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Is Crowd Sourcing Killing South By Southwest?

It sounds like a no-brainer: give attendees to South by Southwest—the annual conference on music, film and interactive—a say in what presentations they are going to see. After all, if the event is for the people shouldn't they determine the schedule?

Unfortunately, sometimes the incentives you offer don't always create the outcomes you expect.

Since those who are proposing presentations know that this is going to be put up for a popular vote, it alters how they craft their presentation proposals, like the observer effect.

The inevitable outcome are proposed titles guaranteed to get a reaction, like:

  • CyberSex 2.0: Is Social Networking Ruining Your Social Life?
  • How Not to Be a Douchebag at SXSW, and
  • I Don't Trust You One Stinking Bit

All of these titles sound as if they've been crafted for crowd-sourcing. (I didn't happen to sit in on any of these particular topics, so I can't tell you if these were in fact life-altering sessions.)

Further, the descriptions of these presentations often promise the world, while not always being representative of the final product. I've found myself more than once checking the description of a session I was in to make sure I hadn't wandered into the wrong room.

Lastly, those with a built-in audience (Twitter followers, blog readers, etc.,) are able to throw that influential weight around, turning the proceedings into a popularity contest, and causing me to have a flash-back of the inside of my high school locker.

But, perhaps I've shared too much.

From what I understand, there is a final panel that can overrule the popular vote, and I guess that's there to prevent a Baba Booey situation.

I also spoke with a few people who felt that the sessions from a few years ago had more substance, and were taught at a higher level. They felt that the topics now are at an introductory level, dumbed down for a more general audience.

While this democractic approach has its benefits, SXSW needs to remember that one of the roles of democracy is to secure the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to make sure I get a spot for Shameless Self Promotion Without Looking Like an @#$%^&!

Rich Brooks

[Photo: Flickr user Andrew Choy]

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  • creativereason

    FYI - The other two comments are spam.

    Anyway I think there should at least be a vetting process of the sessions and who the presenters are. I don't mind the crowd sourcing aspect, but I don't want a system that is either gamed by people with a high follower count or just based on a sexy topic.

    Then again, the worst session I attended had the most banal title, but one that everyone in the agency world cared about and it turned into a sales pitch:

    And some of the best weren't huge "names" but people who have obviously given the presentation before and refined it to excellence. Basically this year everyone was saying to judge your panel based on the speaker, not the title.

    Brian Schwartz -