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SXSW: Overwhelming or Awesome? You Decide

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When you talk to anyone about their life online, the phrase you hear over and over again is "digital overload."

Our email, our social networks, our location-based apps, our friends network. It all seems like just a bit too much. The problem is, what do you want to tune out?

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Well, this week the virtual world of the web was made real in Austin, Texas, as an estimated 25,000 digital-somethings arrived to participate in SXSW, the spectacular gathering of all things online.

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The idea of SXSW as a metaphor for the growth and overwhelming abundance of the web is more than apt. No matter how you cut it, the volume of panels, talks, conversations, parties, gatherings, bands, and food trucks is hard to manage. To the credit of the SXSW organizers, they've worked hard to provide paper and digital navigation tools. The programming is locked in months in advance, and the SXSW folks encourage attendees to plan their schedule long before you arrive.

2012-03-13-hallAA.jpgDespite that, the sheer scope of the event makes it impossible not to get distracted, your attention constantly being pulled from one compelling offering to another. This makes SXSW dazzling and daunting at the same time.

Sound familiar? If you've ever searched for something, only to find yourself drawn down the rabbit hole that is the web, you know what I mean. Digital abundance, in the absence of a powerful set of blinders, can be as frustrating as it is fulfilling.

And SXSW has the same puzzle. It is in many ways many festivals under one roof. Theirs the
technology folks talking about CSS and HTML5. There is the social media contingent. The content marketing folks. The digital brand folks. The digital government folks. The social good folks. The game developers. As well as Mentor Sessions, The Future of Work, Journalism and Online Content, Book Readings, Young Entrepreneurs and Innovators, Health and Education... you get the idea.

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It's easy to say SXSW should be broken up into a series of narrower standalone events. But that would be a mistake. The solution to Digital Overload at SXSW isn't to shut down the potpourri of choice any more than the solution to solving the signal to noise problem on the web is to legislate less tweeting or Facebook friending.
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The solution is better tools, and more empowered humans. The solution to Digital Overload both in Austin and online is curation. Curators are the new superheros of the web. And at SXSW, I'd sure have benefited from a few folks who would have been willing to curate the content, and share their selections and schedules. In the absence of a curatorial choice to navigate the massive offering, people default to poor planning and then a 'follow the crowd' behavior into the presentations and panels with the biggest known names. While popularity is certainly one way to find content, often the most interesting and relevant material for you isn't the panel in the biggest room or the presenter with the biggest name.

So yes, there is a lot of content. And more on the way. But don't try to outrun the tidal wave of information... instead grab a surfboard and ride the wave. Be a curator, or find one. But we all don't have to filter the digital deluge on our own. That's the power and the beauty of the web, distributed intelligence.

Next year at SXSW, I'm going to curate and publish my digital content roadmap. I hope you'll join me.

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