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End of the conference era? (marco.org)
159 points by jonny_eh on Jan 18, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 115 comments



I think Marco missed the point. He's taken a decline in Apple & iOS specific conferences, then assumed that means all conferences in general are over.

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 [1] 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, [2] [3]). Or perhaps it's an early indicator that developers are moving on from Apple to other platforms.

[1] https://twitter.com/syneryder/statuses/919474979086798848

[2] https://www.macworld.com/article/1151210/c4_end.html

[3] http://rentzsch.tumblr.com/post/592949476/c4-release


I was one of the earliest successful indie iOS developers. I've had my apps featured on Apple TV ads and billboards, and they've had tens of millions of downloads. The days of being able to do that are long gone. You'll have a few breakout hits every once in a while like HQ and Houseparty, but the amount of marketing needed to get there often outweighs development costs. There's a few big players and there's not much benefit to the long tail anymore unless you have an expensive niche app. I've recently switched to being a blockchain / Ethereum developer and there's a ton of conferences and 2-3 events a week in New York. Marco should title this "The end of indie iOS conferences".

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.


i was really enthousiastic about swift as well, but the slow pace at which it is moving on big features such as concurrency (swift still has no native mutex or lock primitives, and nothing related to multithreading), makes me really feel this project isn't backed as much as it should by apple, especially compared to the ambition of the language ( world domination).

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.


These things always go in cycles. There were once huge Unix conferences. Then Linux World tried to become all things open source and then imploded. Comdex was once, I think, the biggest conference in the world. The dynamics around Apple-related conferences is probably different but these things come and go.

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.


For the small iOS events, think the changing/shrinking conference landscape needs to be considered alongside the changes in the iOS indie dev community the past 2-3 years.

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.)


That gets me thinking of how things seems to have creeped up the stack, so to speak.

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.


On the other hand, the dependencies are right there for all to see in requirements.txt or Pipfile.


So one have to parse a system specific file to get some insight...


Or just type `pipenv graph`, take your pick.

http://pipenv.readthedocs.io/en/latest/


Problem with online methods of learning, is it's much harder to take a day off your day job to watch YouTube, or listen to podcasts. Conferences are like a vacation from regular work, where you can focus on learning.

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).


> get job offers

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.


> OR you find out that you work at a bad place.

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.


On the other hand, if you work at a good place, your employer might want to send you to lots of conferences so you give them good publicity.


I now work at a great 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.

Is that really a negative?


The rest of the post shows it was awful for the employer. Obviously it isn’t actually a bad thing at all.


From the employers point of view? Absolutely!


In my experience, conferences are like a vacation where company expenses are wasted on food, and booze. If there is some learning in there, it's minimal. If you really want to hold a conference where people learn, how about we stop having them in Vegas, or some other warm weather, party destination.


> If there is some learning in there, it's minimal. If you really want to hold a conference where people learn, how about we stop having them in Vegas, or some other warm weather, party destination.

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.


On the whole, I've probably learned more at conferences from talking shop over drinks than from the talks. Many talks are hastily put together and poorly presented. And many are simply above or below whatever my skill level for that thing might then be (which isn't too say they don't have value, but compared to actual conversations with new and knowledgable individuals...). Maybe "industry" conferences are different from academic ones though.

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! :)


Lots of people actually don't like Las Vegas as a conference location but it has the air links, the conference space, and the hotels.


Besides most conferences I see are in San Fran, San Jose, NYC, or Orlando. I've only seen large conferences in Las Vegas DefCon, CES, etc.


Those sound like pretty desirable destinations to me. That's the point here. People use this as vacation, I sure as hell have.


There's some level of bonding with the food, booze, and HOPEFUL talk about what you learned at the conference or how you might apply it to what you're working on.

And because you're on a trip, there is less distraction from dog, family, costs.


> how about we stop having them in Vegas, or some other warm weather, party destination.

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.


My vote is for North Dakota in winter. We'll see how many people sign up for "learning".


It’s those destinations that have the draw and therefore infrastructure (accessible direct-flight airports, conference locations, cheap hotels) that make conference prices viable.


If you can learn one new thing though it can be worth it.


Another point for conferences, IMHO, is that you might learn something you were not expecting to.

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.


I think this is the key really, conferences are like a dedicated period of time you can totally devote yourself into learning without being pulled into the trappings of the daily grind.


I like conferences like Hope and Defcon because they aren't just informative..they are entertainment. Lets be honest, when you want to learn something, text will have a way bigger information density than a slide talk watered down to appeal to the poor taste of the public..


