It’s been more than two weeks since I returned from this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, and I have been trying to distill my takeaways from the conference ever since. This was my first time, and many SXSW veterans told me that the conference has lost its luster. While I cannot compare to years past, I found an extremely commercialized and overcrowded conference. Despite my attempts to extract any significant insights to bring back home, I have unfortunately not been able to find any. So here is what I took away:
Lines, lines, and more lines: Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t believe I have stood in so many lines in my entire life. There were lines to get your SXSW badge (I was apparently one of the lucky ones and was able to do so in 70 minutes, I heard others waited up to 3 hours), lines to get a cup of coffee, get into popular sessions, and even to get to the restrooms. The worst part was that some sessions were so over-subscribed that people were not able to get in. I was not able to attend Frank Abagnale’s ‘catch me if you can‘ session (apparently one of the best in the entire conference) because I was not ‘smart’ enough to stand in a 45’ line for an hour-long session.
Yes, we do live a mini-bubble: If there were any doubts that we live in a mostly social-induced, bubble, these were dispelled in my mind after the conference. My top two favorites apps were: a social networking app that allows you to share your favorite movies, meals, games, etc. with your Facebook friends, and a very slick-looking iPhone app to record your bladder control incidents. I am sorry, but who is funding these companies?
It’s all about finding your pivot: If I hear this word one more time, I think I will vomit. Eric Ries (author of The Lean Startup) held a session on the opening day of the event, and while I have no issues with the principles outlined in his book, I counted at least seven sessions where the word pivot was used at least once (and in many cases in the wrong context). For those of you that don’t know, a pivot according to Eric is a change of direction in your strategy (you can read more here).
Private parties rule: Many SXSW veterans will tell you that the best discussions come not from the content in the sessions, but rather the networking opportunities. I found mine mostly in a couple of private parties I attended.
The (limited) buzz was all about location-based social discovery apps: Companies like Highlight, Sonar, Glancee, and Banjo where amongst the most-talked apps during the event (you can read these Mashable and Adweek reviews), and many people compared the lack of this year’s buzz with that of 2007 and 2009 when Twitter or Foursquare launched there. These apps allow you to link and extend your existing social networks to people that are physically near you. While some of the underlying features and social networks they use are different, the underlying principle is very much the same. It will be interesting to watch which one(s) break through over the next few months, although many people are betting on Highlight.
I left SXSW disappointed, and perhaps my expectations were too high. I waited this long to write this up, so I can let my emotions subside, but I still do not believe I will be back. I would love to hear from other newbie and veteran attendees, am I being too short-sighted?