Web 2.0 Reflections

So Web 2.0 Expo is wrapping up today and after spending all of Wednesday and Thursday there, I have a couple of thoughts.

First of all, I have a love-hate with big conferences like this. On one hand there isn’t much intimacy or unscripted presentation, but on the other hand it’s very efficient because the 100 people you really want to meet up with are all in one place. Big events are a fact of life in our business and while there are fewer of them than in years past they are nicely balanced out with smaller more focused events. So in the final equation, it just is what it is.

What was web 2.0 about Web 2.0? Not much apparently. The keynotes were big, packaged, and had little, if any at all, audience participation. The panels and presentations were similarly tight and canned with a lot of “I have 5 minutes for questions”. Tim O’Reilly talks a lot about changing the world with web 2.0, how about changing the way a big conference works first?

The Crowdvine network that they put up was limited (was going to reiterate what I said on twitter, lame, but that’s probably unreasonably harsh). Crowdvine actually followed me on twitter when I had an exchange with Dion Hinchcliffe about it, suggesting that I was looking at it wrong, the point of the social network was to connect before the event and that they then want people to shift to face-to-face meetings at the event. What can you say to that… basically Dion and I were wrong to expect more out of it.

The Expo was using a pretty neat Firefox extension called RoamAbout that enabled, well to be honest I’m not sure what it enabled because it’s a firefox extension that I never got around to installing and it looked like yet-another-thing I would have to deal with. The Expo web page called this the “backchannel” but I’m not sure why, and at any rate the page highlighting the service is a great example of an anti-adoption pattern, no information and a download link.

One much needed service they could have provided would be a interactive map of all the power outlets in the conference center. It was actually quite interesting to see small pods of people develop around every power outlet and the anxious expression on someone’s face when they realized that s/he could join a pod because all the outlets were being used.

There was a twitter profile for the Expo but it’s not clear how they were using it and with Twitter in the state that it has been in this week I’m not sure it would be my first choice anyway. I would have liked to use @EventTrack but for some yet unexplained reason Twitter has been blocking the service.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the conference experience is more important than the conference content. We’ve known for years that the most interesting stuff happens in the hallways and that it is the promise of the unscalable hallway experience taken up online that gets people excited. Having said that, I don’t want to be starting from scratch with yet another social network (YASN), I want to take advantage of services I am already using AND enable a degree of data portability in the process.

The exhibit hall was quite active but featured a long list of companies that I had seen before and was dominated by big vendors like Oracle (pitching CRM no less) and Microsoft. Exhibit halls are how these conferences pay the bills but there simply has to be a better way to do them. I don’t know what else to say…

Some of the presentations were very good, I especially liked the session that RockYou did on monetization of widgets. Lot’s of data and real examples, but in the end just “5 minutes for questions”. Also, where are the session presentations online? It appears that there isn’t a slide sharing service where all of the content is available open and free.

I want to also take a second to thank the folks from Blogtropolus for putting on such a great blogger lounge, which rocked in comparison to the conference media center. They were great hosts and offered a robust wireless network as well as a lively lounge for the couple of days I was at the event. I actually met more people I wanted to see in that lounge than anywhere else at the conference.

I’d close by asking Tim O’Reilly a question: You say web 2.0 can change the way businesses interact with customers, employees, and partners, but Web 2.0 Expo is very much like other industry events that go on and as a customer I had very little engagement about what I want or how I want to get it… so the question is, do you you know your customers?

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8 thoughts on Web 2.0 Reflections

  1. hey jeff –

    (disclosure: i’m one of the conference co-chairs for Web 2.0 Expo)

    thanks for the honest feedback. we are listening.

    definitely some stuff we know we need to do better… we’re still working on the ‘Conference 2.0’ toolset to let the audience talk back. i think we *are* on the path to eating our own dogfood with new services like crowdvine, roamabout, twitter, meebo, etc. we may not have them all nailed just yet but they do seem to be getting used by attendees (and sometimes like you, they’re used to tell us we still suck at a few things, but that’s still good feedback too).

    hopefully we got a few things right, and some of the tools work, and some of the sessions like Ro Choy / RockYou work out well & are interesting & educational. (overall, feedback on the track sessions has been mostly positive, if only luke-warm on some of the main stage talks… i’m listening to dan lyons / FSJ kill in the friday keynote right now, so maybe he’ll bring our B- up to a B+ 😉

    in any case, we’ll keep listening to the feedback, and i know Tim is thinking a lot about how we can use the same web 2.0 tools & services we get all excited about to make our own conferences work for you guys & suck less. in my honest opinion, anything worth doing is probably worth screwing up a few times until we get it right.

    thanks for coming out & would love to buy you a beer & catchup in meat space sometime soon.

