-clad women advertising some type of Internet property. Honestly, this has to stop now. If the tech community really wants to expand the role of women in startups, tech roles, and social advocates, we can’t tolerate this double standard.

    I’m truly sorry about your car, and your dignity, being abused at this event. There’s no excuse for such behavior. Let’s work together, all of us, to make a list of recommendations for SXSW management, so we can make 2011 better. I’m not giving up on SouthBy yet.

  41. Now you know how Bill Gates feels when mini internet celebrities (shallow douchebags that they are) try to talk to him.

  42. I do agree that there were just too many attendees this year, but there was some pretty geeky stuff available. There was a Big Data party, an Austin on Rails event, a Refresh meetup and a Semantic Web meetup. The big data party alone would be almost impossible to assemble without an event as big as SxSWi.

    The key is to be purposeful in your planning. A few years ago, this stuff was only for geeks. Now it’s more mainstream and it would be too hard to neglect bigger audiences.

    I went to SxSW to reinforce relationships instead of building new ones. That helps too.

    I’m sorry your netbook was stolen. That is pretty unheard of and I’m sure they’ll beef up security there next year as a result.

    I hope you reconsider your position as I can name many people I would have liked to introduce you to at SxSWi.

  43. SXSW is a giant circle-jerk for the media elite from California. Whether it’s music, web, social networking, movies, or whatever else they plan next, it’s just another intrusion of California BS. If Stevie Ray Vaughn was getting started in Austin today, he would never be discovered at SXSW, or probably even be able to play. It’s really, really sad how it’s gone from being an event for us to hear up-and-coming Texas artists to the media orgy it is today. I hate SXSW with the passion of a thousand burning suns, and I will be glad when it is gone.

  44. Like many have said, I pouted quite a bit when SXSW approached, because I wasn’t going. I almost always get some good information from blog posts and tweets about a given event, however, so I ditched the pout and waited eagerly for news of startups, new killers apps, and the like.

    There was NONE. None.

    All I’ve heard all week are tweets about this party and that, how long the lines have been, who sang what at TechKaraoke. Meh. I love Austin, and I love tech, but I’ll be happier, I think, heading down once the melee has gone its merry way.

    And you, sister, have got some cojones. I respect that.

  45. OK 1, There were definitely, quality, and quantity tech topics on the schedule, 2) and as to too many people?!? It’s a conference ie a people, social thing 3. Huh? Who and where did she find these conference go’ers: the harassing, maligning, groping, ogling: “broke-ass douchebags who douche up SXSW.” First mention I’ve heard of such a large crowd. Maybe she was she was just at the parties and not the venues?

  46. I’m going to have to disagree, but I think mainly because I did happen to talk tech with a lot of people I met. I don’t know if its because I tried to gear all of my discussions with people or if I just happened to bump into the right people. Granted, this is my first year to attend and while I loved the parties, I guess for my part I made sure to talk tech with people. Granted, most of the sessions were not totally geared towards really developer specific elements and I do think some of the panels might have suffered from it, but on that same ground, the whole atmosphere did get me as an individual my passion to get to learning what I need to learn. Overall, I loved the conference not so much for the panels, but more so for the people I happen to meet. I guess because I didn’t fanboy out as much as some people that I just found the right people.

  47. I have not been to SXSWi ever. However, what seems to be happening is what has been happening to the Sundance Film Festival for the last few years. It’s just an excuse for companies, brands, and celebs to show face and party. Then much of the media attention goes to that and not to what matters, the films that have been chosen to be shown at the festival.

    I reside in Sao Paulo, Brazil (which is why I was not in attendance for SXSWi). However, I watched Bloomberg TV where they were interviewing many Founders, CEOs, and execs from Gowalla, Google, Digg, etc and that was probably more informative than actually being there.

    • I think you’re right about the Sundance analogy, Robyn. When I attended Sundance, I was actually associated with indie film business and it was an important event for us. I was struck though that it seemed an excuse for hundreds of LA/NY d-bags to party and glom free stuff for the weekend.

      I don’t think SXSW is there yet. Yes, the crowds are worse. Yes, there are shameless self-promoters who don’t contribute much in the way of ideas or discussion. But SX was still valuable to me in a number of ways (and not just because I got to see many out-of-town friends). It’s still educational to me, and also a very good barometer of how much tech & social media are penetrating all phases of commerce, education and entertainment.

      Nick Douglas might bemoan the increasing commercialization, but I’m more ambivalent. Corporations that come to learn as much as market will find worthwhile ideas and lessons still to be had.

      PS: We’re missing you in LA.

