Last week I attended the SXSW interactive (#sxswi) festival in beautiful Austin, TEXAS. I’ve been trying to write this blog post for some time, but couldn’t find the right train of thought to express my viewpoint. Then last night over Twitter I saw a conversation between David Armano and Virginia Suliman and she suggested he include the following in a deck: “U should just have social media is dead on there to keep em guessing”
Social Media is not dead. But social media as a “movement” is. I’ll explain.
Since the dawn of the “blog age” the talk about user-generated content, the uprising of the consumer, the voice of crowds has created a revival to the marketing, PR and web industries. SXSW has long been the festival that celebrates this movement and propels it forward among professionals and enthusiasts. Many would even say it’s the birthplace of Twitter – Happy Birthday Twitter, btw.
But SXSW in 2010 was a different animal. Maybe it was the $400 a night hotel rooms, or the empty, long walks to sessions in the bowels of the Austin Convention Center. In any case, at the conference, there was lots of talk about engagement, trust, transparency influence, yet the buzz was around GoWalla and Foursquare: a disconnect.
The sessions were boring at best; even Twitter founder Evan Williams was hard pressed to keep a crowd. The fact that better presentations and discussions were happening at the Social Media Clubhouse, the Salt Lick and other private parties held offsite is not a good sign for SXSW. I remember a conference that was overpriced, over-hyped, indulgence at its finest and attendees spread throughout a city: it was called Comdex. It’s dead now.
The days of the Zuckerberg-Lacy controversies are gone, because people aren’t as passionate and that’s a good thing. Passion happens when you believe in something more than anyone else. Passion is what keeps people up at night, keeps people united for a general cause and helps people find new ways to solve old problems.
The problem at SXSW was not passion. It was discipline. In only one presentation did I hear about metrics, real-life examples of business case studies or frustration. At the clubhouse, the Salt Lick and other random places I found myself, it’s all I heard: a disconnect.
There was a notable hunger for business examples, case studies, anything. In fact, the sarcasm was loud by Sunday because of the lack of real-world examples and the thick pie-in-the-sky, the social media world is full of bunnies, rainbows and lollipops.
I understand that SXSW is a collegial experience of broadening the mind. Ze Frank’s presentation was a great example of this. However, this was an investment of time and money (company money, which isn’t easy to find these days) and I left thinking I wanted more.
I met some great people, learned some amazing things and some great times, but not at the show. For me, it is the end of sxsw as I know it, and I do feel fine.