Mark, I have gone twice, it is a great conference. Probably bang for the buck the best conference there is. Bare in mind it is totally diff. than HIghEdWebDev much more advanced and all the biggest people in web. I dont think I am going to be attending this year though. I may head into town for the UwebD meetup this year but I dont think I will be attending the conference.
I can't honestly say SXSW was the most eye opening thing I have done as a web designer.
I attended SXSW last year. Overall, it was a good show (and good evening entertainment). I expected mobile web to be more dominant, and it was still a little too early on for most participants. Everyone was trying to see what others are doing with it, but nothing was happening at that point.
I've gone for the last two years, but I won't be going again. Last year they added a new component to the panel choice: public voting on the proposals. There were two big problems with this. For one thing, ANYONE could vote -- you didn't have to be registered as an attendee. Second, it naturally degenerated into a popularity contest, with the big-name designers promoting their proposals on their blogs.
The upshot was that I attended some really disappointing sessions with famous people, like Jason Santa Maria showing off pages from his sketchbook for an hour. (Seriously.) The quirky, I-never-knew-that panels I'd loved so much from my first year were nowhere to be found.
I believe the voting process is the same this year, so I'm saving my travel budget for other things. If there are wonderful SxSW panels, I'll hear about them afterward, and I'll download the podcasts (and hopefully the slides).
I agree with Stephanie's take on it....I've been the past 2 years as well but really don't have much interest in it this year because I feel like I hardly got anything out of the panels last year. It was just disappointing because 2006 totally changed the way I think about what I do . Plus it is a pretty pricey venture. This time, I'm going to wait for the podcasts and use the budget for other conferences.
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