An Unofficial Guide to the Unofficial Guides of SXSWi 2011
Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
With over a thousand events in less than a week, South by Southwest Interactive seems more like an avalanche than a conference.
So who’s gonna be my sherpa? I searched high and low for the most comprehensive expert guides on the subject. So while there are some good short-lists of ‘must-dos,’ it seems that there’s too much data for human curators to handle. To comprehend the totality of SXSW, we’re left to muddle through with scheduling apps and services that try to aggregate the opinions of SXSWi attendees.
With over 3200 participants RSVPing for SXSW Interactive (compared to 196 for music and 157 for film), Plancast seems to be the unofficial SXSWi planning app of record. The SXSWi guide’s clean home page breaks down events by useful overarching categories like “Keynotes,” “Education,” and perhaps the most important for you guerilla attendees, “Badgeless.” Below that, events are listed in order of popularity rather than by date. Plancast easily connects with Twitter to allow you to follow your friends and see what they’re plan(cast)ning for the conference. The social-ness, the wiki-like event editing, and the emphasis on event popularity make the crowd the SXSWi sherpas on Plancast.
Tip: Best for iPhone users, since it doesn’t have an Android app yet. Do your planning on your macbook, and download the app to take your plans with you.
Lanyard offers Plancast the stiffest competition in terms of popularity with the Interactive set, with almost 3000 participants marked as attending SXSWi. The front page of the SXSW section is very guide-like, with lots of metadata, lots of photos and a link to the the all-encompassing coverage tracker. There are lots of topic tags, too, so you can get fairly specific looking for panels that interest you. The events are highly editable and taggable, and allow slideshows and supplemental material, so much like Plancast, you can rely on the wisdom of the crowd to steer you to the right places at the right times. But, hey no commenting?
Tip: Build your calendar here then export to iCal or Outlook.
Although Sched lacks OAuth/Twitter integration, its SXSW Guide is colorful and chronological, and shows you everything that is happening on any given day. And I do mean everything. Scroll down the home page and you’ll see that Austin is going to be busy. Signing up isn’t as easy as I would have liked, but once you’re registered, you can start building out your schedule by clicking check boxes. Check a few boxes off and soon you’re profile page will look more like a calendar.
Tip: View the schedule in “detail” view to see more info, and to link out to official RSVP pages without clicking into each event. This will make the already-long page even longer, but a simple CTRL+F search for keywords you’re interested in will help you navigate the days’ events.
Visually beautiful, and using the phrase “insider’s guide” in the masthead give the Ning site the most “official guide” look and feel of the bunch. Even more insider-y, it only lists a few events on the home page. But once you click through to the main events page, you realize that those are the “featured” events, and to see more you need to either search for them or create them yourselves. It seems that the insiders here are you and I, and it’s up to us to populate this site. In a few more clicks, you’ll find this site to be rather sprawling and unintuitive, less guide, more haphazard social network. And I couldn’t help but think of MySpace when I got my first spam comment almost immediately after signing up.
Tip: Go straight to the forum for inside tips on the conference and Austin.
To be fair, SitBy.Us doesn’t purport to be a guide. I just had to mention it, though, because it’s the site that I anticipate using the most this year. This “micro check-in” app was built and released especially for SXSW 2011. Logging in with Twitter, you can indicate the events you are interested in, and literally tell your followers when you find your seat. Like a couple of the other “guides,” the descriptive info for all of the events comes straight from the SXSW guide — the “official” one — but with the added knowledge that someone you follow definitely checked into an event, well, maybe there’s your sherpa.
Tip: The app-iest of all of these site, definitely use this on your phone.
I will be letting the Plancast and Lanyard crowds be my sherpas on SXSW Everest, but since neither render very nicely on my Android, I am going to carry around my “official” schedule and refer to SitBy.Us. Follow me (@NickBlogads) in Austin, and sit by me to see if I’ve made the right choice.