SXSW 2013 The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Jeffrey Smith / Thursday, March 28, 2013

It’s March, which means another SXSW! This being my first SXSW I really did not know what to expect and I felt that being a rookie gave me some solid unbiased opinions about this world famous conference.

The Good

Well what can I say Austin is a lovely city and the people that live there are extremely friendly.  As you could imagine locals have mixed feelings about a conference that purges 100,000 technology, music and film geeks into their beloved city.  The quality of speakers and topics is top notch, granted there were a couple unprepared presenters but all in all I found the 5 days I was there extremely interesting. SPACE! I’m a sucker for sci-fi and this year’s SXSW was filled with talks by NASA scientists, Technologists and Inventors all focusing on the final frontier.  It was refreshing to see so many smart people working together and thinking that large. I think the highlight for me was Elon Musk’s keynote on SpaceX. And of course PARTIES! If you’re into free alcohol and fun parties SXSW has you covered… as they say What happens at SXSW stays at SXSW.

To scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope that is planned to launch in 2017.

James Webb Space Telescope


The Bad

SXSW is so large that it’s difficult to decide where to be and when to be there.  In the weeks leading up to the conference I carefully hand selected my schedule of talks and lectures. I’m such a SXSW noob!  Talks and workshops fill up quickly and are spread throughout the city.  It’s nearly impossible to stick to a schedule. I found myself finding a seat in a lecture hall for one talk and settling for the next talk even though something may be more interesting next door in fear I wouldn’t get in.  Your best bet is to pick one talk in the morning and one in the afternoon and anything else you get to see is a bonus.

Photo from the 100 Year Starship: Interstellar Travel & Beyond Session

100 Year Starship

The Ugly

Logistically SXSW is a nightmare. I was chatting with a cab driver that put everything into perspective, “60,000 hotel rooms in Austin, and 100,000 people visiting.” I guess those 40,000 extra don’t sleep, which I could actually believe. I booked my room about 7 months before the conference and was able to get a room at the Hampton Inn over by the Airport. Staying this far away from downtown I had to rely on SXSW’s shuttle service and since I had such a good experience using the shuttles at the IXDA conference I felt at ease. I mean how different could it really be? The shuttle service  was advertised to run regular loops every half hour. Oh how far from the truth that was. Its seemed to be more like every 2 hours and the “shuttles” were 12 person vans that would often fill up before they even arrived at the hotel’s front door. My fellow SXSW shuttle riders shared the same frustrations, “I paid 60 bucks for this?”, “I’ve been waiting 2.5 hours”. If you rode the shuttle in you stayed in the downtown area, heading back to hotel meant you were not coming back in. This all meant lugging your stuff around all day and sitting on the floor next to power outlets in between sessions.

Waiting for a Shuttle! (thats me in the background)

Brian and I waiting.

Despite all this I would absolutely attend SXSW again and my experience this year will serve me well in the future. The only real regret I have is not booking my hotel earlier so that I was in the heart of the action.