Can a conference get too big?

In my final hour of sxsw, I realise that my.sxsw2010 is a story about queues (a.k.a. ‘lines’).

There was the line/queue to the Mozilla party that snaked around the back of the building and out onto the street. I had been in the VIP queue/line, but when I realised that, despite all my efforts to be one, I was not, in fact, a VIP but rather a JAP (just-another-(one-of-7091)-persons) I stomped unhappily down the street. Just then, my (Mozilla) friend, Aza, hung out the window of the party inside and handed me an orange bracelet.

‘Aha! I have the esteemed orange bracelet!’ I thought, as I marched stealthily toward the blonde bouncers at the front of the line/queue with a smirk and a silent: ‘You thought that I was a JAP. How do you feel knowing that I am, in fact, a VIP! Huh?! Huh?!!’

I now know that orange bracelets don’t get you places. Orange bracelets are just… well… orange bracelets. They are not the key to transforming one from a JAP to VIP. They are not the key to the pearly gates.

Luckily for me, Mark, the god of the Mozilla Happy Hour looked down at us and gave the universal signal for: ‘Open the pearly gates for this woman!’ I was in! And with that, came all the heavenly gifts that a sxsw Mozilla Happy Hour must bestow upon us (including a mob of smart heathens and greasy delights to sop up the free-flowing beverages). I saw old friends and made a few new friends. I was happy. I felt secure. All because I was connected to the god of the Mozilla Happy Hour.

Other lines/queues were not so accommodating – mostly because my sxsw pass didn’t come with a similar god of the Mozilla Happy Hour. There was the line/queue to the bathroom, the queue/line to purchase an overpriced soy latte, and the line/queue to get into a movie called ‘Tiny Furniture’. Apparently the queue/line was so long that the volunteers had calculated it to be too long for me to, indeed, see the film. So I went to the shorter line to watch a worse movie. I fell asleep in the first 5 minutes. I’m sure the movie was fine. I was just exhausted.

I was last here in 2003. The interactive event was just getting started then. I remember feeling exhausted then, but not overwhelmed. And now I realise that there’s a pretty big difference between the two.

Me, Andy, Jack, Ivo, Gaby, Allan, Spratt - pic by Gareth Knight

sxsw is an amazing event. I’ve been inspired and I’ve learned some really practical things that I will actually use after this. But I’m left feeling like I need to lie by myself in Child’s Pose in a dark room for at least a week. Last night I couldn’t do it anymore. I went for a swim, looked up at the skyscrapers around me and marveled at how lucky it is to have guides in this world.

I think sxsw needs to find a way to enable us to guide one another – first-timers with old-timers; locals with out-of-towners.

But even guides won’t change the length of the lines/queues. When some sessions are so big that people feel they can walk out because they won’t be noticed, or even if they’re noticed, no one knows who they are anyway, the conference is probably too big.

At 17,000+, sxsw might just have gotten too big. At least for me.

2 thoughts on “Can a conference get too big?

  1. Hey Heather, It’s been a while since Wikimania Frankfurt. I’m just scanning the blogs for people’s reactions to SXSW 2010 and I now see you were there. It certainly was too big! If I had known you were there I would have been sure to say hello. I would have enjoyed catching up with you about all things open content. Perhaps next time I’m in SFO we could catch up.

  2. Hi Sunir! Thanks so much for the message and sorry I didn’t see it earlier. Sorry to hear we missed one another. Let me know next time you’re in SF!

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