  48. Well done! Another pithy post from the wordsmith. You did crack me up with the douche rant… ha ha ah aha ha hhhaaa.

    *you know where to find me*

  49. ***For those who need to know***

    pithy (adj):
    brief and to point: brief, yet forceful and to the point, often with an element of wit

    Yep, that’s my girl.

    • I love you, Mommy. Wish I could get a hug from you right now!

      And to everyone else – if I’m any kind of writer at all, it’s because this wonderful lady taught me everything I know. Except the “douche” part – she would not be proud! =]

      • Well hopefully you don’t take any of this too seriously. I’m on the advisory board for interactive – and I’ve been here since the beginning (as an attendee and now participant). If you return next year, let’s keep in touch — I’d love to help point you through to the content that I find invaluable.

        As for your mom – big kudos for the comments. Haha. All parents around the interwebs are proud.

      • Hey Brad, thanks for checking in.

        I fired this post off in the middle of the night after a particularly wretched few days. As far as content goes, I tried to hit up the panels and talks I thought I’d enjoy and find valuable, but as a technology blogger, I didn’t find anything worth blogging about this year. It could be that I just missed out on the “right” panels, but there seemed to be way too much emphasis on marketing/social media fluff.

        I know there were a ton of great talks, as well, and I’m glad to hear that not everyone had a totally shitty time – believe me! But the sheer number and quality of attendants made SxSW a lot less pleasant than I had hoped it’d be.

      • Hey Jolie:

        The panels are keynotes are of some interested, but hardly the main focus unfortunately. (I say this as the dude who helped pick the game/journalism/emerging tech panels.)

        As for the SM/Marketing – uh, yes. You are legitimately right on this. I had this conversation with Hugh Forrest a few years ago – and it’s something I believe the SxSW folks are also concerned about.

        There’s definitely an art to SxSW, one that is increasingly hard to find. It takes a few of these shows to really get the flow. That’s what I’ve seen. But if you’d like, I’m writing up some post-thought comments for Hugh and the SxSW Interactive team – maybe we could speak or IM so I can add them to my post-mortem.

      • Brad underscore King is a Royal douchebag for shooting the messenger without linking to past SXSW Sucks blog posts.

        This is the first I can recall written by someone who was actually there.

        Brad underscore King and H underscore Forrest don’t care about us, they serve the sponsors.

  50. I disagree with you on a few fronts here, but agree with you on a few others. While I dothink perhaps there are more people in attendance St sxswi than ever before, I don’t think it’s a negative thing. I think sxswi is changing, but all conferences go through that. I attended a lot of panels that suffered from a flaw mentioned previously – they were poorly moderated. there’s plenty of room for the social media people. there are also plenty of techy nerdy people in social media. I’ve heard those same not techy sm peole that are being haraunged here complain about the level of the panels. this can’t be tech 101. and you can’t prevent bad seeds from showing up to something good. as a woman, I wasn’t harrassed at all, and I didn’t hear abt that from any of me friends. I’ve experienced nothing but friendliness here, and I’ve an excellent time. I also got lots of work done and met a lot of people who I’ll later bounce ideas off of. hopefully y’all filled out the feedback cards, too, and organizers will hear that we want something more advanced. the beauty of sxswi is that it’s crowd curated. but if a session is entitled one thing and never gets around to addressing it – I agree that’s a huge waste of time, money, and is very frustrating. I don’t think any of us should write sxswi off, and I don’t want to see it go to
    sf. the fact that it’s in Austin makes it a conference where tech people from every scene can meet up. (we won’t get into ny v la v Boston v sf v Minneapolis etc). instead let’s run our own panels next year. don’t give up – take it back and make it what you want to see. that is the true spirit of sxswi.
    cheers y’all. hope to meet you next year. 🙂

  51. There is definitely truth in what you’re saying – the line about the “twitter celebrities I’ve never heard of” had me laughing and nodding along.

    But these folks, as well as an army of self-proclaimed “social media experts”, were there last year, too. And even some of these folks have something interesting to share. I suspect the changes you see in South By are simply a reflection of the changes in the world.

    All in all, I learned stuff, met interesting people, discovered potential partnerships, and had fun. I’ve only attended the last couple years, so I can’t compare to 10 years ago, but for me it’s been great.

  52. SXSWI was a small conference for Web Designers till ’05 when they invited us bloggers. We blogged, tagged photos and recorded videos and look what happened. PR Agency’s saw gold in Austin and SXSW sold it’s soul.

    • paul, I think you’re doing some of that revisionism that @bruces talked about. The earliest bloggers *were* Web Designers [sic]. The bloggers started coming from 2000 on because the Bloggers (ev, meg, and pb) came and wrote about it in ’99.

