Not everyone reading this knows what XOXO is or how it works, so I'm going to start this series with an overview.
The tagline of XOXO is "An experimental festival for independent artists who live and work online" and that's pretty accurate? It's usually held the weekend after Labor Day, early September and runs for four days, between Thursday evening and Sunday night. It's held at Revolution Hall in Portland, Oregon. It was created by two Andys, Andy Baio and Andy McMillan, who still run it (with the help others of course, as well as dozens of volunteers). It was held every year since 2012 with the exception of 2017. It's extremely well-organized; once you've been to XOXO, no other conference or festival measures up in terms of organization, attention to detail and listening to the input of attendants.
Schedule-wise, Thursday evening is the opening party; Friday is Social during the day, during which attendees self-organize different meetups around interests and Slack channels (more on that soon). Friday and Saturday evening hosts several topical events: Arcade (videogames), Tabletop (boardgames), Video (in 2016 it was called Film & Animation) and Story (podcasts and storytelling). Here's the 2016 schedule for more information.
The conference itself is during Saturday and Sunday with talks from a variety of speakers. It's wrapped up with a closing party that usually features a surprise musical guest on Sunday night.
To get tickets for the festival, you have to fill out a brief questionnaire — that's only there to weed out marketers — and after that, you enter a lottery. If you get picked, you have 48 hours to buy your ticket (pass).
The questions are the following:
- Who are you and what do you do?
- What are you working on right now!!
- Something you made that you're proud of
There are two kinds of passes: conference for $500 and festival only for $250. A festival pass gives you access to everything except the conference talks; however, you will see them anyway live, streamed to a bar downstairs; they are also recorded and later uploaded to Youtube. The conference pass is self-explanatory.
If you get a ticket, you get an invite to the private Slack, which is a massive part of the whole thing, and where a lot of people hang out before, during and after the festival. It has hundreds of channels for all kinds of topics and interests (#tv, #fitness, #star-trek, #knitting and so on) as well as local channels (#vancouver, #europe, #nyc and so on) and other miscellaneous channels, such as one for venting about random life stuff. It also hosts a sizeable amount of private channels for womxn, people of color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary people, people with disabilities ("spoonies") and mental-health-related things.
The XOXO Slack is a pretty great place; not everyone who comes to the festival joins, though. During the festival, it gets especially busy as a lot of communication and organization happens there as well as on Twitter.
By my estimations, about 85-90% of the people who go to XOXO are American; within that, the majority of people probably come from the west coast (and within that, a sizeable amount of people come from the Pacific Northwest). It's also, by far and large, a pretty radically left-leaning place. There's a code of conduct which is very much enforced both offline and online.
All of this feels a bit dry, but I think is an important context for the rest of the series. XOXO is unlike any event I've ever attended, mostly in a good way; a unique experience that everyone should try at least once if they can (and the above sounds appealing). I've met a lot of great people there and made friends I still have to this day.