It was my first time at SXSW in 2011, and there were some high points and lows, but overall, I had a great time. However, I'd like to point out some shortcomings that, hopefully, can be improved before I would come back. And also I'd like to focus on some of the most interesting aspects I took away from the event. SXSW is a hodge-podge of tech-geeks, musicians, and movie producers and actors who are all on-top-of-their game. The biggest problem this year was the amount of them.
Split-up SXSW Tracks - The show had 19,000 paid attendees in 2011 and if you were there, you could feel the pressure at times. The second floor was roped off for the Movie folks, which included a private sushi bar. Opening the second floor to traffic and sushi customers could have relieved the long lines in other areas. Another question - Why are the movie seminars even held during this time?
Keep Like Tracks Nearby - There were free shuttles and there were Chevy Cruze vehicles to drive you around when you needed a ride to and from different buildings that hosted seminars. The Chevy folks were friendly enough to let you know about all the features the Cruze has. They even offered a virtual watering hole recharging zone to help your low-battery woes get charged away. However, it was a pain trying to get around with the influx of people and having like tracks in one areas while simplify the need to move around.
Use Technology To Solve Overflow - Lanyrd.com shows all attendees who have logged in via twitter. While it's not a perfect number, it could provide SXSW Management some indicator as to the number of attendees who are willing to participate in each seminar. If potential overflow is detected, the seminar is re-routed to another room before the event even begins. Maybe even the XOMO app that is used by SXSW could have this feature next year?
Quality of Service - Clearly there was WIFI overload at SXSW 2011. At times it worked, but most of the time, it was spotty. At tech conferences, I expect technology to be showcased and displayed. WIFI at these events never overwhelms me. I have a suggestion. What about a SXSW generated security key login, which is part of the lanyard, that tracks usage. Bandwidth hogs get lower priority. Especially, in an area there there is a sudden surge in traffic. Packets are prioritized based on usage, so the lowest usage person gets first priority. It was also give the SXSW folks some interesting data to crunch.
Fluid Registration Process - I entered the registration room to see a snaky, long-ass-line. All the SXSW associates were at the end of the line directing people to a tape mark on the ground. After they determined if they had to take your photo with a old-crappy webcam or if you have uploaded your data, you then had to drop back eight feet and stand behind another solid-tape line until your name was yelled out. Offering a second line for those who followed instructions and uploaded their photo and added personal information in advance, would have streamlined the process quite well. This information could have been gathered while we were waiting and transferred electronically to the back room so a magical thing called a print job would start. Step up the tech SXSW.
iPad 2 Release - I walked down to the Apple Store around 4:45PM and saw the massive line. Here's my friend Jake in front of the store.
Our local Holiday Inn Hotel lacked WIFI (i know) and having a Macbook Air, I needed an ethernet cable in order to connect. Apple sells a USB to Ethernet cable for a modest $29. We walked up to the entrance where people had been waiting for hours and talked to a Apple Associate about our dilemma. He said come on in. Little did I know, but the first guy in line to buy the iPad 2 was right behind me and was being interviewed by TechCrunch. I raised my hands trying to gesture my brother, who went in after the ethernet adaptor, to do the same as me so he would totally look like a fan boy. See the video.
Now for the good stuff.
Twitter Hash Tag Questions - Several sessions I really enjoyed included starting the sessions with all the questions that were posted with the specific hash tag for that session and the hash tag #SXSW. This provided the speakers with the level of understanding in the audience so they could immediately be relevant.
Level of Energy - People were going all day and night. I've never been to an event with so much energy that transpired from the sessions to the parties at night. Maybe it was the addition of the gaming section this year which drew-in so many gamers.
Awesome People - I met some really cool people at SXSW. Solid leaders with proven experience. Chris Messina, who is instrumental in a number of things like bar camp and hash tags, but is also known for micro format adoption at his, Open-Source Advocate position at Google. Jason Calicanis - need I saw more. He said hello, but quickly rushed off after his fireside chat with Tim O'Reilly. Jeff Jarvis of TWIG. I got a signed copy of his book, What Would Google Do. There were so many other famous speakers and people in the crowd.
Other Observations About SXSW 2011 - Many had multiple devices to communicate - iPads, iPod touchs, iPhones, Android devices, Blackberrys, and a host of the devices. The most used laptop was clearly the mac. I had to work to find a PC. They were there, but small in numbers. Men should not wear capris under any circumstances. Flash mob folks should try and get more exercise than flash mobbing. After a flash mob event on Saturday afternoon, complete with glow sticks, I could hear many gasping for air as they walked off like nothing had happened.
Unless the conference is separated into different groups, I cannot see my coming back.