Is Crowd Sourcing Killing South By Southwest?

Opening up the approval process of presentations to participants seems like a good idea, but is it slowly killing the popular SXSW conference?

Is Crowd Sourcing Killing South By Southwest?
[Photo: Flickr user Andrew Choy]

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


About the author

Rich Brooks is founder and president of flyte new media (, a Web design and Internet marketing firm in Portland, Maine. His monthly flyte log email newsletter and company blog ( focus on Web marketing topics such as search engine optimization, blogs, social media, email marketing, and building Web sites that sell