SXSW. Outlook Doubtful.

January 30, 2011

I like questions. As a professional journalist, I use them. As a human, I know they can extract information. Lately, the question I’ve been getting non-stop has been, “Are you going to South by Southwest?”.

Let’s answer that question here for everyone.¬†What I’m going to answer in a few simple points is why my appearance at SXSW 2011 is doubtful.

1 – The event is becoming – or has become – more society than substance. Seeing and being seen with the right people is a primary focus of many attendees. It’s almost gotten to the point where you can go to SXSW and not even walk into the Convention Center. In fact, I know some people who haven’t seen a session yet and attend every year. My friends Steve Garfield, Peter Kim and Aaron Strout certainly attend some events, but they’re also working when the show comes to town. And they use SXSW to connect with people they can’t talk to at home. *If you’re going to SXSW to talk to and drink with your friends from home, that’s just silly.

2 – There’s not enough time to do everything. The best sessions often are scheduled at conflicting times. The evening events are all set to occur at the same time. And heaven forbid that you spend a few moments trying to catch up with a friend – then your entire schedule is blown. As an example, I’ve heard that Tech Karaoke is now taking place March 15 – that’s getaway day for the majority of people visiting Austin, but there was no other time to put it with so many other events on the docket.

3 – Other events are starting to offer better content in a less frenetic environment. You can now go to Social Media Week or Mashable Conference or BlogWorld or events in your own city that offer richer connections, conversations and community than you can find at SXSW.

4 – It’s a money suck. That is, to go to SXSW when it costs $500 for a pass, $500 for a flight and $150+ per night for your hotel (if you can convince folks to share a room with you and your snoring), the final tally can be around $2000 for four or five days in Texas. You could spend a week in Paris for that. Or buy a scooter. Or upgrade your camera gear to a Canon 7D kit.

Ultimately, the only way you’re going to see me in Austin this year (and no, I didn’t make it onto a Ford Focus Rally team for some reason, so that’s out too) is if the balance sheet leaves me in the black financially, socially and intellectually.

I do have some irons in the fire and already have my pass and a hotel room reserved. But I’m willing to sell that room (Hilton Austin right across from the Convention Center) and swallow the pass if nothing materializes. I’ll miss the parties and the people, but I’ll be happier knowing I can use my time and money a little more wisely, later this year.

What’s your take? Why do you go to SXSW? What’s it costing you this year?