SXSW – The Bad

March 29, 2010

It’s been a few days since I promised you a post detailing the horrid things that occurred at South by Southwest in Austin, TX earlier this month. Well here goes. Don’t get too hung up on how these events changed me or affected my festival – I made out just fine and perhaps the only change for next year will include fewer expenses, afternoon naps and a production crew on NomX3.

There actually wasn’t much, but let’s dive right in…

Getting press credentials was insanely difficult this year. INSANELY. DIFFICULT. STUPIDLY. DIFFICULT. HORRIBLE. DIFFICULT. Get the point? It was ridiculous to the degree that next year I don’t plan on even applying to cover the event. And for a 21-year media veteran, that’s saying something. Was this 1940?

It was as if the organizers of South by Southwest decided early in the process that anyone asking for credentials was likely a blogger who just wanted a free ticket to the festival. I began the application process at the end of the summer and it took more than four months of emails and shared links and editors’ letters to convince the press office that I wasn’t freeloading and actually was headed to Austin to do some work.

Who does that? And what age are we living in? I supplied no fewer than five articles I wrote about last year’s festival and two letters of assignment from publications. On one hand I guess I was lucky. The PUBLISHER of a magazine I work for was denied press credentials as was his TV crew.

Maybe the festival gets enough coverage for having long lines, duplicated sessions and cramped rooms that they don’t think they need press coverage. In fact, the people I discussed the event with confided that they went to zero sessions and a SXSWi badge was an unnecessary expense.

In my case, my press clearance got me three things, a minor anxiety attack because as I waited for the press office to make a decision the ticket price went up by 100+%; four breakfast burritos at the one press event that promised access to corporate representatives from large companies (and didn’t quite deliver); and the ability to stand within spitting distance of Kevin Rose for 11 minutes at one evening event. Other than that, nobody checked my badge for entry to the Convention Center, the hotel session rooms, or the evening gatherings.

Then there were the lines. Not as bad as in 20o9, but still a bit crazy. In the hallways at the Austin Convention Center people leaned against walls and snaked through hallways waiting for sessions. It was as if the sessions were chosen without regard for how many people wanted to attend. Which is also insane because the sessions are picked based on an arcane crowdsourced process that is essentially a popularity contest.

But then when SXSWi staff decided what sessions were most popular, they inexcusably put them in the smallest rooms.

Conversely, the lines at night were a breeze. While 2009 saw people waiting to get into parties for 90 minutes or more, 2010 was different. I recall waiting abotu 15 minutes to get into the Foursquare event, but bailed on that when the rains came…even Ashton couldn’t keep us excited about getting drenched on the sidewalk when there were three other parties within swinging-cat distance.

Another – yet minor – thing that was less than stellar was transportation. I still can’t believe that none of the downtown hotels boasts a shuttle to the airport. They allow taxis to queue up endlessly, too. Which might make you think finding a taxi in Austin is easy. It is if you stand within seven feet of the Convention Center…otherwise you’re either walking or taking a pedicab.

Hasn’t this festival come to town before? Wouldn’t you think taxi drivers might make more money by spreading out a little? I guess I don’t know how things should work, but there were three nights of the four I was in town that I would have gladly paid a taxi for a ride across the city, but none were close by.

Finally, the last FAIL of the weekend was some of the technology. For an Interactive Conference, these four days were a bit disjointed. Both Foursquare and Gowalla were at war in the geolocation battles. The materials telling people how to find things onsite and detailing the session schedule were mostly still on folded and printed pieces of paper. And the fancy QR codes on people’s badges didn’t work because they were too small for an iPhone to accurately take a photo of.

Lest you think I was unhappy with my trip, please go back and read the post before this one. I loved the time I spent in Austin and next year I plan to stay for all three festivals. I’ll just be doing a few things differently. Mostly because I could save myself time, money and aggravation with a few simple changes.

I hope this post has opened your eyes a bit to some of the growing pains…or just plain pains…festivals can have. Even those that seemingly are the premier events in their class.

What was your show like? Will you buy a badge next year?

Share you thoughts in the comments.