SXSW 2013 was my third straight year going down to Austin. I have been fortunate enough to work for companies that thought it was important to send me to SXSW to learn and network with people from all over the world. While extremely grateful for the opportunity, I have to admit that this was a down year for SXSW.
As usually the speakers and sessions were interesting and motivating. The highlight for me by far was seeing Tesla and Space X CEO, Elon Musk speak in person. Running an electric car company, a privatized space program and chairman of a solar company is insane. Few times in my lifetime will I get to see someone that is pushing mankind forward.
Another great session was by Richard Clarke, the Managing Editor at Arsenal Media Group (the Premier League football club). I am a huge soccer fan and it was great to see behind the scenes of how club news finds its way to fans through the club site and social media. It was fascinating to see how the club has to deal with social media and the magnitude of rumors, especially during the transfer window, and often being the last to report.
Every year there are a few sessions that I get locked out of because the room is too small for the number of individuals that want to view it. This year was a disaster in that aspect. One of the new mini-themes this year was sessions that focused on story-telling in the current online marketing environment. The presentations looked interesting and I’m sure they were. I have no idea because the lines were always to long to get in. The only way to see those presentations was to skip the session before it so you could wait in line.
As the conference grows and the number of sessions with it, SXSW needs more places to host them. The sprawling area that SXSW now demands means you are often going to skip sessions you want to see because you will never make it across downtown to see the next, especially with the lines (see point above). It reminds me of college at Ohio State where you had to schedule classes based on their location so you could make it to them.
Overall I think SXSW is growing faster than they are able to keep a meaningful experience.
Room and Transportation
We bought our badges and rooms about a week and a half after they went on sale. Last year that was a room downtown easy. This year that is a motel about 5 miles out in a not-so-nice part of town. Perhaps I could have done more research on the motel selected but we were trying to get as close to downtown as possible to reduce travel time each day. Oops.
Speaking of transportation, we signed up for the R&R shuttles that run from downtown to the surrounding hotels. For $60 it is a great deal as taxi’s did not want to leave the city center and were over an hour any time you called them. Unfortunately this year R&R drivers were all over the place, it took 45 minutes to get 5 miles down the road and there seem to be a lack of common sense with the fastest way to drop off and pick up.
Lesson learned. Order badges on the first day and get a hotel downtown.
At the end of the day…
While the room and transportation did hamper my mood, that was ultimately my fault. Not being able to get into half of the sessions I was hoping to see really killed this year for me. I also thought that there was a lack of interesting sessions in total. There were time slots where there was nothing I really wanted to see. This was the first year that has happened.
At this point I think I will skip SXSW next year and just follow the couple of sessions that are online and read the blogs about the more interesting presentations.