      This year’s SXSWi was as intimate as any I’ve been to in years – which isn’t to say that most people had that experience (especially those insistent on spending most of their time standing in line or getting to panels early and not talking to the people around them).

      SXSW has always been, and still remains primarily what you make of it.

  53. I hope you’re back next year, maybe with lower expectations and can of mace. Yes, the douche-count was higher this year — 40% growth means (at least) 40% more douches. But where else are you going to find such a silo-busting, globe-spanning mix of great people in one place? SXSW is like Twitter with sun and music and beer mixed in. Take the the tweeps I was able to catch up with this year: http://twiangulate.com/group_map/hc/HC_SXSW_conversations/ … there’s no place else I could have run into half of those people in 3 days.

  54. I’m not on the ‘down with SXSW’ bandwagon just yet. I’m really sorry that you and so many others had a bad experience, especially the nasty stuff like theft and hit-and-runs. That is not Austin and not Tech (or even Social Media) conferences – just a few bad apples. There were way, way too many people at SXSW, but not all of them were D bags. Many of them were first timers who had heard of the conference for years and finally got the chance/money/permission to go and found that it was like a party that had been going on too long.

    I had a different experience – this was my fourth SXSW and second time as a panelist. I hold you directly responsible for getting me the votes on my latest panel (http://my.sxsw.com/events/event/387) since you picked it as one of the ones to watch in a RWW post back in September: http://www.readwriteweb.com/start/2009/09/ten-startup-related-panels-fro.php If I saw you through the throngs of pasty white guys – and you do stick out as one of the much too small minority of women at the conference – I would have briefly thanked you in person in the least creepy/douchey/non-harrasing way I could manage. I thought that my panel went pretty well, but I spent a ton of time preparing for it and managing my panelists with countless emails and phone calls. I heard that the majority of SXSW attendees thought that the panels were hit-or-miss if they went to them at all. I think that this is because many of the panelists submitted their ideas just to get a Gold Badge and their wasn’t a lot of differentiation. I would prefer a lot more Core Conversations that had a limited number of participants to make them more intimate. As for startups and product launches, I thought that the BizSpark Accelerator program did a good job showcasing some new talent and *plug alert* we launched http://mobgenie.com on the first day of the trade show.

    Overall, I will be going back next year, but only if I know that my old friends from New Orleans and new friends from Omaha and Indiana (two new coworking/seed accelerator cities) will attend. I could miss every party and just go to dinner with friends for five days (which I did this year) and be just as happy.

    SXSW is still the Superbowl of tech events, and that includes all the crowds, spectacle and price gouging. Still people come and watch – either for the game (pure technology) or the commercials (social media).

    I really hope that they will fix the program and get you to come back next year.

    • Hey Marc:

      Accelerator really has been a welcome addition to SXSW. I’ve emcee’d the last two years and the quality of start-ups that we’ve seen are amazing. (And now that I’ve left SF and Austin for Indiana, I’m happy to see so many companies from there. A big reason is Ball State University, which has — maybe you know — a massive media/tech complex that I left MIT to be part of.)

      That was both a referential and self-serving comment, I realize. But I loved your post.

    • Marc – good points. The New Orleans folks enjoyed hanging w/ you too.

      I think the issue is the A-list parties. If you care about getting into parties, then you’re not truly a geek.

      If you can’t find a place to have a beer with an amazing person then you’re not looking around you.

      Who cares where Ashton Kutcher is.

      I enjoyed hanging w/ you as always buddy. Great job on the Accelerator panel.

  55. This would be more interesting if it weren’t reminiscent of a conversation I had with a SXSW vet over dinner one night. Too many people, losing tech focus, so many rude people, Austinites just hate us taking over town, hotels so expensive, it just has to get smaller next year but you know that next year we’ll see all these Twitter douchebags show up.

    That conversation was in 2007.

    I understand the complaints, but the annual post-conference “SXSW sucks” posts are now as much of a tradition as any other. It’s like you want to show you were into that band before they sold out, man. No, you weren’t. The post-party hasn’t been at Bruce Sterling’s house since Pets.com was a viable company.

    Those who know what they’re looking for at SXSW will find it. Those who do not will be lost and angry. The geeks are being crowded out by the jocks, yes, but for right now they’re co-existing, just like high school, only the nerds still are at the top of the social strata. If that ever changes, then SXSW dies.

    And I made the “2000 geeks and 9000 former real estate agents turned social media consultants” joke at last year’s SXSW. Everything old is new again.

