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Entries tagged conferences

Better Than Beta

Posted December 3, 2010

Not quite two months ago, I attended Brooklyn Beta at the Invisible Dog, where I listened to half a dozen speakers and got to know the other web nerds there. I haven’t been to a lot of conferences, but the quality of speakers, attendees, tangibles, and intangibles were the best I’ve seen and I am counting the days until the next one..

I had hoped to write a post detailing all of the ways in which the conference was awesome, but Cameron, one of the founders, has done it for me. In A Friendly Web Conference, he describes all of the work and thinking that went into making Brooklyn Beta. And since he did such a great job, I’m going to quote a few passages.

[Y]our conference should have a narrative. As an organizer you should have a clear message beyond just, “Hey! I wants to make a conference.” Know what you want your attendees to take away from the event and weave a narrative with your speakers, venue, and conference structure that communicates that message clearly. For Brooklyn Beta, that was: MAKE SOMETHING YOU LOVE

This set the tone. Instead of just, “Here are a group of speakers you might have heard of packed into a hotel conference room,” they made decisions about the event that tied to the theme. From the food to the venue to the topics, everything came back to making something you love.

Our initial feeling regarding Internet was that we should skip it. Why, if we were working so hard to get together such an interesting group of folks to attend, would we have such an obvious distraction. We wanted our attendees to engage with each other and the speakers, not the AOL, the Yahoo! and the Myspace (all wildly popular with our audience). […] Having no Internet at a conference is a feature, not a bug.

At first, I was dismayed by this fact, but it turned out to be great. I took some notes on paper with a pen and I looked back at them later. It also meant I couldn’t try to squeeze in work between sessions so I actually talked to people.

Having a love of your neighborhood and sharing that is an essential part of keeping the atmosphere friendly. After all, when the conference is done, your attendees are going to spill into the streets and local bars and restuarants. They’ll enjoy it more if they feel at home.

This was huge. It’s crazy how many conferences are lazy and bring in shitty hotel food or sandwiches from a generic caterer. They offered up Bark hot dogs, Six Point beer and pizza from Sam’s, a great Italian restaurant that’s been around forever. The conference really felt like Brooklyn. And even better, since it was at a neighborhood spot, people spilled out into local bars right after.

On to Gamma

While it certainly helped that I knew a couple dozen people, this conference had much more going on. It was carefully crafted and that attention to detail came through. If it weren’t a little creepy, I would have wanted a sleepover with everyone in attendance, just so we could talk through the night.

In case it isn’t abundantly clear, hat’s off to Cameron Kozcon and Chris Shiflett. I owe you both a root beer.

Where the Women At?

Posted May 19, 2010

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This week, yet another conference was rightfully called out for ignoring their duty to curate a diversified speaker list. Then Erika wrote a fantastic blog post about it that you should really read.

Conference organizers and publishers, I do not think you are racist. And I do not think you are woman-haters. I think you are probably very nice people. I think you are good to your friends, your girlfriends, your wives, your children. I think you hire and treat your employees fairly and well.

I think you are lazy and irresponsible.

Then I saw this cartoon that seemed apt.

Times Open and the Interesting People I Didn't Meet

Posted February 25, 2009

Me at Times OpenLast Friday I attended the second half of the Times Open conference. The NYT put on the event so developers could "spend the day with industry leaders, learning about applications, data resources and the trends that will shape the way you work." Our hosts were incredibly gracious and I had a chance to see the tour the art floor (thanks Khoi and John!). Unfortunately, the event itself was disappointing.

While I can't speak to the morning sessions, the afternoon was spent getting an overview of the various APIs and attending "breakout sessions" with the other attendees, save for Jacob Harris' interesting talk about the interactive newsroom. The overviews would have been more useful if the breakout sessions had some structure. Instead of going to various rooms (that went unused) to discuss a specific topic, folks milled about, chatting with each other. If you consider the breakout sessions as just breaks, the 8 hour conference had only 4 hours of presentations.

My goal at the conference was to get my hands dirty with the APIs, discuss the implications of a news organization opening up its data and to meet some interesting people. I did get to meet a few interesting folks, but the conference didn't help me on the first two points. The lack of small group breakouts meant I walked away with fewer practical concepts and interesting questions in my head than I would have otherwise.

I don't feel too bad about being a debbie-downer because the NYT developers all were quite interesting and I am genuinely excited by the stuff they're building. In fact, I've got a couple more NYT-related posts floating around in my brain. Still, I do hope they'll take my advice next time and provide some more structured breakouts. An active backchannel may appear to be a positive, but I'd much rather the attendees be focused on the event and engaging with each other in real life.

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