Conference Criticism: A New Genre for Tech News

October 3, 2015

I don’t really do conferences. A couple of times a year I give a lecture for an outfit involved in training law enforcement and intelligence professionals. But no more of the jaunts to “summits” about digital topics. Please, do we need another Big Data, search engine optimization, or Bitcoin event for start ups?

I am officially summited out.

When I was working, I never obsessed over conferences. Most of them were excuses for folks to congregate at breaks and “parties” to meet and greet, to sell and be sold. The presentations at most conferences do not age well. You can test the validity of this observation by navigating to Slideshare or any other archive of presentations and enter a key word or phrase; for example, search, Big Data, SEO, or business intelligence. Then eyeball the results list. Pick a presentation from several years ago. View it. (Note that you may have to register to access this LinkedIn content service.)

Familiar? Do you see the same buzzwords, the same problems, and the same solutions. Most of the conferences I have experienced are into truisms, recycling marketing lingo, and the aforementioned “networking.”

It is tough to sell some products and services, so when there is a shot at a captive audience, conference organizers go for the gold.

I was, therefore, surprised when I read “Is Web Summit a Scam? Well, If You Have to Ask.” I think a new branch of marketing criticism may be taking flight.

There were earlier exchanges about this event. One of them is called “Is Web Summit a Scam? Setting the Record Straight.” I don’t want to dig into the he said, she said of this event. Online marketing seems to be a point of contention. Be forewarned. The blog posts contain some salty language, which would make a LinkedIn moderator leap into action. No quips in Latin in this Web Summit dust up.

Let’s step back. Conferences are an important part of some professionals’ work and real lives. Conferences are very expensive to produce. Conferences try to monetize everything the organizers can think to slap a price tag on. For example, a sponsor can buy in at a gold, silver, or bronze level. A company can lease a booth space, put folks in it, and pay for the staff, shipping both booth and human cargo, and mouse pads handed out to those who stop at the booth for a mouse pad or a mint. People can pay to use the registration list as a list of folks to spam with PR baloney, webinars (invariably boring and skewed to inside baseball information), and the “right” to host a cocktail party, buy lunch, etc.

The problem is that many conferences are just not working. Forget Comdex. I don’t want to point out a UK event that went downhill for a decade and then has been reinvented and put on life support. Vendors grouse that attendees are not plentiful nor equipped with allocated funds and ready to spend.

A recent event in Louisville, Kentucky, promoted itself as attracting hundreds of qualified information technology buyers. I have it from an actual attendee that on the first day of the event, one of the featured speakers had 45 people in the audience. Some speakers flew in from the Left or Right Coast. Were these folks happy? Nope. What about the exhibitors? Were they happy? From what I heard, the answer is, “Nope.”

If I attended more conferences, I would cover them with a critical eye. Perhaps another person will fill the unmet need for critical commentary about technology events? My hunch is that hard hitting discussion of silly presentations, angry exhibitors, and frustrated attendees who are looking for a job would be helpful to some people.

Several observations:

  1. Conferences coalesce around topics for which their is a payoff for stakeholders; for example, venture-entrepreneur dating events
  2. A community is necessary to make a conference sustainable. My rule of thumb is, “No community, no money.”
  3. Certain types of conferences are a reaction to the failure of specialist events open to anyone; for example, MarkLogic hosts a conference and controls who gets in and what messages are disseminated. These conference offer control, which is important to companies perceiving themselves as misunderstood or important enough to go it alone.
  4. Many events have a side door. Some low tier and mid tier consulting firms offer a “pay to play” model for conferences run under the consulting banner. The goal is to showcase high value information. The winners are the attendees who get the inside scoop, the vendors who are showcased in the “pay to play” model, and the sponsoring consulting firm which gets it brand message in front of “decision makers.”
  5. There are conferences which are built on trends. The best example I have encountered is the explosion of Bitcoin and security conferences.
  6. There are conferences which “run the game plan.” Wow, these conferences are the same year after year. The tip off that a “game plan” conference is underfoot is one or more characteristics: [a] Multiple events in one venue with each promoted to a different market sector, [b] The same speakers appearing year after year, [c] One speaker giving two or more talks on what are described as completely different talks but are often the same old message recycled.

I look forward to the next installment of the Web Summit conference Bildungsroman. (I better be careful. I was criticized for quoting a quip from the Roman satirist Marcus Valerius Martial. I even presented Martial’s in Latin. Martial died in 104 CE or AD for oldsters.) The German word is probably less likely to twist a Latin student’s snoot.

Maybe next time?

Stephen E Arnold, October 3, 2015


2 Responses to “Conference Criticism: A New Genre for Tech News”

  1. make web page on October 4th, 2015 7:48 pm

    make web page

    Conference Criticism: A New Genre for Tech News : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search

  2. on October 5th, 2015 4:03 am

    Conference Criticism: A New Genre for Tech News : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta