I have never been to the SXSW Festival in Austin. I want to go SXSW Festival for the tech and music scenes, plus to see Whole Foods headquarters and migas tacos. Every year, I want to come to SXSW for the experience, but at the same time, I don’t want to go because of that experience.
I’ve been hearing the past few years from friends that the once hip SXSW is getting bigger and corporate. Some say they don’t want to attend again and some would want to go to a “real” tech conference like XOXO in Portland, Oregon. Welcome to the concept of mainstream.
Going mainstream is not a bad thing: bigger crowds, bigger acts, bigger profits, better sponsors. The biggest issue of going mainstream and the most important: losing the community and its voice. Nearly every event created starts with a community, which is mostly one sector, and they have the voice of what is on the agenda. However, the bigger the event, sponsors have more control on the agenda and a diverse audience, which might be good, but can dilute the core community. How to solve this problem?
The best solution is collaboration between attendees and sponsors. Veteran attendees need to educate new and “out-of-circle” attendees of how to be part of the community in the conference, while sponsors can support with resources and support.
Lost in the hoopla is conferences need to promote individualism instead of ideas, next big things, and corporate branding. What attracts people is the personalities behind the products and ideas, not the other way around. Conferences want us to find the next big thing, but that’s terrible thinking. You want individuals to find each other to discuss ideas, debate, and collaborate. Everything has a shelf life, but individuals last longer because we can adjust; products and ideas cannot.
Mainstream is fine, but it is how the conference setup is key. If you focus on community and individuals, your conference will continue to be a hit, no matter the size. If you focus on branding and profit, you lost your core. You don’t want to lose your identity coming out of the conference.