Karly Gaffney is a Manager on the Content and Community team at Social Media Group.

After years of envious tweets and serious SXSWi FOMO, I finally made it. 2012 was my year! I scoured the schedule for days before stepping on the plane to Austin, eagerly added every single nerdy Foursquare meet-up/event to my calendar and created a ‘how-to’ list for each SXSW/Austin-specific Foursquare badge. (I do that with every new city I visit. #nerdalert)

After Day One was complete, I was somewhat disappointed.

I think at one point I was certainly the SXSWi target audience, but 2012 was all about mass appeal, big companies and bigger sponsors. Opinion: SXSWi is no longer a hotbed for cutting edge new ideas or a small group of big thinkers. It’s a huge group of people looking to learn more (just like so many other marketing/interactive conferences.)

SXSWi 2012 was bigger than ever. According Austin360 the festival said its official paid attendance count for 2012 was 24,569, up from 19,364 in 2011 (nearly 27%) and 14,251 in 2010. (This isn’t surprising considering the over-crowded halls at the Austin Convention Center and the 3.5+ hour wait in line to pick up my badge.)

Pros:
danah boyd’s talk on The Power of Fear in Networked Publics was thought-provoking and inspiring.
Hearing Pinterest’s CoFounder Ben Silbermann talk about his vision for the platform and plans for the future was quite interesting.

Cons:
None of the sessions I attended that directly related to my day-to-day work provided new insights or takeaways. I had no “Eureka!” moments, no inspiring “I can’t wait to try that!” moments, not even an “Oops, I’m doing it wrong” moment.

Maybe I missed out on the really valuable sessions. At any given time, there were three or four sessions that I wanted to attend and had to choose but one. Maybe I chose wrong.

I have a friend who found great value in the mentor sessions and networking events and friends who had a blast at the parties. (Something that was lost on me because I’m sorta lame and need my sleep.)

Verdict: I’m not sure I’ll go back. If I do attend a future SXSWi, I think I will focus on networking, mentor sessions and the big talks/keynotes. I may not come away with huge learnings that apply to my field, but I’ll likely end up with some valuable new connections and perhaps a touch more inspiration than this year.