My Best SXSW Yet, Badgeless

sxsw2010

Confession: I got overloaded at 2009 SXSW, a spring geek gathering in Austin, TX after I spent 12 days with the premium platinum badge. I decided to try going the opposite way this year, no badge at all. This is generally conference suicide. No panels, no parties and no benefits. It was an experiment, and my verdict in:

I loved it. My favorite SXSW yet.

Seeing the SXSW Badgeless group got up to 10,000 fans in 10 days (and SXSW had it removed), I think this is a lightning rod of tension. The official vs. unofficial SXSW festivities is ugly now, and going to get much worse. As an event organizer, it pains me, really pains me to say I went to an event and had a better time without paying. Everyone has a different experience, and this is just a bit of data on the event as a whole, which I have a huge amount of respect for.

sxsw2010 SXSW is my favorite week of the year, and this year was my fourth time at the conference. They do an amazing job. Really, one of the best organized events I’ve ever been too. I’ll buy any of the organizers a dinner to their choice in Austin if they read this. Love them and their conference… the same conference I lobbyconed this year. Yes I feel bad, but also feel like it must evolve.

SXSW had its problems this year (if you throw an event with no problems you have an honesty problem). I didn’t have the problems but heard the fair share of ‘the panels were horrible’ to ‘the parties all had massive lines’ and my favorite ‘too much emphasis on startups building up to flip with their new community.’ It was huge, up 20-40% from last year depending on who you are talking to. The corporate sponsorships were swelling (and perhaps a bit unmatched?).

All and all, that doesn’t jive with your semi non social tech geek (which I see as central to the movement of tech startups, innovation, and . They want quality people in small environments without too many people selling them stuff. They want conversations that are higher ethos smart, and good beers in quiet bars. What they don’t want is the social media get rich quick look at me LA crowd (sorry LA). They want smart and intimate. That is what I searched for this year.

I found 3-5 parties I could get into badgeless this year per night. Plenty. The best was by far the NOLA party (amazing band and a crowd PUMPED for the music). The mornings usually had me finding the best breakfast tacos in Austin and, most importantly, not worrying. I didn’t have to worry about missing a panel, or a keynote, or a special core conversation. I had to worry about relaxing and being happy, which I could have done almost anywhere in the world, I just had the privilege of Austin with the smartest people I know wanting to grab lunch.

I got to relax while everyone was running around. This allowed me to do some pretty fun stuff, like buying 100-200 breakfast tacos a morning and walking around the conference entrance making peoples days. Bacon cures hangovers as you know. I got to help friends plan their parties. I got to go for long runs, do coffee runs and get BBQ twice in a day.

I was able to do this because of the network I’ve build over the past few years. If I was new to SXSW I wouldn’t have had a great time, so please don’t take from this post the badgeless is the way to go. It was the way to go for me.

What I heard:

  • Panels suck. I hate organizing panels, would much rather have six 10 minute mini keynotes than a one hour panel. Banter between panelists is generally boring and bland, and if it isn’t, is disrespectful or taken that way.
  • Austin is a perfect venue.
  • Hipsters scare tech people.
  • The Twitter keynote had a horrible interviewer (sound familiar?).
  • The feel of community in startups was similar to a barn-raising for a house the owner is going to flip.
  • There is a core community that I am a part of (not saying it is the core community, just a community) that I am incredibly proud of. Great people doing amazing things helping each other.
  • Interactive was much bigger this year.
  • Location based is a hit and miss. Hit: SXSW crowd. Miss: when you get home. Too little reward for too much risk for me.

I tried doing my part making the conference better. I submitted and not selected for a firecharged panel “How Creatives Fight Back Against Exploitsourcing.” I was denied for the SXSW accelerator with a lame and half assed form rejection letter. I tried being part of making it better, was told I wasn’t needed and felt quite fine sitting on the sidelines intently listening.

