SXSW from a Web Analyst Perspective

August 7, 2011

With the recent announcement from the SXSW Interactive Director to raise prices by 27% for early registration, I thought I would branch out a little bit from my usual posts and talk about what I thought about SXSW Interactive from a web analyst perspective. The reason that the Interactive Director gave for the price increase was the new price is competitive with other pure tech conferences. While SXSW also includes a music and film portions, the majority of the attendance is for the interactive portion and the price increases for music and film were not quite a steep. My personal thought for the price increase is to control the number of people that will attend the conference. There were rumors that SXSW was going to limit registration and while they did not limit registration, by raising the rates it has the same affect and if the same number of people attend as last year then SXSW will just make money. Now the question is, with the price increase or without the price increase, is it worth going to SXSW Interactive.

I was fortunate enough that my company paid for me to go last year and with the price increase it might price out people paying to go themselves or small companies that might not have the increased budget. Before I attended SXSW Interactive last year, I had heard a lot of things about SXSW and was really excited that I was finally getting the opportunity to go. I had pretty high expectations for the conference, rightfully so or not, about some of the new tech companies and new technologies that I would be learning about. SXSW was definitely a very social conference. They had an app where you could plan, scheduled, and see which presentations that you wanted to go see. For almost every presentation there was a twitter hastag that you could follow during or after the presentation. One of things that I noticed about the conference is that people are not shy. People were not afraid to walk out of a presentation and tweet while they were walking out sharing their not so positive feelings about the presentation and the speakers. But for the most part, attendees did a great job recap the session so if you could not attend you would get an idea of how the session went.

When I first looked at the schedule to see which sessions I wanted to attend, I noticed that the schedule was from Thursday evening to the end of the day on Tuesday. It is five days straight days of sessions and walking around downtown Austin trying to get from one session to the next one. Being a web analyst and web analytics implementation program manager and just leaving the Omniture Summit, I had a web analytics mind set. I had not really taken the opportunity to look at the schedule to see which sessions that I wanted to attend. But what I was excited for was to learn about some new up and coming technology. I was looking at the SXSW schedule on the plane right to Austin from the Omniture Summit. I started picking some of the sessions that I wanted to attend, which had nothing directly to do with web analytics but some of the topics are related to web analytics. The first session that I attended was about privacy and it was one of the best sessions that I attended. The session was about who should control your data and some thoughts on how to opt out of tracking for ads. I attended several sessions about privacy and these were some of the best sessions that I attended during the conference. When I looked at the schedule I saw sessions that were called workshops and there was a workshop that included web analytics and survey data. When I saw this session, I was very excited. I thought there was finally a session that I could really engage. When I saw the word “workshop” I was thinking that it would be a discussion group and doing some actual work in web analytics. My definition and thought of a workshop is different than SXSW’s. There definition of a workshop is a two-hour session with three to four presenters and no breaks. While I was not expecting experts, I was expecting more than I got and I walked away from the session extremely disappointed.

The sessions that I was really looking forward to were the keynote speakers hoping to learn about some new technology or at least something that was interesting. There are five keynote speakers, one each day, at the same time each day. Getting in to hear the keynote speakers is very difficult and usually a long wait so I would just go to one of the other rooms where they would have a simulcast of the keynote. Last year most of the keynotes where not very memorable and most were not very good. There were only two that I really remember and only one that I thought did an outstanding job. The one that I thought did an OK job during the keynote was Seth Priebatsch from SCVNGR. He talked about how to use game theory to solve problems. The presentation was pretty good and Seth had a lot of energy, but never having been exposed to game theory before he lost me about half way through. The other keynote that I liked and I thought did an awesome job was Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes. The main idea behind TOMS shoes is that Blake will give one pair of shoes to children in need of shoes in a third world country for every shoe that is purchased. He talked about how he started the company and how we came up with this idea “One for One.” While his presentation was not about a new technology or a technology, it was still a very interesting story and a great presentation.

The last part of the conference that I attended was the trade show, which had a combination of music, film, and interactive companies with different booths. The interactive companies had the largest presence at the trade show from big companies (Microsoft and Monster) to smaller companies. Almost all of them giving away some sort of swag and most of which you do not want. But there were a few good items. I got a couple of signed books and a couple of signed footballs from current UT football players. Again, this was another place where I hoping to see or learn about a new technology or at least see something new from a company. Again I walked away from the trade show disappointed, except for the books that I got.

While overall I enjoyed my time at SXSW and attended some great sessions and some sessions that were not so great. The trade show was OK, but not that good. I think SXSW is over valuing their conference a little bit. While I can understand a price increase 27% is too big of an increase. If my company would chose to send me again to SXSW again, I would be happy to give up another weekend to go, even to just a few sessions.

Overall I would give SXSW 2011 a B.

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