Art & Culture

A Quick Guide to SXSW’s Panel Picker

The South by Southwest conference panel picker allows anyone who considers themselves to be part of the SXSW community to vote on panels that will appear at next year’s conferences in music, film, and interactive technologies. It’s a good, simple way to get people involved in the content they would invest their time in seeing.

As you can see from the pie chart, SXSW organisers are no fools, however: say what you like about the “wisdom of the crowd”, the advisory board and staff still run the show (and that’s a good thing).

What struck me after a quick browse was a certain homogenous feel to the panel titles. Nearly all of them are twisting themselves into pretzels to sound clever and punchy in a peculiarly uniform tone. Few simply tell you exactly what the panel content will be, and one wonders if the public voting feature exacerbates this kind of look-at-me marketing. The contrast between conferences meant to appeal to the general public and academic conferences couldn’t be more pointed, through the prism of this one tiny feature. For example:

Semi-random* sampling of SXSWi proposed panel titles:

  • The Thousand Wang Challenge: Chatroulette As A Game
  • Old is the New Black: Content’s Comeback
  • Boldly Go Where No Ad Has Gone Before
  • Invade my Privacy, Please!
  • Curation Is King and Content Is Its Bitch

Semi-random* sampling of academic panel titles (I chose the College Art Association conference from last year):

  • Dressing the Part: Textiles as Propaganda in the Middle Ages, Part I
  • Authors of Cultural History from the Ottoman Empire to Nation-States
  • Innovation, Agency, History: Centering the Italian Fourteenth Century
  • The Importance of Art in Economic and Social Revitalization: The Creation of Modern Cultural Economies
  • From Fiction to Archive: Reconstructing Public Memory in South Korea

But I digress (interesting as conference panel titles are). I promised a quick guide, and so here is the guide part. Here’s what you need to know:

Vote thumbs down:

  • Anything remotely to do with SEO (search engine optimisation, for the uninitiated)
  • Panels with offensive, inane, and/or punny titles
  • Panels about the iPad (just because)
  • Panels that will tell you how to make money on your _______ (insert whatever)

Vote thumbs up:

  • Anything else that sounds remotely interesting.
  • For your friends, of course.

Good luck!

Oh, and share your faves please — there’s no way I’ll get through all 2,500 or so panel proposals.

(* – Like any good storyteller, I might notice data that supports my thesis more often than data that doesn’t.)