I currently have one of more than 3000 panel and speaker proposals competing for a spot at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference in Austin next March. “Data Visualization, Policy, and the Arts” would explore how policymakers are incorporating fun, creativity, and imagination into their communities’ master plans, the emergence of data visualization as an art form, and cutting-edge ways in which governments and philanthropists use data to inform their support of the creative economy. The format is “Future15,” which is a TED-like short solo speaker presentation. My colleagues at Fractured Atlas have submitted several other proposals to the Film and Music events, and Beth Kanter has a nice roundup of other Interactive sessions worth a look (including one from our friend Devon Smith).
SXSW uses a system called PanelPicker to help choose the programming at the festival. Regular schmoes like you and me can create an account and vote for any of the proposals, collectively accounting for 30% of each proposal’s score. The system bears some similarity to the one suggested in “Audences at the Gate” in that it combines a bottom-up voting process with the top-down views of staff and “experts.” Crystal Wallis points me to this article criticizing this guided crowdsourcing model:
We talked to expert communicator and SXSW veteran Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) to get his thoughts on the process. He agreed that the curated process was good for avoiding popularity contests. But when questioned about what was really pulling people to SXSW, his answer was firm: “The networking is the draw, absolutely.”
We propose a tweak for 2013: don’t crowdsource the panels themselves, crowdsource the topics. Eliminate the names from the equation, and let people vote on what they want to learn, not who they want to learn it from.
Not only does that eliminate the chance of a popularity contest, but it means the panels will—finally—provide value for attendees. Sure, most people will still probably go mainly for the networking. But if there’s a way of really leveraging this crowd to make the conference better, SXSW should take advantage of it.
I’m not sure I get the criticism here – people go to the event to network (a fact established by one person’s opinion, evidently), so we should make it harder for them to network with the speakers they want to see? I actually think that this is a situation where a straight-up popularity contest isn’t so bad. After all, SXSW is a commercial event and it’s not like there is a glut of other massive idea-exchange conference/festivals like it around the country. The need to create an alternative marketplace to supplement the traditional marketplace isn’t as strong in this scenario as it is in the arts.
With that said, a popularity contest it (sort of) is, so vote away! And many thanks for your support.