Highlights:

RWW party at Austin City Limits venue for the Band of Sculls show. Best party for me, best band too.

sxsw2010

PureVolume house for the Savoy show (a Simple Geo Party)

Savoy at SXSW

Hanging out with people that change the web and culture (Anil Dash and Aaron Brazell here). Within ten minutes of that picture I had chats with Markos Moulitsas, Kristen Taylor, Richard MacManus, Spencer Fry, and Wendy Norris.

sxsw2010

I bumped into some fascinating people. The people were amazing. The highlight for me.

I stayed with Andrew McCollum, Dane Hurtubise and Aaron Peckham. Inspiring and awesome group.

RIP Brad Graham. A massive hole this year was Brad at the Break Bread with (for) Brad event. Brad passed away this year. It was my first SXSW event four years ago, and I met my first SXSW friend which I am forever grateful. I remember Brad welcoming us to the party, denying any involvement in the line to get in. A really nice guy, and another reminder that life is too short.

Now I’m busy writing emails to new friends. Thank you for another great week.

Really, I don’t say that enough, thank you.

  • So great seeing you too. I already can't wait for next year!

  • So now that you've done the Platinum and the Lobbycon versions, what's your thoughts for next year? Realizing that most of those doing Lobbycon were freelancers/contractors/unemployed, it's not always an option for everyone. Yet, those that have badges usually need to come back with so many business leads or reports on panels they attended. Is there a way to balance the two?

  • It was great seeing you at lunch before I had to run off and prep for my panel. I'm pretty sure badgeless is how Han Solo would have done it too [1].

    Also: totally stealing “barn-raising for a house the owner is going to flip” line from you

    [1] Greedo bogarted breakfast tacos in the original script so…

  • “I went to an event and had a better time without paying.” Don't get me wrong. I'm guilty of doing this too. Point is, you wouldn't have been able to have near the same experience if SXSW wasn't on while you were in Austin. You didn't go for free, you let everyone else pay for you. Complaining about a conference while pirating a sponsorship (convention center taco breakfasts) contributes to it's downfall, not it's betterment.

    Jeremy

  • “like buying 100-200 breakfast tacos a morning and walking around the conference entrance making peoples days. Bacon cures hangovers as you know”

    Two of the very many reasons you rock!

    Welcome home…now let's get busy šŸ™‚

  • andrewhyde

    Agreed.

    The part of the post I should have focused on more. Sxsw can't happen
    if people lobbycon it, but neither can it grow stronger if people
    don't get things from what they pay for.

  • I agree with Jeremy on this one.

    You are able to show up in Austin, in March, and see all of your peers because SXSW exists. They paid for the marketing, the set-up, the clean-up… they went out and got sponsors, they had to think about and implement things like security, city permits, toilets, etc. You DID use these things… just by being there… during the event. The panels are one piece of the puzzle… but with an event like SXSW, the event extends outside of the panels.

    Two wrongs don't make a right. SXSW doesn't get the message that they need to change things if you're still showing up to their event. They just see someone who showed up, used their event, and didn't pay them for a service.

    Maybe I'm too un-hip now… but I still believe that businesses should actually get paid for services they provide.

  • This year, going to my first SXSWi was an interesting experience. Whereas a lot of the sessions were pretty incredible, there were also a bunch of not-so-hot sessions. I see part of the problem being that it is so large now, that the quality of the average session to go down because they need to offer more options for such a large group of people.

    At the same time, SXSWi is about seeing friends, meeting and learning from people in a more causal setting. They say a lot of SXSWi is the networking aspects of it, and like you said, a lot of that can happen when you're not at these “official” functions.

    To have paid my way for it, I'm not entirely sure I'd pay for it again, in all honesty. I expected more from the sessions, but perhaps I just was going to some of the wrong ones.

    And thank you for the breakfast taco that one day, my man. Totally helped with the hangover.

