I think Meg is totally onto something here.
In fact, a company I know wants someone to design them a new conference for Web designers. This is a real bitch. Everyone knows the Web is dead, right? Most of the Web Design conferences have been killed in the last year, casualties of the dot bombings. Seemingly only SXSW survives, but like Meg says, that's more of a cultural event and less of a how-to conference.
Meg's rant along with the news from a friend got me thinking. Are there any attendees out there willing to pay a couple of grand to come to a conference about Web design and development?
I think there are, but the existing conferences out there were just too broad based to get anywhere.
Here's the condundrum:
Niche conferences work best, particularly when you're going after an audience that wants serious how-to info. There's a whole lot of marketing reasons that's true. Mostly cause it's far easier to find a market on a specific product or approach. For instance, if you're trying to get together a conference of Microsoft FrontPage users all you'd need to do is find a mailing list of FrontPage users. Plus visit the newsgroup (which is quite active). Plus talk all the FrontPage MVPs into coming (and get them to link to, and talk about, the conference). It's relatively easy to get people excited about a conference that's specifically for them.
For instance, a Flash conference is great cause it makes Flash developers really happy and over two or three days you can really get into Flash quite deeply and hear from a variety of experts from the Flash industry. Compare that to a "Web Design Conference" that tries to cover a little Flash, a little Photoshop, a little CSS, a little HTML, a little Dreamweaver, etc. If you were a Flash developer, which one would you rather attend?
I know I'd really like to go to a conference focused around Radio, but here's the condundrum: are there enough Radio developers out there to pack a hall? No. Well, not yet.
So, if you design your conference too narrowly you'll get no audience. If you design it too broadly you'll get a small audience (and the folks that come won't be very happy). So, if you want to do a conference for Radio users, how broad do you get? A Weblogger Developer Conference? Well, if the conference is mostly about Blogger, people like me won't come. If it's mostly about Radio, people who use Blogger won't come.
And then there's the exhibit hall to worry about. If they want to sell a sponsorship to both Pyra and UserLand, the conference organizers will need to make sure they deliver an audience likely to buy our products. That's tough to do.
So, what's the answer? I say you gotta get sufficiently granular with the conference content. For instance, instead of having a Web Design conference, why not have four separate conferences under one roof:
1) Macromedia Design Conference.
2) Microsoft FrontPage Design Conference.
3) Adobe Design Conference.
4) Web Futures Conference: Web Services, Standards, Mobile Devices, and More.
Now we're getting somewhere. First of all, you've virtually guaranteed that Microsoft, Adobe, and Macromedia will -- at minimum -- send some speakers and/or help you out in some way. Particularly now because Adobe and Macromedia are scrapping for customers. Microsoft is a lot less desperate, but I know there's a good group of MVP's who'd love to speak at a FrontPage conference.
Second of all, those three companies will be far more likely to help market to their constituencies than if you just called your event a "Web Design Conference."
Third of all, a lot of the book companies would be interested in joining. There's a lot of book authors who've gotten rich by writing about Flash, Dreamweaver, FrontPage, and GoLive.
Fourth of all, you have a conference that can be sufficiently ground breaking so you can invite some interesting people like Zeldman to talk about where they want the industry to go.
Fifth of all, you'll have a darn interesting audience, if you go this route, so you'll probably be able to get Apple and Microsoft and maybe an open source company or two interested in sponsoring or exhibiting.
Regarding pricing, why not charge one low price to go to all four conferences? Most people who use Macromedia's Dreamweaver tool, I find, are also interested in keeping up with what's going on with FrontPage and GoLive too.
OK, now we have a concept. But, how do we get the interactivity that Meg wants?
1) 802.11-ize the conference. Make it clear that every speaker and every attendee should expect an 802.11 network. After all, this is a Web design conference, right? Why not have everyone hooked up to the Web?
2) Give every conference attendee a Weblog. Fuck the paper book. Why kill trees? I'd rather the conference organizers take the $30 and build me a Web site where I can see all the notes from all the attendees. Hell, give every attendee Radio! Give out prizes for the best set of notes. The best set of photos. The best source code or tip. Guess what, it'd be so freaking easy to hook up an RCS for a conference.
3) Make a series of Web services for conference attendees. I call these "Conference Telemetry." You know that if you're an Indy Race Car driver that your pit crew knows every damn thing about the car as you're driving it, right? Things like where you step on the brakes. Where you step on the gas. The temp of the engine. The speed of the car. Etc. Why doesn't a conference team have the same set of data about a conference? As a conference organizer I always wondered these things:
a) Do they like or hate the speaker that's on stage right now?
b) Are they too cold or too hot?
c) What do they want to eat for lunch? The hot dog or the pizza?
d) Who wants to go drinking with me after the conference is over?
e) Do they have some source code or a tip to share with the other attendees?
