This article was published 14 years ago
SXSW 2010

Five things that turned SXSW into an awful conference

downtown Austin Austin texas Texas SXSW
Downtown Austin, Texas – Image credit: Gregory Schultz / OpenBayou
Austin, Tex.

The interactive part of South by Southwest conference wraps up today in Austin and it was the biggest part of the conference, having larger registration numbers than the music element of the conference. Even with the large numbers, there are some people that walked away disappointed from the conference. This is what I experienced at the conference and issues that organizers need to address to make it better next year.

Honorable mention: I-35 traffic

I stayed in a house very far from downtown Austin in northeastern Austin – which I will never do again for various reasons. Out of the four days I was in Austin commuting to downtown, two days were dealt with sitting in traffic for over 30 minutes – starting from Hwy. 289 to downtown Austin. Organizers can not control how the Texas Department of transportation award contracts to retrofit freeways in the state but SXSW organizers can push local officials to make plans on widening the freeway – even playing a little hardball by threatening to leave for another location. But hearing how long (10 years) it took the city to build the light-speed-rail to the convention center, I’m not holding my breath on this part.

5.  No moderation/off-topic

Many of the panels I attended were not moderated, which led to the members of the panel to talk about other items or get into arguments. The Probably the best example of this was the Mark Cuban/Boxee CEO panel that turned into a character assassination and not into what the panel was suppose to be about – Pay TV vs the Internet – The battle for your TV. Thanks goodness the fire alarm went off because if it didn’t, no knows what would have happened. You can listen to the panel and decide for yourself (Audio rated TV-MA for language).

4. Tweeting during panels

Social media has created many new phrases, one of them is backchannel. Backchannel is using Twitter or other social media networks to add new information or discuss topics with members in the same room.

It’s also used mainly to criticize  members of the panel.

Having learned from last year’s fiasco during the Facebook keynote Mark Zuckerberg, SXSW added projectors to display what people were saying about the panel in the backchannel.

It may sound like a good idea but in reality, the backchannel conversations were mainly used to repeat key phrases what members of the panel were saying, getting people to visit your blog or vote for a cause.

3. Staying and ending on time

Every panel had an one hour to spew out information, discuss topics and allows attendees to ask questions. Some panels had so much information to give out that many panels went over the time limit, which lead to a domino effect. Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd’s discussion on privacy on social media sites finished one minute before the next set of panels was about to start. Since this was the keynote to open the interactive festival, many people were late to the next – which had to start 15 to 30 minutes late.

And then those panels ended late.

And the next set of panels had to be delayed . . .

(You get the idea)

2. Too many panels

SXSW panel
A SXSW panel waiting to start – Image credit: Gregory Schultz / OpenBayou

SXSW is known as *the* conference to go for a week-long party but the conference is known for its panels. Some panels were great, others generated a media storm, and some panels were crap. Since there were so many panels – without a description of what the panel was in the guide book – you had to chose which panel to attend.

I had this experience while filling out my schedule.There were four panels I wanted to attend, all occurring at 1PM. All the information I had about the panels were the titles – no description was posted in the guide book.

With some many panels to choose from and no description of the panel besides the title, you had a 50/50 shot of getting a . . . .

1. Bad panel

I really hope SXSW management requires detail descriptions of how the panels will be presented next year because there were a lot of panels that were absolutely horrible. Out of the 25+ panels I attended, only four of them provided useful information. The rest were there to take advantage of the free attendance by doing a panel. Some panels were only there to pitch a product or service so they could save money by not buying a booth at the trade show – like the WIRED digital magazine panel. One panel I attended had a poorly written title and turned out to be a marketing panel for an upcoming conference Los Angeles.