Chris Adamson notes a significant contraction in iOS and related conferences recently (via Michael Tsai).
Having attended (and sometimes spoken at) many of these conferences over the years, I can’t deny the feeling I’ve had in the last couple of years that the era of the small Apple-ish developer-ish conference is mostly or entirely behind us.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing. This style of conference had a great run, but it always had major and inherent limitations, challenges, and inefficiencies:
- 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.
It’s getting increasingly difficult for organizers to sell tickets, in part because it’s hard to get big-name speakers without the budget to pay them much (which would significantly drive up ticket costs, which exacerbates other problems), but also because conferences now have much bigger competition in connecting people to their colleagues or audiences.
There’s no single factor that has made it so difficult, but the explosion of podcasts and YouTube over the last few years must have contributed significantly. 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.
Ten years ago, you had to go to conferences to hear most prominent people in our industry speak in their own voice, or to get more content than an occasional blog post. Today, anyone who could headline a conference probably has a podcast or YouTube channel with hours of their thoughts and ideas available to anyone, anywhere in the world, anytime, for free.
But all of that media can’t really replace the socializing, networking, and simply fun that happened as part of (or sometimes despite) the conference formula.
I don’t know how to fix conferences, but the first place I’d start on that whiteboard is by getting rid of all of the talks, then trying to find different ways to bring people together — and far more of them than before.
Or maybe we’ve already solved these problems with social networks, Slack groups, podcasts, and YouTube, and we just haven’t fully realized it yet.