Has SxSWi jumped the shark?
Josh Williams, CEO and Co-Founder of Gowalla, a social travel guide that launched at the conference in 2009, has been going to SXSW Interactive since 2002, when it was 800 people in one ballroom. He’s agnostic on the presence of big brands in Austin, but he does think they change the conference’s tone. “The meaningful conversations that you used to have in the conference center get pushed to the side,” Williams says. When Gowalla launched at the conference in 2009, “you could still launch a new product here, you knew people who could help you rise above the noise.” But Williams thinks those days are over – there may be marketing opportunities for small companies, but the conference is too saturated for successful product launches by small startups.
With 19K official attendees, and an unknown number of camp followers, ‘South By’ has inexorably morphed away from what it was: a small collegial get together of the web vanguard.
I am hoping that SxSWi can transition from a more-or-less traditional web conference into something productive and interesting, like a small town growing into a more complex city, which means it will be intrinsically messier, noisier, and more chaotic.
However, cities have different neighborhoods, different social scenes, and a variety of districts where vastly different things are going on. Perhaps the answer for SxSWi is to break the conference into a collection of small conferences, just as SxSW is composed of music, film, and interactive already?
Update: 8:50am 1 April 2011 – via Alex Williams:
digiphile: @stoweboyd I can’t speak to past years, but I found much to like at SXSWi 2011. http://t.co/vwhOOqc