The first conference I ever attended was Defcon. I went for several years running and had a great time. Then I went to GDC (for work) and good lord, was it boring. I think I viewed the conference as more of a way to party with people who had similar interests than to actually learn. Defcon 101 even tells you not to go to too many talks.


Yes and no, while is it difficult to take time off for learning while at work, conferences as a learning tool have ridiculously low information density. Sometimes you get equal amount of information just from watching a couple videos during your lunch break.


> Problem with online methods of learning, is it's much harder to take a day off your day job to watch YouTube, or listen to podcasts. Conferences are like a vacation from regular work, where you can focus on learning.

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.


> Problem with online methods of learning, is it's much harder to take a day off your day job to watch YouTube, or listen to podcasts. Conferences are like a vacation from regular work, where you can focus on learning.

On the other hand: It is much easier to watch YouTube videos (or podcasts) when you get home from work than getting vacation days.


> Also, the ability to see people in person, and discuss ideas with them directly is a very different experience from watching a YouTube channel.

It may also help to sooth some hot tempers, and one reason the Linux kernel conferences got started.


Taking an hour a day to listen to podcast over seven days is much more easier then taking day off work and is much more effective for learning then seven hours of listening one day.


>Or maybe we’ve already solved these problems with social networks, Slack groups, podcasts, and YouTube, and we just haven’t fully realized it yet.

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.


Conference talks are 90% worthless to me. Many popular conference speakers argue that the job of a talk is to introduce you to a subject. I agree with the author, that I would rather watch that online than pay to attend a conference. Being a really good speaker, is also a rare talent that most speakers (even a lot of the popular ones) don't have. Way to often, talks are created as annoying sales pitches as well.

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.


I would love some online version of informal conference-like conversations.

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.


Semi private chatrooms is where it’s at right now. The kind where somebody assembles a group of a few hundred individuals to hang out on Slack or Telegram around a particular loosely-ish defined interest. Invite only of course.

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.


How do you find them? I work remotely, and would love to join some good tech discussion groups every once in a while.


This is what saddens me about these invite only Slack channels.

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.


Yes, but as an ancient user of IRC I can tell you that the problem he's addressing is that anyone can join an IRC, and often they do. Have you ever joined a large tech-oriented channel? Low signal-to-noise ratio, with lots of noobish questions or off-topic chat.


They find you, that's kind of the point. You do your thing and eventually, if you get noticed by the right people, you start getting invites.

Some also have public "ask to join" links. One such example is https://wip.chat


How do you find these? I also work remotely and would love to be part of some communities of that size and nature.


Interesting! What kind of topics? E.g. topics that also have active forums, blogs, stack overflow, twitter traffic? Can existing members recommend new members? How long does the group last? Do people get evicted for any reason?


How would I get in there?


I've attended two styles of conferences: large conferences organized by the single company featured in all discussions (e.g. Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon - all hosted in a large city), and smaller polyglot conferences in the Midwest.

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.


> DevOpsDays

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.


The problem with CodeMash is that it’s only viable thanks to people who are willing to devote huge amounts of time and effort into preparing for and running it.

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.


In my 10+ year career I've been to exactly one conference: JavaOne in 2016. That's one of the biggest tech conferences (put on by Oracle) I'm aware of and it covered such a broad array of topics at only a surface level that I really didn't get much out of the lectures (my favorite sessions were the small-group lectures on niche topics (alternative JVM languages, etc.) - Java in general is extremely uninteresting to me).

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).


sitting there listening to blocks of talks for long stretches while you’re trying to stay awake after lunch is a pretty inefficient way to hear ideas.

Pretty much this. I'm constantly pushed to use my training budget to go to conferences, but the information density is generally so low.


the general/all purpose conferences are certainly like this with the exception of a few that arent taken over by marketers. the single language/platform ones are better in that they are usually shorter and more focused. ymmv


I was always told networking opportunities, not presentations, made it worth going to (maths) conferences.


As someone who attends a huge number of events as a speaker, an attendee, and as media, a few comments:

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).


My organization runs KubeCon + CloudNativeCon [0] and we have events in 2018 in Copenhagen (May), Shanghai (November) and Seattle (December). Our Austin event last month grew 300% from the year before to 4,200 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 [1], you can see the other talks later (and can watch them at 125% of normal speed, if you want [2]).

>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.)

[0] http://kubecon.io [1] https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLj6h78yzYM2P-3-xqvmWa... [2] https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/video-speed-contro...


