There are tons of reports coming out of South by Southwest Interactive, like this one, to name a few, mentioning audience revolt during the sessions, caused in part by the connectivity of the audience. Friends who are there remark that the sessions have been, well, to be kind, not wonderful, but the hallways and the meeting of all the people has been terrific. So this makes SXSW interactive the functional equivalent of Woodstock with the entertainment provided Perry Como and Bing Crosby.
At Podcamp, the rule is The Law of Two Feet- where if you aren’t getting something out of a session, leave and find something else that might suit you better. Podcamps are free or low cost to attend, and the ethos is that you are in charge of your own experience. You’d think this and the BarCamp folks would then apply this to SXSW, but they aren’t leaving the sessions and finding something else to do, or starting their own sessions- they are disrupting the ones going on.
Is it the investment of the ticket price and travel expenses? Is it finding out that the Lords of Social Media are not as smart as the crowd- they are just people too, and have nothing all that interesting to add? Is it a lack of anything “new” to make everyone excited?
People have invested a ton of time and energy into social media ventures. It’s personal. They go to big conferences like SXSW looking to up the game, looking for answers to the questions we all have- metrics, dollars, fundamentals to make things better- and people are finding out that the sessions, as billed, don’t give any answers, they just ruminate over them. You are paying for the chance to eavesdrop on a conversation that could have taken place on a blog, but there are still no clear “answers”. With the economy tightening, people are more desperate for the value add now more than ever. And sometimes, the value add is meeting all the geeks you admire online. It doesn’t seem to be with the sessions. Is that the Organizer’s fault? Or is it a crowd thing? Can you change things on the fly? It seems it would have been worth a try.
I know why people use Twitter, Meebo and other back channels during conferences- I used one at Podcasters Across Borders last year. In that relatively small event, the back channel provided additional information, like subtitles,to the talks-for example, links to websites that enhanced the content being presented. But it also provided a way for people to devolve into snarky and disruptive behavior that was pretty rude to the people presenting. I worry this is not really constructive, and can cause problems and hurt feelings in a close knit community.
As someone who helps organize podcamps, I want to see people so engaged in the material and the sessions they want to ask questions and participate. And I think we’re getting to a point where people aren’t willing to accept not being able to participate. That means shortening presentations, making them interactive, and getting rid of talking heads. Making sure that mob rule doesn’t take hold entirely is important, just for safety concerns, but having a conversation is much more important than just preaching- and if you want to preach, you sure as heck better be entertaining and moving the presentation along, because the crowd patience is very low.
I think, as a group, we have to start having some amount of consideration for each other, before we blanketly denounce something as sucking. If it does stink, you need to be able to say why and offer an alternative suggestion. Take some responsibility and make it better. It’s really easy to be a critic- it’s hard to be a creative problem solver. But it’s the problem solvers that win in the end. Making it better for you might make it better for others in turn. Use your voice to make a change, not just to yell and demean.
I hate to see the community I love so much seemingly taking such joy in being rude and mean to others. I wasn’t at SXSWi, and I don’t for a second think that Ms. Lacy was Terry Gross, but you can critique without making it personal. You can leave if a session stinks, and not make yourself a modern-day Don Rickles. Everyone leaving en masse says more than doing the wave in the middle of a session, although they each have their points.
Lastly, since Twitter is picked up by Google, all the remarks are now on the internet forever, following everyone around. So it means that we have to remember that it is all public, 24 x 7, just as if we were pop stars. And I sure would love to see everyone develop a digital footprint for being kind and helpful, like George Clooney, more than a Brittney Spears approach to life. Just remember that your reputation is your most valuable and your most fragile asset- and what you tweet is what you sow, and will determine, at some point, what kind of harvest you will reap as well.