Imagine if there was a simple Web page for conference attendees to visit that had a simple way to tell the conference organizers that the speaker on stage right now sucks wind? Or if there were a chat room where they could talk with other conference attendees? Or a discussion group where they could post links to their notes and source code? Or another group where they could find other Flash developers to hang out with after the sessions end for the day?
Imagine then if there was a link to a Weblog community like the one at http://www.weblogs.com where they could read notes and feedback from other conference attendees? (And where they could post their own stuff?) Imagine how much more useful that'd be than a dead-tree binder with a bunch of out-of-date slides? (Of course, all the speakers would have their own "ConferenceLog" site as well).
Imagine if conference attendees could win cash or prizes simply by posting a good question? Or, have a contest on site for attendees to design a Web service while they are at the conference and give away something cool to the best one. Hell, make it so they can improve one of the Conference Telemetry Web services and win prizes for doing so (not to mention the love and adoration of their fellow attendees). I bet vendors would get into this in a big way, too. Visit the Oracle booth and they'll help you build a Conference Telemetry app that'll be faster than what you can build with SQL Server.
Or, visit IBM's Web Sphere booth and they'll show you how their app server will help you build something really cool in fewer lines of code. Hmmm.
Would you want to go to such a conference? I know I would. Particularly if the conference hired the best Webloggers in each camp.
So, if you could design your own conference, what would you build? Got any ideas? Email me at email@example.com and, who knows, your ideas just might get implemented.
Dvorak gets flushed from TechTV! Hey John, maybe you should have embraced the weblogging community. After all, we're the ones who watch TechTV the most. We're geeks with Web browsers!
Instead of feeling sorry for him and starting a campaign to bring him back, I'm glad to see him go. I'm sure many webloggers feel the same way. Hasta la vista!
Happy Noruz! Tomorrow is the Iranian new year. There is a sizeable number of Iranian-Americans here in Silicon Valley and I'm blessed to be able to spend the evening with some of them.
Interesting. My son and I are flying to Orlando to see the launch (with fellow weblogger Buzz Bruggeman), so this impacts our day on April 4.
Howard Hansen asks "where do I report bugs in Radio?"
Well, why not right in your weblog? I read every Radio Weblog that I can (which is why I read Howard's stuff in the first place).
But, the best place is on the Radio Discussion List at: http://radio.userland.com/discuss
Silicon Valley Reboots, Newsweek says.
I'm noticing something. Silicon Valley is slowly coming back to life.
The number of job listings in the Mercury News and on Craig's List are double what they were a few months ago.
On Saturday night it was impossible again to get parking in Palo Alto.
The parking lots at Apple, NVidia, Intel, and other companies are jammed.
Housing prices have stayed high, particularly in the $300k to $500k level.
Yes, there still is economic trouble here. I have friends who've been out of work for eight months (that's long enough that they don't show up in unemployment statistics anymore). There are tons of "for lease signs" in every part of the valley.
Classrooms at the EDD are still full of new people who just got laid off, my friends tell me.
Also, employees at companies are unable to leave their jobs because there aren't new jobs yet created for them to move to.
In other words, it's a good time to start a business. If you get hot right now you'll be able to expand like mad and you'll be able to buy up your weaker competitors for a song.
And, if the valley goes to hell, at least we have gorgeous spring weather here. Yesterday was absolutely stunning and today is even better. It's a good time to live in the valley.
"I don't know of anybody who's actually been deploying Web services at all," says James Gosling of Sun Microsystems, in this eWeek article by Peter Coffee.
Is this what Sun calls "innovation?" All this proves is that James isn't hanging out in the .NET newsgroups over on news://news.devx.com (there are quite a few developers there and other places working on Web services albeit on the .NET platform. Yeah, I don't know anyone who's doing Web services in Java and maybe to James that's all that matters. Mostly that's cause Sun dragged its feet on SOAP-enabling Java). Sun has been dragging its feet on Web services simply cause Microsoft is out front with them. That was a strategic mistake on Sun's part and one that'll hurt Java for years to come.
Oh, the little boys are throwing sand at each other. Yet another example that Sun is rudderless and can't figure out how to compete with Microsoft other than by throwing lawsuits and insults around. I so wish Sun would fire Scott McNealy. This attitude is coming right from him. Sun, it's time to put your own innovations on the table and stop the insults -- tell this industry where you want to take Java. Stop telling us where you don't want to take Java or what's bad about Microsoft's approach (unless you have a better one to offer). Developers are seeing through this shit and you're in danger of losing your developers back to Microsoft because of it.
Even in Silicon Valley the .NET user group's membership is swelling and the Java user group's membership is stagnating. That's a huge danger sign of rough sailing ahead for Java. Will they heed the warning signs or continue business as usual?
I have a feeling that as long as Scott McNealy is in power at Sun they'll continue with the rudderless lack of innovations. Oh well.