What’s rotten about tech conferences

Marc Canter explains why it’s so ridiculous that leading tech conferences sell speaking slots. I agree with almost everything he says. Here’s my two cents.

First, it’s okay to make money, really, I’m not just saying that. I like to make money myself, and a good portion of my time is spent trying to make money, and sometimes I actually do. So I’m not preaching purity, and I don’t begrudge the conference promoters their profit. They run commercial conferences, they’re supposed to make money. But like Marc, I think it’s a waste when I see all those people come together to find out what’s new, and see that the most important stuff, the stuff that requires the most cooperation, the stuff that I’m totally sure these guys are all going to be basing their businesses on next year and the year after, isn’t there at all. They just don’t include it.

See, that doesn’t make sense to me. Squeezing out the new technology to make room for more paying keynoters is over-the-top greed. It’s just unacceptable. Like I said, no problem with making money, but there has to be a limit. A few years ago it was RSS, then podcasting, this year it’s OPML and reading lists. This stuff is never there, it’s always something else.

They say it’s because they don’t like me. That’s so childish and is no excuse. The technology matters, people who reduce it to personalities are people who are covering up the fact that they don’t have a clue about the technology. Imho, of course.

Make way, conference promoters, serve the people who come to find out about new technology, instead of milking them like cash cows. Ultimately it will make your business better, but for now you should do it because it’s the honest thing to do.

5 responses to this post.

  1. […] Essay: What’s rotten about tech conferences.  […]


  2. Posted by john on February 16, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    Which is why I don’t spend time going to tech conferences. With the exception of the “hall way” there is little to take away from them.


  3. Dave – I’ve been reading you for years, but finally feel inspired to comment 🙂

    In addition to my day job I also organize networking events here in Budapest, Hungary, which I do mainly as a way of bringing together interesting people, and to keep my ear to the ground. I enjoy doing this, and it’s great personal marketing.

    Esther Dyson once told me that as an event organizer you need to decide who your customer is. She charges big bucks to the attendees and she doesn’t accept sponsors. Esther clearly sees the attendee as her customer.

    I don’t like the practice of paid speaking slots, but in Hungary that’s the only viable business for conference organizers. The economics dictate the model, and because attendees aren’t willing to foot the entire bill they have to suffer through paid commercials. (I don’t have to do this because I don’t make a business of running events.)

    For this reason you only find a handful of conference that are REALLY worth attending for the presentations.

    However, I sense another issue.

    I sense that you’re frustrated with the adoption curve. Like you, I tend to get excited about new things are long time before they reach critical mass. I spent most of the early 90s persuading my friends to get email addresses 🙂

    Most conference organizers won’t take a risk on a topic until it’s nearly reached mass acceptance. That’s because most people wait, too. I’m generalizing here, but most conferences are about what I need to know NOW, rather than what I might need to know six months from now.

    You seem to have the right solution – bringing together people you find interesting, on the fly, to talk about things that matter. Sometimes informal channels make the most sense.


  4. Posted by Marcelo Lopez on February 17, 2006 at 7:22 am

    Dave….you and I couldn’t be more eye to eye on an issue than this, I don’t think. Ok, maybe this, and global warming. But I digress. I attended MANY MANY conferences back in the 90’s, but since 2000. Nary a one. Why, because I saw the specific pattern you’re mentioning, but probably figured “I can’t be the only one who’s noticing this”. Apparently not. Just the same. I only go to “camps” and “confs” that I can tell from the list of speakers or keynoters will have low, what I like to call “Fluff”. The lower the fluff, the more timely and pertinent that content shared with the attendees. The higher the fluff, well, you understand.

    I’ve actually contacted some scheduled speakers for upcoming conferences I could attend, and tried to poke their brains about what their content might be. In cases where the speaker was open and forthright, even if there was a modicum of fluff being tossed about, I was more inclined to attend. Simply because the person came across as not just “being in it for the money”. Someone once said something like, “You get more people to come to your website, by sending them away”. I’d like to create my own take on that, “You get more people to come to your event, by sending them away feeling they actually came away with something useful.” But someone’s probably already coined that phrase. $100K, bah ! Givin’ it away too cheap, Dave. Tim can spare that and more.


  5. Posted by creditcounselling on February 17, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Commercial conferences is a waste of person’e time money and efforts, I realized it only after dipped deep into my pockets and did not see any meaningful advancement on my own and other participants part


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