I just returned from the 2012 edition of South by Southwest Interactive. I have been fortunate enough to speak at the conference for the previous 4 iterations and this year, spoke on a panel about copyright.

Every year, I hear people complain about SXSW. Which is natural. The bigger you are, the more challenges you face and the more reasons people have to complain. Popular complaints include: it’s too big, it’s too spread out and the programming isn’t good. In a way, SXSW is a victim of it’s own massive success.

Complaints can offer great value and help the conference get better. But, some of it is just a matter of taste, perspective and familiarity. “For those who keep saying they had a bad SXSW or it’s not good… stay home!,” writes my friend Wayne Sutton on Google+. I feel that.

SXSW holds a special place in my heart. I’ve spoken 37 times at 27 different events, but SXSW was my first engagement. I have had some issues with them, sure, but I like them a lot and think that they do a heck of a good job, led by Hugh Forrest.

If you ask me to speak at your event and it’ll cost me money and you aren’t compensating me, you can expect me to say no. Not because I don’t like you, just because I can’t afford it and if anyone has to place a value on me, it must be me. SXSW has become the singular exception to that general rule and a lot of it has to do with community building.

When I go to SXSW, I am allowed the opportunity to say hello to a lot of people that I know, all in one place. In some cases, these are people I have not yet met face to face, only talked with online. It allows me to grow those connections and friendships. You’d be surprised by how much a few minutes of face to face communication can further a relationship. It’s powerful.

I love having the chance to show up and support people that I know and like. This is why I went to the launch event for gokit, which¬†Wayne is affiliated with, Jason Falls’ party and the Asher Roth hosted Thrillist party (shout to Asher’s manager, Jason Salvador, one of the many people I was really happy to have spent a few minutes with). I have way too many acquaintances to be able to be at everything that someone I know and like is doing, but I can make time for some. SXSW is a blur, but that blur is managed by priorities and by making time for at least some of the people that have supported you. Chasing celebrities and the “hot” parties may be fun, but don’t lose track of what will be there for you after SXSW is over.

SXSW also allows me to meet many new people, which is great. For the most part, everyone is accessible and willing to say hello. I always leave feeling inspired by where I want to be when I come back next year. This year in particular, I came away with a few personal lessons that I will take to heart.

There is nothing like SXSW. Other events may be great in ways that SXSW is not, but SXSW has great strengths. The energy is unique. You could go to a huge interactive or tech event in New York and walk the streets and not be able to pick out people from the event. That’s not the case in Austin. The downtown area where it is concentrated is literally taken over and you can feel the excitement.

In all, SXSW is a great event that is very well organized. Without a doubt, I can’t wait for SXSW 2013 and I hope that they’ll have me back again. If SXSW isn’t your cup of tea, that’s cool. Nothing is for everyone. But, if you are excited by the event, I’ll hopefully see you there next March.