I love SXSW. It is the one conference I'll schedule everything else around so that I don't ever miss it. Every year that I go, I walk away having made new contacts that lead to friendships and business. Last year we sold out of copies of Content Rules in the bookstore and people still come up to me and talk about sessions I've talked in over the years.
Yesterday as they announced the first round of talks for 2012 (including mine), I noticed something that has me worried that a lot of magic of why I love SXSW might be killed as the conference has grown to the size it is today.
Now, I have to mention that I can't imagine organizing a conference of any size, let alone one as huge as this. Hugh and his team do an amazing job running the show and the challenges they face as they continue to be extremely successful and grow to meet that success is something I can't imagine dealing with. Don't take this post as a slam to any of them. They are doing what they need to do and it makes complete sense from a logistical standpoint.
If you didn't notice what I'm concerned about, they've set up different tracks of talks in different buildings. Some of them very far apart from each other.
Granted, this is awesome if you are interested in only one type of session. Interested in "the future of work" then you can hang at the Courtyard Marriott for the day. Want "journalism and online content" then you can chill at the Sheraton. Only interested in the featured talks and keynotes, then you don't have to ever leave the Austin Convention Center.
What I have always loved is the diversity of sessions and being able to be in one about photography one second, then go next door to listen in on the new world of non-profits and finally swing by a third to hear a case study about a successful transmedia storytelling campaign. A little something for everyone.
The hallway magic of SXSW is what I'm worried about being lost.
The photo above tells a great story of when I got chatting with a world famous author, a leading online parenting expert, a well regarded analyst and the top buddhist podcaster in the world near the escalators of the Austin Convention Center. Where else in the world would this meeting happen but at SXSW?
With the rapid growth forcing talks to be held at hotels spread all over Austin it is going to naturally cut down on these random bits of magic to occur. Instead we'll bump into other people interested in the same topics as we are since we'll all be at the same hotel together. This will lead to other great meetings for sure, but don't we have enough fishbowls already?
I love crossing paths and talking with people from different backgrounds and interests. We may bump into each other in a hallway and then later grab a drink or talk long after the event is done. I live for diversity in my relationships. SXSW has always been a great place to start these relationships for me.
I'm still wrapping my thoughts around all of this, but am curious what you think? I'd love to hear from SXSW veterans and newbies alike.
SXSW is still an amazing conference and I have zero doubts that it will rock this year as well.
You should attend because you'll meet great people, eat great food and experience a truly magical event. I'm just worried maybe it won't be as magical as years past. I'll let you know in March.