Le Web is Europe’s largest Web 2.0 conference, with 1,800 participants from all around the world coughing up $2K each to listen to sessions, mingle, and to demo their startups to their peers, media and VC’s. It’s considered a gathering of influencers, so much so, that 2 years ago then Presidential Candidate Nicolas Sarkozy found it important to pitch the crowd (to their great resentment). Le Web is a brand. Or perhaps a former brand?
I’ve already read some less than positive feedback on Twitter, and this morning the The Guardian sums it all up: Freezing cold, no internet, boring. What’s a Web-focused Conference without wi-fi? The Guardian’s answer: Without the “web” part Le Web is just… Le.
Joke apart, it’s beyond reason that in 2008 conferences like Le Web, Gnomedex, Microsoft’s PDC …etc. still fail to provide sufficient connectivity. Yet this seems to be the fate of all conferences, including ironically the granddaddy of all, Web 2.0 Expo.
Two notable exceptions I’ve seen so far were Defrag in Denver and Office 2.0 in San Francisco – the latter for a good reason, since they followed the pattern established by Defrag organizer Eric Norlin. It’s simple: accept the fact that conference facilities and hotels are still not equipped for peak demand, take charge and do it yourself.
Eric teamed up with Swisscom and Defrag became the first conference to provide industrial-strength, reliable wi-fi throughout the entire site. Ismael’s solution includes laser beams to the top of the building, another one down to a terrace, then inside – making it happen with Swisscom was quite a project in itself. (Why do I envision a Swiss commando descending on the hotel from helicopters, installing their lasers and access points instead of explosive charges then leaving as the came? Must be too much caffeine…)
Sounds like a nightmare? It probably is. Expensive? You bet. But anything less at major conferences is a failure. And I suspect in the long run it won’t be the conference organizers’ responsibility. Connectivity is part of the basic conference infrastructure, just like rooms, seating and food are, and I trust in a few years conference centers first, then hotels will have it in abundance. Until then, organizers have to take responsibility.
Conferences have changed, especially the Web-focused ones. We no longer get there to passively sit and listen, but to participate. There may only be room for 4-5 people up on the podium, but the rest of the crowd (formerly known as the “audience”) follows, challenges on Twitter, FriendFeed.. etc, tries out the new services simultaneously while they are being demo’d on stage, remote participants join in via the video-stream …etc. So if you want to participate, rather than just listen and being talked to, I suggest you join Ben’s DAI initiative, expand it to conferences, and put those who fail on your boycott-list.
The economic downturn brings budget cuts, most of us end up having to prune conference budgets – might as well take the opportunity and prune the “has-beens”, keep the ones who understand what good conferences are all about. Hint: bigger is often not better.
The photo above is part of the Monastery in Montserrat, Spain, where two decades ago I participated at the International Congress of AIESEC. The Internet was just a dream back then, for the national delegations bringing data on floppy disks instead of paper forms was a major breakthrough. We certainly had enough food … and booze. But we froze to death. We used the monk’s living quarters, slept in their unheated cells in freezing February. But we were students and it was part of the fun. Oh, and we paid $300 or so for a week. Now when you hear @ $2,000 for two days Le Web participants were freezing and did not have enough food… oh, well, enough said.
Update: I had already written this when I found Loic Le Meur’s apology to Le Web attendees:
- The wi-fi provider was apparently the famed Swisscom – and even they failed. Hm…
- An industrial heater died and room temperatures were 14 degrees C (57F) instead of the 18-20C requested.
- Food supplier was changed, extra orders were placed, still not enough
I don’t know what to think. All bad luck? There seems to be a reason for everything… but at the end of the day, three major logistical requirements of any conference were not met. That’s failure.
I intentionally did not bring up content quality issues: some talk about exciting sessions, others found it boring… I was not there, can’t judge. But I know one thing: when people are cold and hungry, they tend to get frustrated… and they won’t like any sessions, good or bad.
But I don’t want to finish on a negative note. In my next post I’ll talk about a successful conference that just worked: Defrag.