Love your organization. I was just recommending the Copenhagen conference to my colleagues yesterday, although it's a bit out of our budget.

> 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.


We schedule 35 minute sessions with 10 minute breaks in between to try to increase the time available for the hallway track.

Please check out our diversity scholarships [0]. We awarded $250 K worth in Austin [1].

[0] https://events.linuxfoundation.org/events/kubecon-cloudnativ... [1] https://www.cncf.io/blog/2018/01/17/look-back-kubecon-cloudn...


Thanks, but I'm really out of any diversity scope. My company simply doesn't provide enough educational budget, even though we use a lot of your tools at work.

I'll try to show up to the next European event.


Unfortunately the quality of many tech conferences has gone down to the point of them not being useful. At one point tech conferences focused on speakers that actually had tech chops and talked about tech. Now many have become pajama parties with un-qualified speakers (little to no tech experience) talking about non-tech or tech lite topics. I've seen this even affect some of the really large prestigious events.


Most unproductive time are conferences. It's like a work-holiday but you never get really serious stuff done. It's fun though and I think it's good for humans to do something like this from time to time. It's also important if you are working in a area where networking is crucial and important. But when looking at my day to day job as a web and backend developer I see all conferences a waste of time (I've been to a lot in the past) and only see really important topics in my pyjamas on weekends mainly on youtube. It really depends what sort of job you have... for some people conferences are the best thing ever and for other it's like "naaah, too much time and money wasted to go there"


>> Or maybe we’ve already solved these problems with social networks, Slack groups, podcasts, and YouTube, and we just haven’t fully realized it yet.

Aren't the plethora of technical meetups a constant round of conference presentations nearby and for free?


Assuming the presentations are equally high quality (in terms of communicating ideas) and the presenters are equally expert (in terms of the ideas themselves). That's certainly not always true.

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.


The headline should include the word Apple somewhere.

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.


"small conferences exclude people" this is a fallacy, the more small conferences there are the less people are excluded.


Doesn't seem like anyone is attributing this to the fact that while Apple seems to be touting the record profits of the App Store, it seems like I know less and less people who make a genuinely OK living by working on iOS apps.

Could it be that iOS conferences are going away because less iOS developers have the money to spend on conferences?


This article seems to be based on observations about Apple-centric conferences, is it true for the broader industry, though?

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.


I’m hoping that, along the lines of the article, not only are conferences fading in relevance and popularity but business travel itself will start to become obsolete.

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.


Overall, both conferences and business travel are very healthy. They're not declining overall.



As a general statement, this post doesn't fit with what I personally observe. As I mentioned elsewhere, I attend a lot of events and many of these are growing between 20 and 100% year-over-year. Maybe iOS is down for some specific reasons such as it's no longer the new thing.

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.


Newsgeist.org has an incredibly productive approach to conferences.

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.


Honestly, this sounds awful to me.

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.


> 1. Invite-only increases the likelihood of an echo chamber, in my mind.

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.


> 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.

Fair enough.

> 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.


Newsgeist may be the type of event that people feel passionate about but can't really justify taking time off from their day job to attend. I agree that weekends work for something like that. However, the vast bulk of conferences that I attend are primarily people attending on the company time and dime and most would not want to go to a weekend event.

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.


This is the model for O'Reilly's FooCamp which was an amazing experience early in my career. I was a nobody, lucky to score an invite, and got to sit next to tech celebs at breakfast and heard/participated conversations that were and still are well above my pay grade. Some were nichey, but even in those cases there were a few people who were REALLY passionate about game design or some emerging programming language. I made contacts that still pay-off today.

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.


Completely agree with all of the above.


> 6. Werewolf.

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.


I agree. Having Werewolf as an optiononal-but-not-really part of a conference is, to me, like if they had organized a skinny-dipping session or maybe a catholic sermon. Some might like them, but they are not everybody’s thing, and doing this is the very opposite of being “inclusive”, which should be the goal of conference organizers.


> 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).

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


1. can work, especially in the context of an organization that runs a bunch of events. There are also examples of long-running free events and essentially all events are dependent on sponsorships to a greater or lesser degree.

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.


> 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.

What in the world is Werewolf?


A variant of the mafia game (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mafia_(party_game))

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.


While I like Werewolf and also enjoyed it with strangers, it is not for everybody. Just generalize it to board games or team sports or other social activities.


Yeah, I would definitely nope out of that, then. Especially after a long day of talks; my batteries would be fried.


Well it depends on who you're playing with. But it's a game that takes little mental load, you play on "easy mode" by not thinking too hard on your actions and just go with the crowd. Also as someone who rarely speak up, I find it easier to do it in such a game.


