Web 2.0 Expo NY feedback: My wish list for a perfect conference

24 09 2008

The Web 2.0 Expo in New York I attended last week was a great event overall. Like everything else in the world, there are always things to be improved, but the quality of speakers, the networking opportunities and the parallel events made it a memorable conference. Even the weather helped. You can find some of my pictures in Flickr:

I’ve been fortunate enough to participate of several conferences as a speaker or attendee in my 11+ years at IBM. I wish I could get the best each one had to offer and assemble a perfect conference package. Since dreaming is cheap, here’s my list:

  1. Power outlets widely available in presentation rooms. It’s ok to have recharging stations outside, but laptops are increasingly replacing paper for note taking, so you need to be able to run them for 8 hours or more.
  2. Decent wireless connections. Live blogging and microblogging are common even in non technical events now, so that’s a must.
  3. Social networking cards (the good ol’ paper ones). IBM had those at the Technical Leadership Conference in Orlando back in 2006. It’s better than a business card, as it can have your picture, list things you are interested at or is knowledgeable about. Good to start a conversation, and also to remember the faces of people you meet. In the IBM conference, they even had a networking challenge: the back of the cards were like pieces of a puzzle, and you needed to complete the puzzle to claim your conference souvenir.
  4. Online social networking. The Expo used Crowdvine, which was great to plan your week, know who would be attending your session, rate sessions you attend (the speaker rating was not working when I tried), and get introduced to people you may want to meet. The tool could use some improvements such as RSS feeds so you don’t have to keep visiting a page for updates, and a single page to view all ratings and comments for the sessions you attended. But it is better than anything I’ve used before, so kudos to them. Here’s a link to the Expo’s Crowdvine page.
  5. Live feedback. I’d like every seat in a conference room to have a simple device for me to provide immediate feedback during a session, including rating each slide or topic as it happens. Even greater presentations have their dull moments, and boring presentations may have hidden gems. I had about 120 people attending my session, but only 10 so far rated it, and 2 bothered leaving a written comment. Coming back to my “Laziness 2.0” point, you should make easier for people to give you what you want. And the best moment to get feedback in a conference is during the delivery of the goods. If that’s too fancy, we could have an SMS solution: just text message your rating or feedback, and give an extra memento to people who provides, say, 5 ratings/comments or more.
  6. Dual slots for popular talks. There were two speakers I was dying to listen to having sessions parallel to mine: Jason Fried, from 37signals, and Jonah Peretti, covering Viral Marketing. That almost made me to skip my own session to attend theirs🙂
  7. Video recording of every session. It’s never the same, and nobody would ever understand me speaking in a video, but at least you can get a flavour of what you missed.
  8. Smaller conference facilities. The Javits place is way too big, making networking more complicated. It would be okay if all the Expo activities happened closer to each other, but the Keynotes, the Expo Hall and Lunch were all far from the regular sessions. The Birds of a Feather sessions were hold in yet another location. Again, remember people (me at least) are lazy.
  9. Location. Of course, hosting it in a great city like New York is a great plus.
  10. Frills. Offering complimentary bus service to the hotels was also a nice touch.

Of course, it goes without saying that the major ingredient is content and speakers. Some of my friends complained that the sessions were a bit too high-level, but I honestly think they need to be. The first draft I created for my own presentation was too detailed, and I bet I would lose most of the audience in the middle of it. So, I took a step back and made it more consummable for a general audience. Large conferences as good opportunities to get the pulse of what’s happening around some specific area (in this case, Web 2.0 and Social Computing), to get to know new people, learn a bit from good speakers and widen your horizon to things that you may have been missing. For deep dives, you may want to go to smaller, more targeted events.

Just to make sure I’m not conveying the wrong message, I can honestly say that the Expo was one of the best conferences I attended in the last several years, so the feedback above needs to be read in that context. Great job, Brady, Jennifer and crew.


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2 responses

25 09 2008
Jan

Hi,

We introduced sixgroups.com @ web2 expo as a live-feedback channel on top of crowdvine.

It would be great if the audience uses the livecommunity more to give immediate feedback to sessions.

Next time we will try to communicate this better!

Jan

25 09 2008
Aaron

Hi Jan, thanks, I forgot to mention sixgroups in 4 or 5, it was in fact another good tool available to attendees (I forgot to mention the tumblr site too). In my case, the reason I did not provide immediate feedback was that the wireless connectivity was poor in most rooms. Can we rate sessions or individual slides using sixgroups? Using hashtags in Twitter we can have a simple back channel, but it may not reflect what the whole audience thinks about a given session or parts of it.

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