    • We’ve been laughing about this as well. I’ve been to all (minus one) interactives. This conversation happened back then as well. There are certainly legitimate complaints about the conference (and some around the outside activities), but this is one of the best conferences in the world if you focus on the tech and not on the parties.

  56. SXSW is all about the “cash”. Not that I am against folks making a buck, but when you get big crowds showing up at an event, big business wants a piece and something is going to get watered down. Look at ComicCon in San Diego that used to be all about comics (hence the name). Now it is about big budget movie studios trying to market the next blockbuster. A lot of small comic book store owners dont even attend anymore.

  57. everything becomes its opposite.

    white people fuck up everywhere they go in the world.

    it ain’t the numbers. it’s the minds.

  58. that’s too bad. was seriously contemplating going next year to participate and see what it was all about first hand.

    i’d love to check and hang out at the parties that you hang out at and have access to. unfortunately, i likely won’t know about them because i’m not that cool (no, i don’t blog).

    unfortunately, social networking sites like twitter will only give me info regarding all the uncool events. by the time i learn of any real cool ones like the ones you attend, it’ll likely be full of other twitter wanna-be douchebags, naturally.

    those others johnny-come-lately sxsw’erners are totally not cool crashing your kind of parties. while i’m at it, f*ck those rich and pretentious, TED-attendees who can afford conferences we can’t afford to attend as well. those guys are so not cool.

    – uncool

  59. i agree that this year was WAAAAY overcrowded — was very tough to allow serendipitous moments at mixers when the pond was so crowded.

    midnight flashmobs at the driskill definitely didn’t help — turned an otherwise enjoyable atmosphere into a stupidly packed situation, surprised the fire marshall wasn’t called in to clear everybody out.

    the noise to reward ratio was out of control — waiting in line for an hour to be packed into a club, only to have to yell over 1000 other attendees is not how i operate, but i did have a good time grabbing a bite or a coffee with small groups of 3-4 friends at a time. and the amount of information shared during some of the core conversations was invaluable.

    funny thing is, with the proliferation of parties, it was the same handful of parties that drew the lion’s share of attendees.

    and as nutty as the parties were, the diversity of panels meant that there were very few overflow crowds — in fact, the conference & tradeshow were pretty damn mellow, it was only from 9p-1a that things got stupid.

    sign of the times — good conference draws lots of people looking for new opportunities, was good to see so many ad agencies & brand managers on board to get a handle on these new communication platforms.

    sorry to hear your experiences weren’t so pleasant, hope you at least got to make a few new friends & contacts along the way.

  60. That’s a huge bummer for you and your friends. I did something really different this year – it was only my second conference. I wandered around town and periodically in parts of the conference. I attended sessions, shared a power cord and introduced myself to random people.

    I learned there are great people that attended. I’m not known in the tech circles, so I had a blast just meeting random people and discovering things about industries I have never talked to – and discovered how we are all so similar and in the same spots in our respective places of employment.

    I met someone who attended SXSW in 2001 – and clearly this is a very different conference than back in the day. But I’m glad I had a chance to meet in a huge crowd, enjoy Austin weather and discover new worlds that often collide in social media.

  61. I don’t agree. Every year it’s getting bigger and every year it lacks tech content. Nothing new. The conference is what you make it. And every year there is someone who complains that it was better before it was big and that they wont be back next year. Despite the crowds it’s important to find the people you want to talk to and just avoid the rest. Just my $0.02

  62. Dude, I am so glad you said something. Every “networking event” I attended I was harassed at. It got ridiculous and I didn’t even attend the last two days because it was so out of hand. Count on me sharing this.

  63. It was said early best that SXSW was originally music, then engulfed the indie film festival to be more tourist friendly. Interactive didn’t really make much sense.
    Although I do disagree that the ‘other’ part is supposed to be techy not social media. It’s called Interactive folks. That means it’s for those who design Interactive, develop Interactive, and then use those Interactive tools. Think about it, if no strategists or marketers showed up to see the cool tech you developed, you’d still be living in your parents basement because no one would know about it. Twitter grew because marketers used it, promoted it and wrote it into marketing strategies.

  64. Funny you should say that you found “no bloggable content.”

    There was no end to the stream of tweets quoting the supposed pearls of wisdom coming from every other sentence from every speaker.


  65. It seems the truth about SXSW has escaped you.

    First of all SXSW was created as an indie music festival, where young unknown bands hoped to get some small recognition and hopefully find an agent, manager or even a small label deal.

    I have been attending the music festival for over 10 years, because I worked in music as well as tech.