    – dave “500 hats” mcclure

  2. Thanks Dave. Posts like this are hard for me to write for 2 reasons, the first being that I know many of the people, like yourself, who are involved with this and I don’t like to be perceived as taking shots at friends. Secondly, our world is a continuum and where we were even just a few years with conferences is far different than today. The tools and services are being applied, never as quickly as some of us would like but progress nonetheless. I really hate looking like I’m dumping on something new just because it’s not perfect.

    Thanks again, would look forward to catching up over a beer. Will send you dm.

  3. Hey Jeff,

    Even with the problems @eventtrack was able to keep up quite well thanks to the linking in to multiple other services – we certainly lost some of the conversation but I was quite impressed with what was captured.


    # Shouts: 881
    # Pics: 1052
    # Links: 126
    # Videos: 24
    # Prezzo: 29

    Quite interesting to take a look through it all. As for Twitter we are back in business and watching things closely, Twitter folks seem to be quite willing to help work through the issues with us although timing was bad considering the issues they were having.


  4. Jeff,

    There were a couple of things that I was responding to on twitter.

    You’d started by calling us a weak forum. We’re not a forum, we’re a social network focused on helping attendees meet. You aren’t wrong for wanting a forum, that’s your right as an attendee, but that’s a request that’s better targeted at the conference organizer.

    Dion had said that participation was low. There were 1900+ attendees, 10000+ connections, hundreds of blog posts and comments. I think because he was also looking for a backnetwork he was looking for heavy activity during the conference. But we’re focused on boosting the face-to-face value of the conference (otherwise, why did you fly out), so we end up with a usage curve that’s heaviest right before the conference starts.

    In one sense you are attendees and it’s your right to form whatever expectations you want and then to be disappointed when those expectations are not met. I respect that and registered your desire for better backnetwork features.

    However, you and Dion are both technology commentators and I think I’m well within my right to challenge your analysis. In this case, I want to get across the idea that personal connections are more important to the health of a conference than additional information streams.

    Information streams are hard to differentiate and extremely price sensitive. I’ve worked for a technical publisher during a downturn and people happily turn from books to free online sources. Conferences are looking at the same dynamic because in this downturn free online information sources are granular enough to compete with sessions. The face-to-face isn’t as easily replaced.

    If I was going to play devil’s advocate I’d say that more information sources amplify the presence of the conference, generate free marketing, and thus higher registration/sponsor revenue. But so does making your attendees day. In the end there’s room for both and we’re increasing extending CrowdVine into the day-to-day of the conference.

  5. Hi Tony,
    We should probably agree that twitter makes it easy to take things out of context given the 140 limit. Nuff said, I appreciate your response here.

    It was Lawrence that said it best about strengthening weak ties, but I disagree with your presumption that connecting face to face is the paramount objective at a conference.

    First and foremost, there are plenty of people that I want to hover around but not necessarily interact with. Scoble is a good example, I like to watch his comments but I don’t want to hang out with him… there are plenty of lesser known people that fall within the same category.

    It is physically impossible to meet f2f with as many people as I can follow at an event. If I can meet up with 15 people in a day I’m pretty damn happy, but I can follow literally hundreds using the tools that we are fortunate to have at our disposal.

    That’s why things like hastags, @eventtrack, qik, and friendfeed. This the kind of experience you should be expanding.

    I’d also like to see some features that better engage the companies and people presenting. Right now it’s pretty rare for either to actually engage the audience and that’s a real weakness in the conference model.

  6. Thanks. This is all good feedback. Some of the nicest feedback we got at this conference was from the people who’ve used us before and noticed improvements that were based on their feedback. Hopefully, we’ll have a second chance to impress you.

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