I’ve been to many a TeachMeet, some where alcohol has been involved. But this sounds even more fun:
Over a decade ago, a few Scottish educators got together in a pub for a meetup. This spawned something that is still going to this day: the TeachMeet. I’ve been to a fair few in my time and, particularly in the early days, found them the perfect mix of camaraderie and professional learning.
Does the size of the event matter? I think it probably does. While you can absolutely learn a lot at much larger events that carefully curated such as MoodleMoots, there’s nothing like events of fewer than one hundred people getting together. If it’s less than fifty, even better.
I’ve been reminded of this thanks to a post on ‘tiny conferences’ that I found via Hacker News:
I find that I get so much more value and enjoyment from conferences with less than 30 people than I do from most of the 200+ attendee conferences I’ve been to. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent, well-run, “real” business conferences with plenty value.
But if I compare and evaluate them based on this criteria: “Did I get what I wanted out of this trip?” … “Will my business benefit because I went?” … “Did I have fun and enjoy my time there?” … “Would I go again?”, then I choose Tiny Confs every time.
The author of the post gives eight pointers for running a successful ‘Tiny Conf’:
There’s some solid advice in there. It actually reminded me of the MountainMoot I went to earlier this year, which ticked all of these boxes. It was a great event, and one that I’ll remember for a long time!
At this time of political upheaval and social media burnout, it might be nice to even call this kind of thing a ‘retreat’? I’d certainly be attracted to go something like that.
Source: Brian Casel
Mike Murphy has been travelling to tech conferences: CES, MWC, and SXSW. He hasn’t been overly-impressed by what he’s seen:
The role of technology should be to improve the quality of our lives in some meaningful way, or at least change our behavior. In years past, these conferences have seen the launch of technologies that have indeed impacted our lives to varying degrees, from the launch of Twitter to car stereos and video games.
However, it’s all been a little underwhelming:
People always ask me what trends I see at these events. There are the usual words I can throw out—VR, AR, blockchain, AI, big data, autonomy, automation, voice assistants, 3D-printing, drones—the list is endless, and invariably someone will write some piece on each of these at every event. But it’s rare to see something truly novel, impressive, or even more than mildly interesting at these events anymore. The blockchain has not revolutionized society, no matter what some bros would have you believe, nor has 3D-printing. Self-driving cars are still years away, AI is still mainly theoretical, and no one buys VR headsets. But these are the terms you’ll find associated with these events if you Google them.
There’s nothing of any real substance being launched at this big shiny events:
The biggest thing people will remember from this year’s CES is that it rained the first few days and then the power went out. From MWC, it’ll be that it snowed for the first time in years in Barcelona, and from SXSW, it’ll be the Westworld in the desert (which was pretty cool). Quickly forgotten are the second-tier phones, dating apps, and robots that do absolutely nothing useful. I saw a few things of note that point toward the future—a 3D-printed house that could actually better lives in developing nations; robots that could crush us at Scrabble—but obviously, the opportunity for a nascent startup to get its name in front of thousands of techies, influential people, and potential investors can be huge. Even if it’s just an app for threesomes.
As Murphy points out, the more important the destination (i.e. where the event is held) the less important the content (i.e. what is being announced):
When real technology is involved, the destinations aren’t as important as the substance of the events. But in the case of many of these conferences, the substance is the destinations themselves.
However, that shouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern: There is still much to be excited about in technology. You just won’t find much of it at the biggest conferences of the year, which are basically spring breaks for nerds. But there is value in bringing so many similarly interested people together.
Just don’t expect the world of tomorrow to look like the marketing stunts of today.
I see these events as a way to catch up the mainstream with what’s been happening in pockets of innovation over the past year or so. Unfortunately, this is increasingly being covered in a layer of marketing spin and hype so that it’s difficult to separate the useful from the trite.
I’m certainly attending fewer conferences than I used to, but I thought that was just the changing nature of my work and ways of making a living.
Marco Arment makes some important points in this post about how conferences are just kind of outdated as a concept:
- Cost: With flights, lodging, and the ticket adding up to thousands of dollars per conference, most people are priced out. The vast majority of attendees’ money isn’t even going to the conference organizers or speakers — it’s going to venues, hotels, and airlines.
- Size: There’s no good size for a conference. Small conferences exclude too many people; big conferences impede socialization and logistics.
- Logistics: Planning and executing a conference takes such a toll on the organizers that few of them have ever lasted more than a few years.
- Format: Preparing formal talks with slide decks is a massively inefficient use of the speakers’ time compared to other modern methods of communicating ideas, and sitting there listening to blocks of talks for long stretches while you’re trying to stay awake after lunch is a pretty inefficient way to hear ideas.
This has always been the case, of course. It’s just that technology-mediated ways of connecting, both synchronously and asynchronously, have improved:
Podcasts are a vastly more time-efficient way for people to communicate ideas than writing conference talks, and people who prefer crafting their message as a produced piece or with multimedia can do the same thing (and more) on YouTube. Both are much easier and more versatile for people to consume than conference talks, and they can reach and benefit far more people.
Conferences are by their very nature exclusive and take up a lot of people’s time. There’s still space for them, but I think time is up for the low-quality, just-for-the-sake-of-it conference.