    Over the last 5-7 years as sxsw popularity grew in name and stature so did the crowds and random attendees. This was at first a music biz event were those in the industry treated like our spring break we shmoozed, got drunk, ate bbq , got some sun and hopefully set up deals or tours for our indie artists when we got back home.

    Like sundance around 2004-05 brands and celebrities invaded, first by sponsoring a few bands and events to today where everything you see or place you go is branded.

    The film and interactive parts of the conference were afterthoughts that no one took seriously.

    I did not attend any part of sxsw year because it did not seem worthwhile.

    This is not a tech conference its a social, pr spring break a for a few industries. A lot of work and deals get done behind the scenes and you can make some very good lifelong friends. This is not where you go to code. There are plenty of those conferences as well.

    Yes every festival, town company has dbags. Maybe its feels worse because these “tech” dbags aren’t even cool and can’t discuss technology coherently.

    Maybe it’s that people are sick of the only topic being 4square vs gowalla. We have this same problem on the music side were everyone talka bout the next hyped up band thats amazing and will sell a million records, but turns out to be a smelly pile.

    So relax, sxsw is crowded, it always will be. Everyone is drunk and the lines are long. Solution come early meet the locals or get your hookups in advance, it’s pretty easy to cut the lines or there are some cool bars and restaurants that aren’t packed.

    The worst part of this is that until last year I didn’t even know one tech person who had heard of sxsw. Those interactive parties were fun because you had tech people more into music and film then into whether their lame app is cooler then the next lame app.

    I hope that those of you who did attend sxsw made at least one good new friend and strengthened the ones you already had.

    excuse my typing skills today. Haven’t had much sleep.

  66. I agree, I might start looking into attending more of my local Meetups to be inspired. I have attended SXSW for the past 4 years and each year the tech production community gets smaller and the biz community gets bigger. I don’t think I met a single front end developer like myself while I was there. Sad day in the tech community.

  67. I’ve never been to SXSW, but would certainly like to.

    Interestingly enough and somewhat funny (to me anyway), this reads to me just like a Dave Matthews Band message board topic from years gone by: the “real” fans there since the beginning versus the high school and college kids that throw up on the former in the middle of a show.

  68. I recently moved to Austin and this was my first SXSW experience. From conversations with a few tenured SXSW attendees and locals, SXSWi has become spring break for 30-somethings and 40-somethings. Their objective is not to discover new technology or provide a sounding board for startups. It seems as if their objective is to see how many parties they can attend along with how drunk, how loud, and how obnoxious they can be. Yes, I found moments with interesting people and great conversation. Those moments tended to be local tech-events rather than the mega sponsored events. The mix of tech and non-tech people made the local tech-events interesting. Even at that there were wannabes and d-bags at these events. Not as many and they did not ruin the event.

    Turing SXSWi into Invitation Only, how do you know who to invite? Emerging groups need a forum for their emergence. They need feedback from equally young startups, established organizations that “have been there”, and maybe even a few of the douche bags (just to let the startups know there are d-bags in the world and that everyone is not going to love them for their tech). Invitation Only would exclude the excitement and newness that people seemed to want, or expect, from SXSWi. Yes, Invitation Only would reduce the number of attendees which may solve one problem but Invitation Only would not reduce the uninteresting, the uncaring, the “Fanboy & Stalkerville” (borrowed from a comment), or d-bag types.

    Maybe SXSWi was always Spring Break for the “30 & 40 Somethings” and the issue is this year the number of attendees made the Spring Break attitude obvious. Maybe SXSWi is moving away from startups and tech into Spring Break for the “30 & 40 Somethings” and d-bags of all ages. Let’s hope not.

  69. Sounds like i made the right choice to not go this year.

    I love austin, my friends there, but SXSWi has become something else, which i can live without or enjoy vicariously via others..

    One thing for sure, it was interesting to be an observer for once…

  70. Great post.

    I stopped using twitter and foursquare as the conference progressed because I was so sick of seeing people post their “twitter celebrity” sitings. Even worse are the shadow conferences and invite only events for the “social media elites” who think so highly of themselves that they thumb their nose at others who are not part of their circle jerk of mutually masturbatory friends.

    In the end, I still had a blast because I went with a group of close friends and colleagues and we made it the experience what we wanted it to be.

  71. Thanks for the review on what seems to be “Social Media Narcissists Gone Wild.” It seriously seemed like everybody and her brother attended while I stayed home and worked.

    Sorry for your crappy experience – thanks for the honest feedback though!

