Don’t cry for me, SXSW

It’s been a couple of weeks, but I’m still smarting from the letter. Rejection is something we all have to grapple with at some point, but it’s still no fun when it’s on your home turf. Let me explain.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have spoken on panels and/or as a presenter at South-by-Southwest Interactive (written “SXSW” and spoken “Southby,” as many call it now) several times now. Interactive is part of the larger (barely contained) chaos that is the entire SXSW festival, which includes Film and Music and has been hitting Austin every Spring Break for 20 years now.

Once just a wee musical party that mostly insiders and Austin-ites knew, the strength of the SXSW idea and support of the community helped to create the juggernaut it now represents, as one of the major North American creative events for musicians, film makers, and digerati, with a global reach.

I’ve gone to all parts of the festival and experienced it every which way – as a Platinum (All Access / All Events) badge buyer to a comp’d speaker, from paying $100 cash in order to get into Morrissey’s big comeback show 3 years ago to paying $15 to see an outrageously great line-up of 6 bands over 6 hours (8pm – 2am) including a band whose singer/front-woman was Zooey Deschanel, before she was in that awful M. Night Shyamalan movie.

So, I dig SXSW, along with Hugh Forrest and the whole crew. So, when I got this e-mail a few months back after submitting my panel topic for the 2010 Interactive show on “Controlling Robots Through the Web” I was feeling pretty good. The note from the Southby team said:

This is a very cool topic… something I hope we can do more of at SXSW. I like the tight focus (the proposal doesn’t attempt to cover too much ground, which is a common issue with these proposals). I think the description and the questions are right on.”

For the record, this is what I proposed.

“Controlling robots across the web is fast approaching a mainstream moment. Soon, our iPhones could be controlling robots and biomechanical devices that will have a positive impact on agriculture, security, healthcare, and many other uses. Learn about standards, coding, design tips and techniques for websites & mobile apps, and more!”

Geek cat nip, huh?! I consider myself an honorary geek (mainly because I haven’t coded in 15 years – I don’t count minor html editing, which a man’s gotta do), and I thought it sounded cool. But, as the time came for the first panel selections to be announced last year, the SXSW team was great about communicating the evaluation process, the sequence of panels to be announced (in multiple waves), etc. – overall, lowering everyone’s expectations.

Nonetheless, when the first wave was announced and “Controlling Robots” was missing, I was a tiny bit discouraged – but not too much, because I knew that was only about the first 25% or so. Anyhow, to make a long story shorter, several more waves later, I received the following e-mail, from which I excerpt:

“…we appreciate you bearing with us on this form letter. We despise form letters as much as you do — but, sometimes they are the best way to distribute information.

The 2010 PanelPicker interface received more than 2500 submissions from new media experts from around the world. The bulk of these proposals were of an extremely high quality — and we truly wish we had room for all of these ideas. While we have expanded the total number of rooms we will be using at SXSW Interactive, physical space is still limited. Therefore we have only been able to accept about 400 total submissions. Said another way, the selection process has been extremely extremely competitive.

Unfortunately, your submission (“Controlling Robots Through the Web”) got caught in this numbers game and we regret that we are unable to accept this proposal for the 2010 event.”

Arghh! What a bummer – it would have been so fun to do. With my trusty fellow panelists, like Good Robot’s Alan Majer, we would have been the talk of the show! I had been so looking forward to pulling together much that I’ve learned the past couple of years, from exoskeleton advances to augmented reality.

But, hey, I’ll still be attending the parties and sampling the music. SXSW is the greatest two-week scene of its kind and, despite the voices saying it’s getting too big, it’s one of those experiences you really need to sample at least once. So, make sure to put it on your calendar and hope to see you there!