Virtually There: A Curator’s SXSWi Experience

In the weeks leading up to the 2012 edition of SXSWi, I researched every tiny detail: the speakers, the parties, the free food. I read blog posts from South-By veterans. I was preparing myself for the normal conference experience of sitting in panels, waiting in lines, and networking.

When I arrived in Austin to curate for JESS3’s Samsung Smart Wall, I quickly found that my experience would not be the typical one. The vast amount of work necessitated long hours at a convention center table at the expense of the normal South By experience. Yet after days of watching the tweets, check-ins, and photos pour into the Samsung Controlinator, I surprisingly felt like I got more out of SXSWi then the average attendee.

The Power of the Crowd

Our base camp turned into my own personal panel. As the socially-minded attendees tweeted their thoughts and takeaways from each session, I was able to reflect on how narrow my view would be if I were in attendance. Would Amber Case saying, “Cellphones are the new cigarettes,” have resonated with me? Maybe, but I definitely would have missed out on the insights of the hundreds of people around me.

The JESS3 team was curating for the installation, but I was also curating for my own benefit. I reflected on content I found interesting and brushed past the stuff I didn’t. I realized the only singular authority on compelling content is the person consuming it.

The Plural of Anecdote is not Data

Being one’s own curator is not always easy. There is a lot of spam and useless content to wade through. Taking all tweets as equal on a given panel or speaker would likely give a misleading perspective. Successful curation requires an enormous amount of time spent shifting through the mountains of content. What made my experience manageable was the powerful, bespoke curation tool JESS3 created. Breezing past redundant, off-topic, or uninteresting content was exactly that: a breeze. I’m not sure my time in Austin would have been as positive if I were using another tool. While I thoroughly enjoyed the few panels I did attend, it wasn’t the same by myself. No matter how big the names in the room, I found myself missing the perspective gained from the unique observations of unknown masses at SXSWi.

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