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This past SXSW was my first time attending (many props to @browsermedia & @kerrygunther); and I was super stoked to be able to go -- a vacation, a chance to learn new kick ass webness, awesome food, awesome music, and awesome people. For the most part, that's exactly what it was. Austin seems like a great town, filled to the brim with great taco joints and beer dispensaries (aka bars), so I was glad I finally got to experience that. I met some very cool people, heard some even cooler people speak, and tried to meet up (unsuccessfully) with seemingly the coolest people I follow on twitter. Plus, I heard a bunch of great bands, all for free. Overall, it was awesome, and I wish I'll be lucky enough to go again at some point. However, I had a few qualms with the conference itself.
Too Many Tacos, Not Enough Filling
That's not what I'd expect to be thinking when leaving Austin and SxSW for the first time last week; but unfortunately it's the truth. I'm not really referring to the tacos of course (they were great), but to the content of the SxSW Interactive Conference. There were many great, wide-ranging topics that had me very excited about some new insights I might be able to take away with me, but it just didn't work out that way.
More Fluff Than Substance
The biggest problem I found was the lack of real substance for advanced panels and workshops. I would consistently go into these with eager hopes and goals only to be disappointed time after time. Granted I know that each only lasts 1 hour, and so it's hard to get too in-depth, but more often than not I found there to just be a scraping of the surface and then a sharing of resources on the related topic. Not that there is anything wrong with sharing, in fact quite the opposite, but I was expecting to hear the speaker(s) showing and sharing their knowledge of the topic instead of just where to find more resources or details about it, or basically what it was.
Too Many of the Same Books With Different Covers
One problem I ran into a bit too often was that the topics kept repeating themselves, albeit under different names. In one day I went to two separate Responsive Design talks; under false pretenses of Advanced Workshops. Not that I don't think Responsive Design is worthy of being covered, quite the opposite. I just found it odd that the same topic was covered in the same room, on the same day, at different times. Looking through the guidebook relating all the different session concepts and topics, I found good number of other sessions that sounded very familiar. I don't think I can really fault SXSW for this, as users are the ones who vote for panels, or that's certainly how it seems.
Alright, Enough Poo-Pooing
I've harped enough on what I thought was poor, or lacking at Southby, now the good stuff. It's obviously a great, creative, inspiring atmosphere (except the first few days when it was very cold and rainy). There are certainly a lot of talented, very smart people who were more than willing to talk with seemingly anyone. I did see on Twitter that a lot of people I follow mentioning great talks they had just been part of, or had just seen, or were hoping to see. I think the mistake I made was not properly planning beforehand, and just going to sessions based on topics, and not their actual descriptions. So, in the future, plan ahead& figure out your schedule before the day of. Also, I did oversleep the one session (on CSS4, with Lea Verou and other smart folk) that I really wanted to see, and that I heard was amazing; so that was totally my fault, or at least the beers fault.
In all honesty, I have to admit I had read the past few years of Southby to have this sort of feel (at least the interactive part of it) -- lots of people I follow on twitter had mentioned, or complained, of the same things. I was just both foolish enough to think I could glean more insights out of these talks and was just very excited to go for the first time, that I didn't pay much attention to this.
Anyway, if you get a chance to go at some point, certainly go. If only to see the entire show and to just people watch, eat good food, and listen to good tunes.
**** Editors note: I was sick for most of my time there, so perhaps that made me a bit more critical (read whiny) than I normally would be.Tweet