  • I think it was very important that you mentioned that you would not have been able to have the type of experience you had if you hadn't built a strong network of friends over the past 4 years attending SXSW.

    I think my biggest takeaway from the conference this year was that I should relax, and do what I want to do. Not just follow the crowds. In the end, I had a much better experience and I made REAL friends. Sometimes even with people that I had known for years. šŸ™‚

  • andrewhyde

    I'm excited too! See you in NYC soon!

  • andrewhyde

    My thoughts for next year are to lobbycon but find a way to pay them šŸ™‚

    I'm going to experiment with a lobby pass to boco this year and see how it works out from an organizational standpoint.

  • andrewhyde

    That made me laugh, great seeing you, see you again soon.

  • andrewhyde

    I still remember when you picked me up from SXSW years ago!

  • andrewhyde

    I would gladly pay next year, just an experiment. I went down 4 days before SXSW to hang out with all my Austin friends, wasn't just for the conference goers.

  • andrewhyde

    Amazing how helpful relaxing is.

  • andrewhyde

    Great seeing you, let's work on getting you your dream setup this month!

  • I received a badge because I was speaking, but I only made it to three sessions and I was there the entire time. The most value I derived from SXSW was definitely in the Blogger's Lounge, the hallways and geeking out in the lobby of the Hilton. Only one of those (Bloggers Lounge) would I have had to pay for my badge.

    While I don't agree with some posts out there that have been demonizing the event, I agree with your core point. The true value of SXSW is certainly not the planned event, even though it is planned pretty well.

    By the way, it was great meeting ya šŸ™‚

  • melsidwell

    “The Twitter keynote had a horrible interviewer (sound familiar?).”

    This pains me as someone who interviews people for a living. I wonder how these interviewers are chosen? Any ideas? Thanks for the overview. I've never been to SXSW so it was to nice to read one person's perspective.

  • I don't think I got a great deal of value from my badge, and I think I may join you – badgeless – next year. SXSW is a conference like none other, but it's all about the people who are there – not so much about the panels. I too have gone 3 years in a row, and the built up social connections for that would be a big help in making a badgeless SXSW awesome.

  • jennyjenjen

    This makes me want to go next year and go badgeless. Of course, awesome people make awesome things, and you made yourself an awesome time. Thanks for the post, Andrew — as always, definitely inspiring.

  • jwilker

    Why not buy a badge and toss it? or give it away? That would show the organizers how much you respect them, and probably be more meaningful than a dinner. Since attendee registration helps pay the bills, and buys way more than one dinner, I think that would serve the purpose well.

  • Ditto. As a conference organizer who had to take on contract work because of poor ticket sales, I know I am very thankful for those who pay and just do not show up for their badge.

    Free tacos to attendees is nice. I mean, anyone who gives out free bacon is great in my book. However, why didn't you contact the organizers and say, “Hey, I want to hand out free tacos to your attendees. However, I don't want to rob you of funds for your hard work. How much is my 200 taco handout worth to you?”

    At least then, you could have a clear conscience that you tried.

  • andrewhyde

    I think it is a reality of conference organizers that you can't stop the lobbycon. For boco, we are going to offer a free lobby badge that is fill in only.

    I've paid for a few years, it was an experiment. Will be interesting to watch how the conference market evolves.

  • Hi Andrew, Great post.

    I definitely think the 10K strong “Badgeless” had a voice – with the most visible result being the “badge checkers” at the escalators for the 1st time ever this year.

    I enjoyed spending a wee bit more time with you this year. But a little disappointed I didn't join in on your 100-200 tacos for breakfast. šŸ™‚

    @zaneology

  • Hi Andrew, Great post.

    I definitely think the 10K strong “Badgeless” had a voice – with the most visible result being the “badge checkers” at the escalators for the 1st time ever this year.

    I enjoyed spending a wee bit more time with you this year. But a little disappointed I didn't join in on your 100-200 tacos for breakfast. šŸ™‚

    @zaneology

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