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Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW, Content, and Monetization

It might be overstating the facts to say that I went to SXSWi this year. Rather, SXSWi happened and I managed to position myself in it's vortex as it frantically rushed through Austin -- fueled by free drinks and Twitter.

The analogy between SXSWi and Twitter is apt because I constantly felt myself pulled by different currents in the stream of people. Anyone who tried walking with me from Point A to Point B knows what I'm talking about because I was constantly detouring, sidetracking, or just plain wandering off to Point C instead.

But that's how it had to be. If I had tried to control the flow instead of moving with it, I would have only ended up frustrated and (probably) alone. Instead of trying to set plans, keep people together, or have expectations, I relied on my cell phone to loosely wander in and out of what was happening.

That's the impression of my personal experience. But I also want to look at the conference from the business perspective.

One of the oft repeated points about SXSW is that you attend for the hallways and parties. This year, while inside the convention center, I heard that point repeated but with specific stories about why people felt the keynotes weren't as valuable as they'd hoped, or how the panels were disappointing them. One particularly pogniant quote was that nothing the person had heard couldn't already be found on a blog or by going to a Barcamp panel.

But SXSWi is 5-days packed full of speakers, panels, round-tables, and generally more content than you can possibly hope to consume (regardless of how many Red Bulls you have).

SXSWi isn't selling content, it's selling access.

If you work in new media, social media, media 2.0, or any other moniker, you are paying for face time with a large contingent of people in your industry. You're paying for the flow of people that allows the serendipitous meetings during the conference, over lunch, or at an after-hours party. And SXSW has been very smart in making sure they keep tight control over all the venues that are going to be used. Your badge is your passport into that access, that's what you paid for.

I'm going to wrap this up now but I have more thoughts around this topic that I'll continue to ponder.

What are you throughts on SXSW? Did you go for the sessions or the people? And what cues should online social networks take from this experience?

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