I have attended SxSW Interactive a few times, and I’ve found it to be a high-tech Woodstock, without the mud or the music. Just lots of people milling around, and queued up for the parties, the after parties, and the after-after parties.
The selection approach for the talks is all about popularity, and there is no obvious thematic control, and no MC, so the sessions are very uneven. Some can be great, but the majority are a rewarming of shopworn topics. The most popular talks are too crowded to admit all those that want in, so you’re lucky if you get into one in five of those.
Austin is also not scaled for an event of the size of SxSW. The venues are too small, so it’s almost impossible to breathe at the cocktail parties. There aren’t enough hotels downtown for the crowds, and so people have to stay at the airport, or out at the lake and travel miles to get to the event, and the only mass transit is the bus.
I hope that we finally get around to developing a distinctive New York-based, but international tech conference (‘TechNYC 2012’), one that stands in distinction to SxSW. One with a wide scope, covering the most critical topics in technology. It could have a combination of invited speakers and an open and public proposal approach, but one where the final selection of talks would be worked out by a small group of organizers, to diminish the artifice of the popularity game (‘please vote for my proposal!’).
New York is the perfect place for a giant event like this: plenty of hotels, good public transit, a growing tech environment, great universities, and a location where everyone whats to visit.
And no mud.