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+Michael Pusateri tells why he won't be going to SXSW this year. He's not alone. Or rather, he will be alone because he won't be there. I won't be there either; canceled my talk a few weeks ago because I want to try something new.

Michael's not wrong about SXSW. But SXSW isn't wrong, either. It has had a difficult choice: grow bigger and bigger, or cap attendance and become exclusive (and probably even more expensive; see TED). The problem is, when it grew so big, it spread out and lost the magic of the hallway: You could sit on the shore of a trout stream and pluck out friends as they passed. No more. It became a big show and a big business.

I recently spoke with the producer of another conference I think is great. His, too, is growing and growing, a sign of success. But his reflex was to wonder whether he should just shut it and then do something else. (His partners would not agree; that's why I'm not quoting him by name.) That would be a helluva wacky way to run a business: shut it just when it takes off. But success can be fatal.

I keep thinking about ways to disrupt the conference business, to bring it back to conversations and away from sponsor content and overcrowding. I want to get back to basics: The reason people go to conferences is people: seeing their tribes and meeting new people with similar interests. The secret, I think, is to give power to the people formerly known as the audience (TM +Jay Rosen) and give them a platform to gather when they want to. More later....

cc from Twitter conversation: +Rex Hammock +Dan Gillmor +Gina Trapani +Andy Baio
Why I'm not going to SxSW this year. For the last ten years, I've attended SxSW Interactive, a wonderful conference focused on changes in the way people interact, especially online. When I sta...
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14 comments
 
If you want a great example of a conference done differently, check out CU-Boulder's Conference on World Affairs. (http://www.colorado.edu/cwa/) As one person put it, "It's like a democratic version of TED."
 
Can I get your ticket? I wanna see Springsteen's keynote! :D
 
+Raymond Johnson I've been a speaker at the CU conference the past couple of years -- it's indeed a wonderful gathering. Open to the public, which is best of all, and the speakers all donate their time.
 
+Jeff Jarvis I know the feeling. A couple of friends recently recommended me to attend SXSW Interactive. In that case, it would be my first time ;-) But, maybe it's to big and impersonal.
So what's your next step? What's "something new" for you? Maybe I should invite you to the next journalist unconferece in Sweden? I can guarantee you genuine intimacy and high quality :-)
 
+Dan Gillmor Yes, I've been to several of your past sessions and enjoyed them all, so I'm disappointed to not see you on this year's list of participants! Journalism-related issues always seem to be popular at the CWA because they touch so many other areas of society, and it's good to have good voices there to speak about them.
 
I think SXSW brought this on themselves by how they programmed the content. If they'd continue to be focused on people creating new things, rather than how those things are marketed, I think the culture wouldn't have changed as dramatically as it has. Also, putting the panel selection in the hands of the audience sounds like a good idea, but I think it backfired on them. Tighter curation would've helped that.
 
As I said in my post regarding +Michael Pusateri's points, make +SXSW into something for you and the community or don't go, sure. +Bike Hugger brings Built there, a series of maker talks, and that photo in Michael's post is from an appearance last year talking about his BBQ.

https://plus.google.com/117666625199895400127/posts/SombJ9K1jRS

So I share the same concerns and did something about it. Before you canceled, +Jeff Jarvis alerted the whole world to your contract concerns with them. So if you do go, you can contribute to it and make something meaningful happen instead of just the hyper-marketing. Also, if you don't know them, +shawn o'keefe +Morgan Catalina and +Hugh Forrest are all listening to these concerns.
 
+DL Byron I have nothing against SXSW. I love it. But this year, not being a speaker, I concluded that it was too much of a drain on time and resources. Hope I'll be back someday.
 
Seems to me that the key would be more, smaller, more focused (topically and/or regionally) and more frequent conferences. Less like conferences, more like music tours.

When most bands decide to play live, they don't just hold one five-day concert in one city and call it a year. (Well, Metallica does, but I guess they can do whatever they want.)

Also, when bands tour together, it's usually 2-4 bands that all really make sense on a playlist together. This is true even among the big tours--you're not likely to find a country band on the Warped Tour. But with conferences and conventions, it seems like every quasi-tangentially-related entity in the world wants to have a presence.

Like... what if Comic-Con was actually entirely about comics? It might not be as cool, but the people who want to be there might have a better experience.
 
+Thom Stricklin The difference is that, unlike a concert, the speakers are only a small part of the draw of a conference like SXSW: the biggest appeal, by far, is that it draws together like-minded people from all corners of the world to a single city for one week. UK and East Coast people would consistently show up at SXSW that never went to any West Coast conference, and that's a big part of what made it magical.
 
+Andy Baio Well, sure... but it sounds like not everyone finds a big convention "magical".
 
+Terry Grier disruption can come at a hefty cost for something like an unconference where the mojo of volunteers gets quickly used up. The best one and a format we borrow for Built (the name of the events we do) is Ignite.
 
+Andy Baio we keep ending up in the same threads... should have a beer sometime soon. Agreed, as I used to call it, it was a gathering of the tribe and I'd see people I never see in person, ever there and only there. I got punk'd by street marketers at my own party a few years ago and market entirely on the streets with bikes. The hyper, desperate marketing is terrible there. Least of which is trying to VIP a party when there are some many f'ing parties. We usually just end up at the quietest bar we can find. +Anil Dash had a great post with a famous photo of the tacos breakfast I think 2 years ago. Looking for it now.
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