All posts in “Danah Boyd”

Was SXSWi Worth It?

Karly Gaffney is a Manager on the Content and Community team at Social Media Group.

After years of envious tweets and serious SXSWi FOMO, I finally made it. 2012 was my year! I scoured the schedule for days before stepping on the plane to Austin, eagerly added every single nerdy Foursquare meet-up/event to my calendar and created a ‘how-to’ list for each SXSW/Austin-specific Foursquare badge. (I do that with every new city I visit. #nerdalert)

After Day One was complete, I was somewhat disappointed.

I think at one point I was certainly the SXSWi target audience, but 2012 was all about mass appeal, big companies and bigger sponsors. Opinion: SXSWi is no longer a hotbed for cutting edge new ideas or a small group of big thinkers. It’s a huge group of people looking to learn more (just like so many other marketing/interactive conferences.)

SXSWi 2012 was bigger than ever. According Austin360 the festival said its official paid attendance count for 2012 was 24,569, up from 19,364 in 2011 (nearly 27%) and 14,251 in 2010. (This isn’t surprising considering the over-crowded halls at the Austin Convention Center and the 3.5+ hour wait in line to pick up my badge.)



  • None of the sessions I attended that directly related to my day-to-day work provided new insights or takeaways. I had no “Eureka!” moments, no inspiring “I can’t wait to try that!” moments, not even an “Oops, I’m doing it wrong” moment.

Maybe I missed out on the really valuable sessions. At any given time, there were three or four sessions that I wanted to attend and had to choose but one. Maybe I chose wrong.

I have a friend who found great value in the mentor sessions and networking events and friends who had a blast at the parties. (Something that was lost on me because I’m sorta lame and need my sleep.)

Verdict: I’m not sure I’ll go back. If I do attend a future SXSWi, I think I will focus on networking, mentor sessions and the big talks/keynotes. I may not come away with huge learnings that apply to my field, but I’ll likely end up with some valuable new connections and perhaps a touch more inspiration than this year.

Just because it's a crowd doesn't make it wise

In fact, sometimes it’s just a mob. And mobs can be very ugly.

Photo courtesy of O'Reilly Media

Photo courtesy of O'Reilly Media

danah boyd’s keynote yesterday at Web 2.0 Expo was a prime example of a mob mentality. Behind each of the speakers ran a live Twitterstream, which pulled everything tagged #w2e. In boyd’s case (she was the last speaker) the audience used it to at first criticize and then make fun of her delivery. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see the stream in order to use some of the feedback productively. All she heard was the laughter of the audience (read her perspective on it here). It was an extremely uncomfortable experience, and, frankly, it really pissed me off.

Those of us in this space are always talking about the importance of transparency and unvarnished feedback, and the wisdom of crowds. What the audience did at Web 2.0 yesterday technically fit into those boxes. Hey – she wasn’t doing a great job, they were having their say! – but it was also mean and rude. Getting on stage in front of a room full of strangers is a high-pressure experience, no matter how much you love the rush. Having that audience start inexplicably laughing at you? That’s the stuff of nightmares.

I’m not going to say that boyd’s talk was fantastic. It was too fast, it was dense, and she did read from her notes. But even still, the crowd knew that what they were doing was wrong – they knew they were a mob; every time anyone posted a tweet calling out those who were mocking Boyd, the room seemed shamed, quieting significantly (full disclosure: I sent a few myself).

So, in closing: the “old” rules of human decency still apply in this new space. If you tweeted something during danah boyd’s keynote you thought would generate a chuckle, you’re a coward. If you truly wanted to improve the experience, you should have had the courage to stand up, raise your hand, and ask her to slow down a bit.