I just made my first trip to SXSW. I’m not really a conference hound, even though conferences are a huge part of what we (UBM TechWeb) do. There are only 365 days in the year. On most of those days we’re producing an event somewhere, from industry-wide marathons like Interop, Black Hat, or Game Developers Conference to small roundtables on, say, green data centers or IPV6. It’s hard enough for me to keep up with our own big events, much less take the time to sample others.
But I was invited to participate in a panel and decided to spend a few days beforehand at SXSW figuring out the hype to reality ratio. Here’s what I found.
You remember when you studied basic physics in college and you learned that technically bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly? That’s SXSW. It’s about everything — tech, media, film, music, brand marketing — and nothing in particular. It’s industry facing and consumer facing. It’s a conference, a trade show and spring break all rolled into one.
From a conference and event point of view it makes absolutely no sense. It should not fly, and in some ways it doesn’t. The content is choppy. The attendee experience is nightmarish at times.
But SXSW does fly. It flies because it gathers a huge number of smart, inspiring and entertaining people in one place and time to distribute and connect ideas. That’s always been the power of live media. It will always work, and it’s an ever more valuable thing in a fragmented media world.
Which brings me to Jay-Z, who had a concert on Monday night at Austin City Limits. Most likely that’s why he couldn’t make it to our panel on Who Do You Trust? Vetting in the Age Of Social at 9:30 on Tuesday morning. But the room was chock full of other smart people, some of whom were listening to us with Jay-Z still in their heads.
Jack Halley, a journeyman NBA player and long time teammate of Michael Jordan, famously quipped “Michael and I went off for 57″ while being interviewed after Michael’s record breaking 55 points against the New York Knicks. At SXSW I found out how that feels to be Jack Halley — it feels pretty darn good.
(I’ll share my thoughts on our panel later this week. In the meantime please let me know what you think of SXSW.)