  72. weird the post concentrates on all the negatives, when later on in the comments you mention that there were positive elements … it’s just you missed then.

    sounds like another blogger having a whinge. I’m at SXSW and I can’t see any evidence personally of what you’re talking about. Fluff exists at every conference, always has always will.

  73. J,

    I half-joked all week about starting stealth by stealth west next year — 1-3 invite-only events, notified via SMS/email the day of.

    That’s not the right solution, but it is an indication of the solution: have smaller parties across more venues. The best connections I made were at events with less than 50 people (theParty, FFDI, AOL). I’ll do more of this next year.

    We need to change panel content selection to be more diverse and merit based rather than crowd-voted.

    • Stealth by Stealth West sounds like my dream fringecon. And yes, I agree that more/smaller events would be good.

      I also REALLY liked Brad King’s suggestion that panels be marked as being crowdsourced or board-selected. It’d be interesting to see if people’s experience of content shifted.

      • I also really like the suggestion of marking panels crowdsourced or board-selected (isn’t there a formula that weighs both of these together though, not separately?) In any case, it would be good to see the editors’ picks (including why) vs. the ones that are obviously meme-baiting.

      • Right, thanks for reminding me of that Brad (30% weight assigned to crowdsourced votes). So I guess it isn’t as simple as separating out the board-selected ones or seeing which criteria were used for those…

        Anyway, my other comments about improving the conference (fewer panels, capping numbers, more diversity & depth) are already above.

        Appreciate your engaging.

      • One thing I am going to suggest is a code within the booklet and apps – say yellow for crowd, green for staff and red for advisory. In that way, you can see which constituency voted.

        If all three agree, for instance, you would see the three colors. If staff + advisory choose, you would see only green + red.

        (this is a first-draft though, obviously. I don’t want to go all Terror Alert.)

        Also, I think it would be good to group things together – say Accelerator, the Web Awards + Business Pitch – in one place. That way interested parties could know: Go To The Hilton 4th and 6th floor for business.

        I will grab the rest of your suggestions and add them to my list 🙂

  74. “It truly pains me that my women friends and I are no longer safe to walk down the streets in Austin when South By is going on.”

    I apologize if this issue of personal safety was widely reported on and I missed it, but could you please elaborate on this some more? It could be valuable for women who wish to attend on their own in future.

  75. Nice link bait title.

    As every conference SXSW has its ups and downs, I enjoyed it a lot, and Im eager to come back next year.

    Its funny to see how people that couldnt show up are happy to support your opinion. Thats so egoistic: “Im glad it sucked because I couldnt be there. I knew it… blablabla”.

  76. Jolie,

    This was my 4th year at SXSWi and I know who to blame…Social Networks. Bruce Sterling gave an excellent closing speech last year predicting everything you point out in this post. Bruce lived in Austin and would invite people over to his house for good conversation and free food. First he used a private message board and this resulted in small numbers and great conversation. Years later AIM was used to spread the word about the party and this caused the numbers to double. His house was trashed, conversation took a nose dive. It was clear to him that the meet ups were over.

    In 2007 the year after twitter launched this is what happened to SXSWi. Numbers will continue to increase and quality will decrease.

    As for getting groped…

  77. The purpose of SXSW is obvious but, the fact that we don’t have regulators here who can say NO to the big acts is the bigger problem. The years that SXSW has been running should be enough to gather a big enough crowd– look at what happened to Coachella. Bands that already have their massive audience took it over and now it’s fucking boring.

    There are plenty of great bands that can use the publicity but from who? The people that are already fans? That simply isn’t enough, if they don’t have the power of the record industry than they will do what they can to get into the business.

    I should have asked True Widow about SXSW. I regret that not being the main focus of the interview.

  78. Interesting. I could not make it this year, but wondered in the back of my mind if this would be the last year SWSW could keep it’s cool factor. It sounds like it may have jumped the shark. Which leaves a new question … “What’s Next?”

    Good luck in your next gig. Based on your talent, passion, and network — it will not be long before you land and deliver.

  79. I agree with you that there were WAY too many people. But I thought there was lots of tech too, just too hard to find it or the people doing it. Conversion Associates new lytics.com product was really cool and MobbStream’s flash to iphone service seem to have some legs.

    As this was my first time, I had hoped to discuss my decentralized social networking project (getsixd.com) with anyone that would listen to get other people’s opinions and to hear about what others are doing; but alas, no luck.

    I thought the workshops in the small rooms like at the Courtyard were great because you could get involved in the conversation. That’s what I thought sxswi was all about, the conversations. But it was ironic how unsocial I found people to be outside of the panels. It was hard to meet new people, there was just too many. This is a hard problem, but the sxswi folks should consider breaking it up into groups based on interests and hosting them in different locations across Austin (a distributed conference so to speak), spreading it around so it’s not so congested. Perhaps that way we could get back to having more meaningful conversations.

