SXSW: What Worked and What Didn’t, Pt 2
A week ago, I published the first of what promised to be several recap posts about the highlights and lowlights of SXSW 2017. What follows is the second edition of this exercise examining what went right at this year’s event — and what we need to work on a lot for next year.
Five (more) things that worked at SXSW 2017:
- ATX Startup Crawl. For 2017, this event moved to the evening of Monday, March 13 (as opposed to the Thursday-before-SXSW-begins timeframe that it has occupied for the last few years). This shift in dates allowed even more out-of-town attendees to connect with even more Austin founders, as thousands of entrepreneurs (and their many friends) took part. Win!
- Dean Baquet Presentation. The Executive Editor of the New York Times (pictured above) spoke at the impossibly difficult timeslot of 9:30 am on Sunday, March 12. We typically don’t program this early on this day (because of the switch to Daylight Savings Time). Yet Baquet’s session drew about 1500 attendees to Ballroom D. So much for failing!
- The First-Ever Zen Den. In so many ways, SXSW can be all about sensory overload. The new Zen Den on the fifth floor of the JW Marriott provided a quiet place for registrants to escape the bustle with massages, manicures and a firm policy of no computers, phones, tablets or gadgets. This activation never got too crowded — which was exactly the vibe we wanted to create.
- Spirituality-Focused Sessions. More than 10 panels and presentations explored the intersection between faith and technology. Most of these sessions were very popular. Of particular note was the “Compassionate Disruption: Innovation and the Vatican” panel on Sunday morning, March 12, which drew an enthusiastic audience to the oh-so-secular Hyatt Regency.
- Virtual Cinema. Occurring March 14–16 in Salon 5 on the fourth floor of the JW Marriott, the Virtual Cinema amazed registrants by showcasing some of the most impressive new content experiences. Given how much this playspace grew between 2016 and 2017, we can hardly wait to engage in Version 2018 of the hottest new virtual reality / augmented reality / mixed reality applications.
Five (more) things that need a lot of improvement for SXSW 2018:
- Book Readings. The SXSW community isn’t ready to give up long-form content. Not for a little while, at least. Such was the obvious conclusion after several days of long lines for most of the Book Readings on the third floor of at the Austin Convention Center. We need a bigger space for this content for next year.
- Journalism Sessions. In late November, I predicted that this track would be one of the most important things we added to the 2017 schedule. Although expert speakers provided excellent content, the crowds for these panels and presentations didn’t quite match our expectations. For 2018, we need to find a better location for this track.
- Mentor Sessions. Short one-on-one meetings with top industry experts are one of the best elements of SXSW. For 2017, too many timeslots went vacant. Over the summer, we need to work on tweaking the signup system to maximize this opportunity for all SXSW attendees.
- Saturday Night Ride-Sharing. Most Austin residents have made peace with the departure of Uber and Lyft. But knowledge of Fare, Fasten, RideAustin and other similar services usually doesn’t extend beyond the locals — and the evening of Saturday, March 11 proved that out-of-towners still don’t understand. This report in the Austin Business Journal provides good context on the scope of the problem.
- “Swiping Right on Inclusivity with Tinder & GLAAD.” We expected a big crowd for this timely session with GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis plus Tinder Founder and Chairman Sean Rad. While the on-stage discussion was insightful, it would have been a more dynamic conversation in a much smaller room.
Stay tuned to this space for more SXSW 2017 recaps. Also please mark your calendar for the first two weeks of July (when we accept speaking proposals for next spring via the SXSW PanelPicker interface). Dates for SXSW 2018 are March 9–18; registration will open on Tuesday, August 1.
Hugh Forrest tries to write four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts generally cover technology-related trends. When not attempting to wordsmith or meditating, he serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW in Austin.