But web development conferences are still going fine. PyCon & DjangoCon & JSConf & Laracon all seem to be doing okay, and even have regional conferences. Indie developer conferences like FemtoConf are selling out. Business Of Software is still going strong. Even niche conferences like the Xojo programming language are holding annual conferences on multiple continents. There's still plenty of conferences for digital nomads & travel bloggers & Etsy makers & songwriters & authors out there.
It's Apple-specific conferences that are disappearing. (I tweeted that last October  and I'm now kicking myself for not blogging about it instead.) Some of the Apple conferences pivoted to include Android and web-dev - for example, iOSDevCamp became Developer Camp and was hosted at Google premises.
Maybe this is just part of a cycle, Apple-related conferences have disappeared before (like Wolf Rentzch's C4 conference did in 2010,  ). Or perhaps it's an early indicator that developers are moving on from Apple to other platforms.
Swift has kind of taken a life of its own outside of just iOS. There's a few big Swift conferences each year, even ones specific to functional programming. I'm also excited for its prospects on the server.
This plus the fact that Apple still keep messing up its OS releases, while adding nothing interesting to the end-user...
One thing is clear, my next project will be developped in a cross-platform environment.
Personally, I do a lot in the cloud-native, containers, DevOps, etc. space and pretty much everything event-related I see there is growing enormously.
Don't think iOS developers are abandoning the platform, but I do think many indie developers (or those who were considering becoming an iOS indie developer) did leave. It became a lot harder to make a living as a full-time iOS indie dev.
The indie devs brought a lot of the excitement and energy to these events and made for extremely interesting and fun conferences full of people from different design, engineering, and professional backgrounds.
(Context: developer evangelist-type here, once focused on iOS-related developer conferences and attended many of them in North America and Europe.)
First one have hardware conferences, as the hardware is the platform. Then one get OS conferences. And now one have language conferences, because languages, thanks to the net, have adopted things like package managers that used to be the responsibility of the OS.
It is almost frustrating to install a python based program these days, as the documentation will rarely list any dependencies. Instead the install step will just pull in a pile of packages via pypi or similar, with little chance of review or control.
Also, the ability to see people in person, and discuss ideas with them directly is a very different experience from watching a YouTube channel. On a conference, you can meet new people, get job offers, meet new clients etc. directly. Conferences are far from only about educating the audience (author is entirely correct in the if all you care about is learning a new tech, it's more efficient to look up a tutorial on YouTube).
That right there might be the big negative to companies sending people to conferences.
OR you find out that you work at a bad place.
When I worked in Student Life Department my Universtiy never sent anyone to the National Student Life Conference. They sent two from my office and whent they came back all kind of chaos happened. They found out we were overworked and underpaid.
They said when at a workshop of around 200 people that when asked what your position requiers from you the speaker brought them up to the front when everyone in their small group was freaking out at our workload. The next year I moved to the Library and my co-workers lasted one more year. They highered a new Vice-President of Student life and she rehired for every position and cleared house. Than for one year they had new titles for every position and switched back to the old system the following year. My former University never does Student Life Conferences.
P.S. The University was sued for unpaid Overtime by someone in the Student Life Department and went to trial. The judge ruled against the University without going to his chambers.
Funny story. A friend of mine (not in tech at the time) was a manager at some retail chain. He had done it for years, and was one of their top performers (clean up problem stores, turn them around, etc..). The company forced him to go to some 'be a better manager' training which is what set the light bulb off that even though he was making okay money, it sucked.
Fast forward a few months later where he quits, and goes back to school full time. Years after that, he's a good programmer and one of the best IT managers I've ever worked with.
Is that really a negative?
That seems to me to be problems with individuals and not the conference. I've seen people go to conferences and basically skip out on half (or more) of the sessions to go drink and party, and I've seen other people stay locked in through the whole conference learning, taking notes, and participating.
For a company it may be hard to discern who is who, but I'd argue that somehow who squanders an opportunity and misuses company resources is not the person you want on your team.
But don't worry, I've never actually went to a tech conference, exactly because of the huge cost combined with not usually wanting to go to most talks. So I'm not going to be that guy on your team! :)
And because you're on a trip, there is less distraction from dog, family, costs.
That's already true for the vast majority of conferences out there, so it's easy to fill the year while ignoring the party-destination ones.
Here's a scenario that I've seen repeated quite often in conferences: You have two talks you are interested in with some free time in the middle, so you pick some other talk to go, if only to fill in the time, and end up discovering an aspect that you didn't even knew would be useful.
