Simon Willison’s Weblog


SXSW Interactive or An Event Apart?

9th September 2012

My answer to SXSW Interactive or An Event Apart? on Quora

I’ve been to both, and they are very different kinds of event.

An Event Apart has a highly practical focus—they encourage their speakers to make sure that the attendees can take away actionable, useful knowledge from the talks. It’s a highly curated event (speakers are carefully selected by the organisers, and the talk topics are designed to complement each other).

AEA also works a little bit like a tour—they run the event in multiple cities every year with a lot of the same speakers, which gives people an opportunity to catch the event without necessarily having to travel to the other side of the country.

SXSW Interactive is a completely different sort of thing. It’s absolutely enormous—over 2,000 speakers, 20,000+ attendees, thousands of sessions—and it takes over the entire city of Austin for nearly a week. Some of the sessions are picked by the organisers but many of them come from the “panel picker” voting process and so are community driven. At some points there are 40+ sessions happening simultaneously so it’s the job of you as an attendee to design the conference you want to attend (An Event Apart is single track).

Choosing between the two is entirely down to what you want to get out of them. If you want to learn the latest skills in web development, design and UX in a focused two day sprint, An Event Apart is absolutely the right event to go to. If you want to spend a full week immersed in any and every topic relating to the Web and technology in general surrounded by 20,000+ like-minded people, head to SXSW.

Budget aside, there’s no reason to go to one and not the other.