    I’m disappointed that you had this bad experience since I’m a Texan and consider Austin home. I hope the sxswi folks can get a holt of this problem and make sxswi 2011 get back to it’s roots.

  80. Jolie,

    I am so sorry you had such a horrible time this year. I was in the room when you realized someone swiped your netbook. I was quite pissed someone would do something like that. I always felt a sense of trust and camaraderie in the blogger lounge.

    This was my 5th year going to SXSW. I started going in 2005 but skipped 2007 when that “Twitter thing” launched because of budget. It is so true that everyone who has pig-piled on top of the social media trend and declared themselves an expert has changed the dynamic of the event. The massive amount of corporate sponsorship, over-crowded parties, many poorly moderated panels and a general sense of high school politics and cliques could make anyone never want to return.

    What I do love about SXSW (and I will never call it “South by”) is reconnecting with people who I don’t get to see that much but wish I did (you, Dave Delaney, Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, long list…) and forging a few new relationships that lead to new business opportunities. Since this was the first time I stayed across the street (long story) it really made my experience better. I would say however that they should limit attendance and not make it a greedy free-for-all. I have seen it happen at Sundance, DragonCon, ComicCon and many other places.

    I might make smart ass remarks about Macworld or other limited conferences but I do like that they limit attendee numbers and focus content for a reason – to give people a quality experience that they paid for so they come back next year.

    I think many of us view this SXSW as the shark jumping year and questioning its relevance. I will say that it is what you put in to it and planning ahead along with flexibility to do things that are unannounced are the keys that have given me a good experience.

    One last thing that I wish SXSW would do is have some panel curation and training help. They don’t and many of the panels, especially one on Interactive Agency Workflow, where horrible and were tweeted about in such a negative way that this could be the sword in the side that begins the slow bleeding and eventual fleeing of people that made SXSW a great event in the first place.

    Keep writing this stuff and be the Jolie I know and respect. See you at Gnomedex in August where the we really know how to do conferences right….


  81. I replied to a similar post on Adrants yesterday, which cited this article. What I said there applies here as well:

    This was my 5th consecutive year at SXSW, and yes, it’s changed a bit in the past several years. It has gotten A LOT bigger, and it’s more difficult to get around the convention center (and the three hotels that the panel sessions have spread to) and even more difficult to get into the after-hours parties. And yes, there is far less (hardly any) technology how-to being discussed.

    But think about why. 13 years ago, when SXSWi began, interactive was at the fringe. Now it’s in the mainstream. Just about any conference that you go to for any industry is scrambling these days to include more interactive, so yes, a conference – the premiere conference – dedicated to interactive is going to be wildly popular.

    And yes, there is less technology discussion because honestly, the digital world is less about technology. It’s about content, business, community, culture, psychology and sociology, not really about the behind-the-scenes wiring anymore. You don’t go to SXSW Film to learn how to work a camera or to SXSW Music to learn how to tune a guitar. And you don’t go to SXSW Interactive anymore to learn how program.

    And finally, about the douchebags – yes, they were out in force. But what are you going to do? SXSW iteself foresaw their coming by including a panel this year called “How Not To Be A SXSW Douchebag.” Unfortunately, it should have been better attended.

    For me, SXSW Interactive continues to be huge source of information and inspiration, despite the size, the douchebags and the occasional sucky panel. Even with Bruce Sterling trying to steal my buzz at the end of every year’s event.

  82. This was my 5th consecutive year at SXSW, and yes, it’s changed a bit in the past several years. It has gotten A LOT bigger, and it’s more difficult to get around the convention center (and the three hotels that the panel sessions have spread to) and even more difficult to get into the after-hours parties. And yes, there is far less (hardly any) technology how-to being discussed.

    But think about why. 13 years ago, when SXSWi began, interactive was at the fringe. Now it’s in the mainstream. Just about any conference that you go to for any industry is scrambling these days to include more interactive, so yes, a conference – the premiere conference – dedicated to interactive is going to be wildly popular.

    And yes, there is less technology discussion because honestly, the digital world is less about technology. It’s about content, business, community, culture, psychology and sociology, not really about the behind-the-scenes wiring anymore. You don’t go to SXSW Film to learn how to work a camera or to SXSW Music to learn how to tune a guitar. And you don’t go to SXSW Interactive anymore to learn how program.