Let's not kid ourselves. Everyone has their moments of slacking at work. All it takes is to replace time spent on cat pictures / HN while at work with a YouTube video / a podcast / a book. It's much easier than going to a conference.
On the other hand: It is much easier to watch YouTube videos (or podcasts) when you get home from work than getting vacation days.
It may also help to sooth some hot tempers, and one reason the Linux kernel conferences got started.
All of those things are irrelevant, as the allure of conferences was something else, including getting to know like-minded people, networking, time off work, meeting with some of the major people working in your platform/language face to face/having a coffee/drink after the sessions, etc, etc.
We had YouTube and social networks and podcasts for more than a decade now when conferences were still doing fine.
It's more about the money than anything else.
A popular trend that is much more valuable, are the "Open Sessions" where a large room has a bunch of chairs in circles. Anyone can create a "talk" that others can join. Everyone gets in a circle & discusses ideas around a topic. I've found these much more valuable.
The "Open Sessions", random discussions in the hallways or during events, & having lunch with a bunch of strangers talking about anything & everything are the most valuable activities in my opinion.
Conference are a big commitments, most of ideas in talks are online anyway. I'm not coming for lecture style experience, but for interactions with other attendants. Exchange of ideas and experience, meet new people/clients/vendors...
Maybe some online version of speed dating/chatrulett would just do fine? E.g. Gather critical mass of some sort (e.g. 50 engineers interested Serverless functions) have 5 minute lightning talk, follow by 1-5m talks with each other. Than with an hour you can meet 5-30 new ppl.
I’m in a couple and it’s honestly amazing. Small enough to feel safe and cozy, big enough to have lots of activity and a range of ideas and personalities.
It’s like putting the community conference hallway track online and making it last for months and years on end, not just a day or two.
Yes the owners are free to make them invite only, but also if they're not easily discovered how are people supposed to find them?
At least with IRC or Discord or whatever you can browse channel lists, instead of trying to hammer Slack into a niche it's not even designed to fill.
Some also have public "ask to join" links. One such example is https://wip.chat
CodeMash in Sandusky, OH is a relatively small, relatively inexpensive conference. It mostly attracts people from Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland metros, but further into the midwest (St Louis, Omaha, KC). During a talk, there is large variation in participation, but there's generally 4-5 things per time slot a person would like to attend and it is acceptable/encouraged to leave a talk if it turned out it isn't right for you.
There are (optional) social activities baked in. There are soft-skills and unrelated activities (lazer pong, sessions on things like creative writing, mindfulness). One of the last contributing factors is that there are ALWAYS places to sit in group fashion and meals are generally at a shared table (round tables of 8 or something).
The result is conversations with strangers who come from varying backgrounds. The result of the non-pretentiousness is conversations during a talk (it's much less intimidating to ask questions of the lead engineers from Kroger in a room of 150 than the lead engineers of Microsoft in a room of 1000 - Kroger has a very impressive technical presence, mind).
DevOpsDays actually has a period after the keynote where people come up and suggest topics for breakout groups, resulting in wildly contrasting sizes and specificities of discussions.
Seems clear that there are plenty of ways to have a fantastic conference as long as you're not attending to get the coolest big ticket swag gift via attendance.
I love DevOpsDays. It's a great concept, it's community organized and the one I attended in Amsterdam has been better than any other similar event I attended.
There were workshops, open spaces, round tables and talks, most of which were at the same time laid back and concentrated on the subject, meaning that you saw real life challenges and how actual people react to them. I came out of there evigorated, smarter and more experienced.
Also, it was cheap, fun and great for socializing.
It’s an exception that proves Marco’s point:
> Planning and executing a conference takes such a toll on the organizers that few of them have ever lasted more than a few years.
Now, it was the one time I've actually been to San Francisco, so I was able to do some sight-seeing, and the concert Oracle put on was nice - only time I've seen Sting live.
Personally, I think I'd much prefer smaller, more focused conferences. Problem is, employers in my industry (Defense) almost never send employees to conferences (I once asked an employer if I could attend a small local conference on a topic directly relevant to the project we were working on - it would have been something like $150 plus two days of overhead for my time. Nope). The only reason I went to JavaOne is someone managed to sneak a 'conference budget' into a contract, so the customer paid for it (Weird things happen when you actually involve engineers in the contracting process).
Pretty much this. I'm constantly pushed to use my training budget to go to conferences, but the information density is generally so low.
1. In terms of attending sessions, IF a conference does a good job of recording video of all sessions (which costs a LOT of money), physically attending the conference still serves as something of a forcing function. Virtually attending events and watching sessions on YouTube etc. definitely still play a role but it's often hard just to set the time aside.
