More than any other conference I’ve ever been to, SXSW feels like it has it’s own social rulebook. The conference starts tomorrow and I’m pretty sure I’m the last of the 11,000 attendees to write a blog post or tweet about it. Since this is my first SXSW interactive, I’ve decided to try to decode this trend-setting event before I get there in the true spirit of my fellow conference-goers: the geekiest way I could think of.
As I was going through the 470+ sessions and parties listed on the site, some themes started to emerge. I noticed there are a lot of sessions on gaming, a bunch that address community and a few that talk about women and technology. But I’m only human so to find trends that I might not catch, I dumped all the sessions into excel, separated them by words and created a pivot table to do my own “tag cloud analysis” of SXSW 2009. (Turns out Mike Rohde did an awesome tag cloud design based on the panel picker for the tote bag which is where this image came from). So here’s what I found by digging into the tag cloud:
- There are two common denominators for SXSW: After dismissing filler words like “the” and “to,” two words emerged as the most popular: “your” and “web,” each with 34 appearances. Of course all conferences are tailored to their attendees, but SXSW in some ways sets the gold standard as one of the first to let people submit and vote on which sessions are offered (though it’s not quite that pure). It seems authentically about “you” (which appears 10 times in case you were wondering), though the only thing one person might have in common with another is that everyone cares about the web. Sessions address topics ranging from blogging to design to privacy to gaming. With such a variety to choose from – almost 100 sessions per day – attendees can really make it their own.
- SXSW is a social community: Next to web and your, “social” appears 28 times in the titles of events at SXSW. This isn’t all that surprising really but what is somewhat surprising is how many words “social” modifies: social networking, social media, social good, social capital, social gamers. This is right up there with “community,” which in its various forms appears 13 times. At SXSW you can learn about measuring, mobilizing, building and managing strong social communities and join a dialogue about how they could “end racism” and are “killing the revolution,” as two sessions address. At the same time social describes more and more online sites and tools, community is being stretched too, making me wonder if both words will soon lose their meanings. It will be interesting to see how these words are used over the next few days.
- Things are dying….or at least some think so: A shocking 8 sessions refer to death or dying. I sense a debate coming on. Is privacy dead? Friendship? Blogging? PR agencies? Print? There are sessions that either ask or declare that all those things are on their way out. What do you think? If you disagree, or would rather take a positive spin on SXSW, you might attend one of two sessions on books (so maybe print isn’t dead) or a session called “What does awesome sound like?”
- You’ll leave knowing how to do something: Probably not unique to this conference, one of the most frequent words is “how” appearing 26 times, suggesting that in more than 1 in 20 sessions, someone is going to be teaching us an actionable skill. What kinds of tools or information are people looking for? Well, you can learn “how to fund a startup”, “how to protect your brand without being a jerk” and even (don’t tell your boss you went to this one) “how to leave your perfectly good job.” There are also a few sessions on Tips. I might check out “Tips for making ideas happen”
- SXSW loves games, gaming and gamers (or they love SXSW): At least 14 sessions and 21 mentions of some iteration of the word suggest that games are being talked about from many angles: what we can learn from them, game programming, game research, game design, cinematic games, and the list goes on.
- Startups and the recession actually work together: Speaking of learning how to do something, there’s a huge focus on entrepreneurs, startups, bootstrapping and freelancing (at least 14 mentions combined) even with 4 sessions that mention the economy or the recession. If this interests you, you might check out “What do I do with myself, now that the economy has collapsed?” or “How startups can take advantage of the recession”.
- Creative session titles must win a special prize: We knew creativity mattered when we submitted a couple session topics, but it’s interesting to see which actually got picked. My favorite: “Reduce MySpace between waist & thighs so wiki live longer.” This is one of a few sessions focused on quality of life for web people, possibly another emerging trend? “Is being too ‘plugged in’ 24/7 destroying your health? There’s good news: web 2.0 technologies can help you optimize your fitness! Come learn and discuss.” Creative title and creative topic. I’m definitely interested to see what this has to offer.
By the way, if you’re at SXSW, please come by The Beacon Lounge that we are sponsoring!