    And finally, about the douchebags – yes, they were out in force. But what are you going to do? SXSW iteself foresaw their coming by including a panel this year called “How Not To Be A SXSW Douchebag.” Unfortunately, it should have been better attended.

    For me, SXSW Interactive continues to be huge source of information and inspiration, despite the size, the douchebags and the occasional sucky panel. Even with Bruce Sterling trying to steal my buzz at the end of every year’s event.

    • While that may be true, I’m sure you can come up with a far more artful insult than that.

      Rather than being a troll, I’ve actually spoken with Jolie about her concerns – both here and offline – because it’s important to listen. There are certainly problems with the conference – there have always been (and will always be) – but the only way to try to fix things is to engage.

      • Interesting Paul as I’ve been having conversations all over the Web about this (many of which you don’t see).

        Not sure what you think engagement is – or how you think I am promoting myself as an expert falsely. The truth is, I’ve been to every SXSWi, I covered this space for a decade professionally at Wired, Wired News and Technology Review + have been on the Advisory Board for half dozen years. Plus, I split my time between Indiana + Austin. I have a pretty good idea of how the conference works — and every year, post conference, I engage with the folks who post about having a bad time so that I can make recommendations to the SXSWi staff.

        Do they take them? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But that’s how I roll.

        Enjoy your steamed vinegar + water 😉

  83. Were there douchebags, bad behavior and enormous egos? Yes, but you also alluded to the side parties, and that is where the really valuable conversations took place. You recently said that women in technology should stick together, and at
    SXSW, many of us did stick together. Even technical people socialize, and socializing is what enables future collaboration in technical pursuits.
    You may read this and say our interaction was social, non-technical, but social is NOT the opposite of technical.

    Ex: I met you at Tech Karaoke in SF a while ago, a purely social event, but that does not make me think of you as less than technical, right? It’s the social component that makes us more likely to invite each other for coffee to discuss more technical topics. This is important to technology and, especially, to women in technology.

    I am fighting the social butterfly image largely because many men see blonde hair and assume I am a lightweight. No, I don’t code, but that does not mean I am not technical. Please give me, and other women you may deem social butterflies, the benefit of the doubt.

    Liza Sperling
    Scout Labs

  84. As someone who’s worked in both the music and technology industries and has been attending SXSW since I was 19 (I think I have 14 SXSWs under my belt), the way to understand SXSW is to understand its origin. The magic of SXSW was all about Austin – a noncommercial music town with a rich history of singer-songwriters, among other genres. Dropping a music business conference into this atmosphere was a grounding and for many exhilarating experience.
    Naturally, as time went on, the music fest became less about discovery of new bands and more about showcasing signed acts; less about A&R and more about PR. A very similar curve has been followed by film and interactive.

    Suggesting SXSW be “invite only” is completely against the spirit of the thing. SXSW isn’t TED and it isn’t Kinneret and in fact it isn’t anything like a “normal tech conference”. If you accept that, you will have a much better time. What’s going to happen to interactive will be what happened to music: you’ll come, you’ll ration your time, you wan’t try so hard to get to every party, and you’ll find a way to do the two things you’re there for: learn something and have a great time. As Brad says, there’s an art to it…and like all events it is what you make of it.

  85. So on reading this post I feel like the problems are pretty standard for any public gathering or space that has gone from being smaller to larger and more generally attended. X festival used to be cool when it was small and respectful; X online forum used to be cool until the dbags showed up; X camping spot used to be cool until the folks with their dirtbikes and stereos showed up and started tearing it apart; Society in general is pretty cool as long as people respect one another and behave by general socially accepted norms. Whatever those are. As someone who has never been to SXSW, but has been to Austin during the off season and quite like it, I am kind of surprised it has taken this long to be overrun by douchebaggery.

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  87. Thanks for wearing your douchebag placards while visiting Austin and please please don’t ever live here. Austin is already way over douchebag capacity.

    Kudos to the business genius of SXSW organizers. Finding a way to make shitty bands and internet dorks pay to listen to each others’ shitty music and inane opinions. And please keep making the douchebag placards a little larger every year cause that’s just hilarious.

  88. Glad I’m not the only one who felt that way. SXSW was overall a waste of time/money. Felt like the same self-promoting internet windbags blowing hot air. See also: Southpark ‘smug’ episode.

  89. “Too many people, not enough tech.”

    This is the curse that afflicts almost all organisations these days. Too many people, talking too much crap and not getting anything done. Sound familiar?

  90. Hey Jolie,
    That’s sad to hear you did’nt have a good time.
    Coming all the way from Australia, for the first time to the US as well, it lived up to my expectations!
    I thought it was fabulous!

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