2. The hallway track is huge. This is probably the main reason I attend events. Discussions about ideas, meeting people (including those at my own company who I otherwise never see).
3. Beyond informal hallway tracks, bigger conferences are just a good opportunity to schedule a lot of F2F meetings when a lot of people are in one place.
4. Yes, they're something of a perk (for most people).
I believe that conferences are extraordinarily valuable for open source communities. They give an opportunity for new people to get involved and connect with the existing leaders. A common concern is which talk to attend when there's overlap. I always advise to choose the one where you want to talk the speaker or other attendees afterwards. Since all of the sessions are posted to YouTube , you can see the other talks later (and can watch them at 125% of normal speed, if you want ).
>But all of that media can’t really replace the socializing, networking, and simply fun that happened as part of (or sometimes despite) the conference formula.
The real reason to attend a conference is the hallway track.
(Disclosure: I am executive director of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.)
> The real reason to attend a conference is the hallway track.
Exactly. Asking a question during a session acts like a mating call once you're out of the room, people with interests in what you've asked form a certain discussion group around you.
That would be great to formalize in some way.
Please check out our diversity scholarships . We awarded $250 K worth in Austin .
I'll try to show up to the next European event.
Aren't the plethora of technical meetups a constant round of conference presentations nearby and for free?
But my sense is that the era of strong and plentiful tech meetups is a thing of the past as well. While there are obviously still many of them, big company employees seem to rely more on their employers to bring in top speakers. That doesn't help small company folks, but it removes a chunk of the audience that the meetups depend on to thrive. Even then, organizing community meetups can be a major job – getting venue/food/drink sponsors, herding presenters, etc. – and it's easy to lose steam.
Like Marco said – there's no single factor, but my sense is that both have been affected over the last decade or so.
And it's also not a surprise that the era of conferences ends around an environment of a single company. This is one of the things why some people go through the troubles one has outside of walled gardens. All the funding in the garden comes from one central source, at least indirectly.
I think the general purpose conference world is still growing though. It's a better environment than the traditional fairs, at least for things that include a lot of software.
Could it be that iOS conferences are going away because less iOS developers have the money to spend on conferences?
I work in DevOps and, if anything, DevOps conferences seem to be popping around like mushrooms. Maybe it's related more to the popularity of an specific topic, than that of conferences themselves.
Business travel is incredibly expensive and inefficient, it’s polluting, and it has a negative impact on people’s health, well-being, and family life.
I'd also say that there's been a big increase in Meetups generally. These aren't conferences per se but I could see them cutting into conferences in areas where there are a lot of them.
1. Invite-only. Any attendee can recommend a future attendee to be invited, so this is not about elitism rather that attendees add to to a two-way conversation, not simply sit and receive information.
2. Unconference format. On the first night everyone sits down to dinner, figures out the most important topics to discuss, and volunteers themselves to lead or join workshops on the topic. The conference schedule only comes into being on the first day.
3. Suburban location. The venues are invariably 40-60 minutes outside a major city, easy for international guests, yet harder for attendees to wander off into the city during the day (or even at night).
4. Free to attend. The events are sponsored by Google and The Knight Foundation who do a pretty good job of hanging back, being supportive and not imposing any agenda. Attendee costs are limited to travel and accommodation.
5. Weekend timing. Starting on a Friday ending on a Sunday ensures an informal approach and gets people out of their work and home comfort zones.
6. Werewolf. Daytime discussions invariably merge into dinner and then on to organised games of Werewolf to the late hours, hugely increasing camaraderie, intensity, socialization, truth-telling (eventually) and so on.
1. Invite-only increases the likelihood of an echo chamber, in my mind. I go to conferences to find out about things that arean't already on my radar.
2. This approach means only topics championed by those loud enough to speak up are discussed. There's no possibility for niche topics to get an airing if noone else knows anything about them since there's less likely to be a consensus to add them to the agenda.
3. One of the best aspects of attending a conference in my mind is the ability to combine it with a bit of tourism. I suppose that's a personal preference.
4. That's good for now, but when Google an The Knight Foundation stop supporting it, who's going to pay?
5. This is terrible. Work is for the week, weekends are my time and my work does not get to encroach on that.
6. Great, so at the end of the day, I can't even relax in the hotel room. So the next day, I'm wiped before we even start.
They have a great approach to recommend inviting surprising and unexpected people. I don't work in publishing or journalism and have been twice, for example.
> 2. This approach means only topics championed by those loud enough to speak up are discussed.
