SXSW Panels, The Wisdom Of Crowds And Why I Don’t Like It Sometimes

So in the past few days, I’ve been bombarded with the “I’m hosting a panel at SXSW and I want you to vote for me!” requests on Facebook and RSS Feeds.

I appreciate the idea of publicizing some of the panels through this method, and I’m going to try my best to make my trek to Austin, but I really don’t like the idea of placing the vote for the panels up to the community. I understand it’s only 30 percent of the vote, and it’s an influencer, but not a decider, but still — Jason Calcanis’   comment about the web now being a self-promoting place (from the king of self promoters, and he’s shameless about it) holds true in this process, because the blogs have become an increasingly commercial place, this blog included.

Here’s why:

The selection of panels becomes a popularity contest

One of the results of the web and social media is that for many of the print media establishments, they will award certain prizes to the people who will drive circulation instead of who is really deserving. For years, Motor Trend did this for the car of the year: the company that spent the most advertising dollars got to pick which of their car, and that gave us the Chevrolet Citation. Magazines today like Maxim our now picking some of their girls for print based on how many (fake) MySpace friends they have.

From someone who lost student body elections nine times in high school, I will never like this. I’m not going to read through 1300 panel ideas to see the one that is most valuable — no one is. Most of the presenters will be picked because they’ll have a friend on the panel, or can shout the loudest.

Valuable (but more obscure) panel ideas and presenters never see the light of day

To a certain extent, someone’s going to get screwed because they don’t have a big enough name, or work for a big enough company. They should reaching out and looking at blogs and emerging companies with great ideas to see if there are any good ideas of undiscovered talents that are worthy of a spot at SXSW.

It’s a derivative of the old Groucho Marx story, I don’t want to be part of any club that has a membership requirement. I think if you are trying to hard to be there, you really don’t belong, you know what I mean?

Maybe that’s why I like the barcamp model: there aren’t 1,300 panels, and it’s done on a smaller scale. Some of the panels are going to suck, but there’s going to be that gem in there that will make the conference. And it’s not some popularity contest — you get there early, you get on the list.

I don’t want to be spammed

This is wasting my valuable time, because none of these people are explaining the merits of their panels — it’s more of the, “Just go vote for me, dammit.” They aren’t presenting a compelling argument for me (well, some of them are like this one, but more of them are like this, this, and this, which is ironically called Curating the Crowd Sourced World) to decide if I even want to pay for a plane ticket and a hotel room to Austin for the event and the panels.

The ideas should be judged purely on the merit their value to the audience and their ideas, and not on some popularity contest. Sometimes social networking goes too far, and I think this is one example. That is all.

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