I tweeted yesterday about voting yes or no for every SXSW panel, so I thought I’d follow it up with a quick post.
Is SXSW valuable as an experience? Yes – it is always good to take your online relationships offline, and it’s a breeding ground for collaboration down there in Austin, Texas.
It’s also a popularity contest. Some folks think it “turned into” one, but the way voting is structured, it’s always been about self-promotion.
What this means is that some great panel ideas get overlooked in favor of panels proposed by folks that are “known” already. Endless blog posts are written about how to get your panel into SXSW, endless backchannel bargaining goes on to get votes, and then there is the incredibly obnoxious constant stream of “vote for me” status updates, blog posts and in person conversations. As more and more panels or proposed, this is partially a problem of sheer numbers as well. There are 2346 SXSW interactive panels alone, not even counting Film and Music. (And don’t think Film and Music are immune to the popularity contest aspect, folks. Thanks to the weight given the various aspects of panel selection, last year’s SXSW Film mirrored Sundance in both screenings and panel topics- hardly a representation of true user driven panels and films.)
What I am encouraging you to do is “take back” your conference. It took me 45 minutes yesterday to use the SXSW Panel Picker, page by page, to vote yes or no to every Interactive panel. Granted, I have FIOS internet, so YMMV (your mileage may vary). I’ll go back and do Film and Music this weekend. Being able to look at multiple panels on a page, hover my cursor for a longer description and then click thumbs up or thumbs down was a huge time saver. I made a short note to myself about any I wanted to go back and leave a comment on (we’ll go into why that’s important in a minute). I completely ignored the name and company of each panel organizer. I voted only using two criteria: 1) Do I think the topic is relevant and interesting 2) Would I go to this panel. That’s it. I was more likely to vote no if your panel title was worded like link bait, I was more likely to vote yes if the title made it immediately apparent to me that it was going to be useful, but in each case I read the pop up description before clicking.
Some people will think that voting on all panels will not make a difference. It will if everyone does it, but you are right – our vote is not all that matters in the SXSW selection process. Our collective vote is only 30%. This is where comments come in – thoughtful comments, and lots of them, can push a good panel over the edge and into the selection committee’s consciousness, regardless of who proposed it. Throwaway comments just to get a comment, like “Rad panel, man!” are less helpful. The rest of the vote is 30% SXSW Staff and 40% Advisory Board. This doesn’t help in getting some of the up and coming thought leaders heard! The fact that folks are more likely to be picked if they have had a panel at SXSW before or have been published or otherwise are “known” is too bad, but if we start to let the organizers of SXSW know it’s time for a change by how much and how we vote, it can make a difference.
So, what happens if thousands and thousands of the 12,000 or so who attend each year vote differently and completely, and we still can’t effect change?
Start your own conference. You can always effect change.