Same is surely true of topics presented on stages. The organisers of Newsgeist make a serious effort to unearth unusual perspectives, partly through the invite-list. Last year I debated themes with an Icelandic politician, an NYT journalist and Jimmy Wales - there's no consensus from specialism occurring there.
>4. That's good for now, but when Google an The Knight Foundation stop supporting it, who's going to pay?
Great question of course, this approach falls apart.
> 5. This is terrible. Work is for the week, weekends are my time and my work does not get to encroach on that.
To attract a mix of industry leaders the mix of weekday / weekend days is a pragmatic choice.
> 6. Great, so at the end of the day, I can't even relax in the hotel room. So the next day, I'm wiped before we even start.
It's all voluntary of course! And fascinating to observe if not participating. There are plenty of early birds who skip the late hours, or meet up for jogging at 6am.
> Honestly, this sounds awful to me.
The events can be very intense and tiring in the short term. That's because real things are happening, difficult issues are actually being resolved, voices are listened to and progress gets made. Ultimately they are seriously energising, and not for people who sit at the back or like to take time off for sightseeing.
> Same is surely true of topics presented on stages.
In my line of work (science) the topics are submitted ahead of the conference and then relevant papers/talks are submitted to each of those. As such, anyone is able to propose a topic so long as they can justify its inclusion.
> To attract a mix of industry leaders the mix of weekday / weekend days is a pragmatic choice.
I'm not sure I understand why industry leaders are more likely to attend if it's at the weekend. Surely if it's their industry, it's part of their work and so they can come during the work week.
> It's all voluntary of course!
In principle, at least. Of course, if a lot of important decisions are being make the in voluntary evening activities, then those that choose not to or can't go to the evening events are at a disadvantage. Point taken about early birds.
All that said, I can definitely see the benefit of organised social activities.
> That's because real things are happening, difficult issues are actually being resolved, voices are listened to and progress gets made.
This sounds awfully like the tag line for some startup.
> people who sit at the back or like to take time off for sightseeing
An interest in sightseeing or a quieter demeanor is not mutually exclusive of valuable contributions.
I know I wouldn't. Just for one anecdotal example, there's a yearly local event tangentially related to my work that I've attended and led Open Spaces at. But it's on a Saturday (on what is invariably the first really nice spring day of the year). I've stopped going solely for that reason.
All your criticisms are fair, but we're talking about a couple weekends over the course of a year. If you're enthusiastic and ambitious (and can assemble a like group) I can't imagine a better format.
One thing I dislike about this industry is the amount of random entertainment you are expected to be part of, but I am not really interested in.
Why stop there? Turn the clock back to company towns in the middle of nowhere.
Corporate suburbia vs. “Creative Cities”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_city
Generally these days, when there are Open Spaces (unconference) there's a mix of curated talks and attendee-led sessions.
I'm personally not a fan of weekend events although I understand the reasoning that a lot of people can't get time off work to attend conferences. And I'm totally with you on location. If I'm traveling to an event, I prefer an interesting city center--which admittedly even many urban conference locations aren't. I'm not attending to be kept prisoner.
What in the world is Werewolf?
Quoting the article:
Mafia, also known as Werewolf, is a party game modelling a conflict between an informed minority, the mafia, and an uninformed majority, the innocents. At the start of the game, each player is secretly assigned a role affiliated with one of these teams. The game has two alternating phases: night, during which the mafia may covertly "murder" an innocent, and day, in which surviving players debate the identities of the mafia and vote to eliminate a suspect. Play continues until all of the mafia have been eliminated or until the mafia outnumbers the innocents.
As a game to play with friends that you know well, it's great. But I'd be wary to play with strangers. And another problem is that once you get "killed", you can't say anything, you have to stay silent until the end of the round.
(To answer your question - no idea. I'm not getting invited either)
The ticket price of the biggest conferences is reaching absurd levels too.
Would an appropriate analogy be the era of stadium rock concerts, versus smaller, more intimate venues (and the economics of one versus the other)?
For conference talks, I just watch YouTube recordings. The good thing there is that you can skip irrelevant parts, rewatch interesting bits and, last but not least, multitask. I watch most conference talks while working out.
I hope that either conferences survive or the experience of self-producing multimedia content can somehow evolve to fill the motivation void that would be left behind.
I later learned that the cost structure was high, and some of the events (particularly less established events or those with lots of competition) struggled to get signups.
Additionally, most online communication is intrinsically asynchronous. It's hard to have a chat online that's anywhere as fluid as what happens in person. Even the flurry of twitter replies doesn't quite compare.
It’s called Burning Man
After you know all the albums and songs, you go there just so see the artist live