Well, I know one person who's not getting an invite.

(To answer your question - no idea. I'm not getting invited either)


Wonderful format. Some aspects are similar to DebConf.


Well, I'm very much looking forward to FOSDEM two weeks from now. It doesn't suffer from the high prices either - it's free.


I feel that I get much more connections and information out of small local meetups than big conferences. In a small local meetup I'll occasionally pop my laptop open and start geeking out on some new tech with another attendee. Big conferences feel too corporate and impersonal to me.

The ticket price of the biggest conferences is reaching absurd levels too.


I'm not sure about some of the reasoning in this article. Perhaps the author is referring to a particular sort of conference, with which he is most familiar?

Would an appropriate analogy be the era of stadium rock concerts, versus smaller, more intimate venues (and the economics of one versus the other)?


It's very expensive for me to go to a conference, because there are very few in our region, so most of the cost is travel and forgone revenue due to time off work. Luckily, we have a thriving meetup community, with different companies hosting these every other week or so. Obviously, these are not conference quality gatherings, but you still get all the networking and in-person lectures, all at a cost of a bus fare.

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.


The whole point of conferences is to be a paid vacation junket, no? Sure, there's usually some training and networking and marketting of products tied in. But there's a reason they are often hosted in Las Vegas or Orlando.


Vegas is probably the only place that has the capacity to host 30,000+ attendees of the big conferences, e.g. AWS Re:Invent


But does it still make sense to have conferences so big? re:invent is so big it is extremely hard to actually attend sessions and there are logistics problems like sessions being in different far away locations. Small conferences seems usually more useful to actually connect with people that those kind of massive events.


It makes sense for the companies involved. If someone is attending primarily just to go to sessions, then no. (Although if you're just going for the sessions, I'm not sure most conferences really make sense.)


Huh? Houston hosts multiple conferences that size every year (the Offshore Technology Conference and International Quilt Fair are just two I can think of off the top of my head). Orlando, Dallas, and Denver can all do it as well (though I am not familiar with specific examples there).


Conferences also exist to concentrate people so that vendors can market and sell. I don't think that will go out of style. Add person to person networking, people's desire to get a break from work...


Although I've never been to a developer conference in person, probably a majority of my YouTube time is listening to conference talks that are the best (or only) multimedia available about a topic. They do seem to give certain people the motivation to put together presentations that they aren't finding elsewhere. (Err, motivation that they aren't finding elsewhere.)

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 worked for a company that (among other things) organized multiday tech conferences aimed at IT managers at large companies. I was surprised to learn how low the margins were. The top conferences were selling well, and had big-name sponsors at different tiers, yet one year the P&L for the group showed a profit in the low single digits.

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.


Venues + supporting services, are obnoxiously expensive too. My company works closely with conference organizers, and I've seen a quote that was in the mid-5 figures, for 4 days of internet access (and related network services). This was for data services to meeting rooms + conference wifi for about 5k-7k attendees.


There are ideas that only get expressed in person. Either because they are still a work in progress or because they are not interesting enough to warrant a video or a blog post. Conferences are really great for learning about that sort of stuff.

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.


In my version of the world, podcasts and YouTube video tutorials were alive and thriving 10 years ago; I'm not sure why they would suddenly kill conferences.


Conferences can be a great way to meet world renowned experts in your field, ask them questions, and network with them.


I enjoy meeting people and learning about what kind of work they do. What I've found is that some of the best opportunities to have a meaningful conversation is during meals. Flights, too. It's a small world full of interesting people.


> I don’t know how to fix conferences, but the first place I’d start on that whiteboard is by getting rid of all of the talks, then trying to find different ways to bring people together — and far more of them than before.

It’s called Burning Man


I think that there will be more conferences about mixed technologies, such as PolyConf (before: RuPy) - these days people want to broaden their knowledge behind known technologies and see how others work.



Conferences will move to VR. There's no reason to invest so much time in traveling when you will be able to get 90% of the benefit in VR within 5 years.


I already get 90% of the benefits watching the talks on YouTube, so for me that would be 90% of 10%.


how about developer camps: let's go outside in the wild and find a spot - close enough to the next transformer station so people can charge their many batteries. It would be like other festivals, except likely less alcohol, procedurally generated music, hiking, socializing, hacking. I'd be so in on this.


To me conferences are more like concerts.

After you know all the albums and songs, you go there just so see the artist live


Sufficiently large conference can kill any discipline.




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