Thoughts on Lotusphere 2016

Plenty of people are talking about the bittersweet celebration that was IBM ConnectED 2015 in Orlando this past week. I agree that in many ways, this was the best Lotusphere ever, as the attendees were focused on making the most out of an event that will likely never be again. IBM was much less overbearing than in the past, focusing on Verse and Bluemix without the kind of announcement-gavage we used to choke on all week. Customers and partners were serious about making plans and taking action, as opposed to the casual introductions-leading-nowhere conversations in prior years. The smaller, integrated showcase saw a huge jump in traffic. (I actually regretted not having a booth, as the TechnOasis was always packed.)

Hatchets were even buried.

It was a great conference.

There’s also been a lot of talk about what happens next. I wanted to share a few thoughts I’ve had about 2016 and how to make it even better. In no particular order…

Take the Reins: The community around the ICS products has demonstrated increasing independence from IBM over the last 5 years as Big Blue’s delivery has declined and customers are looking for new solutions. This is even reflected in conferences, with events like Engage and MWLUG popping up all over the world, offering high-quality experiences on tiny budgets. The people that run these events have shown great capacity for it. Let’s leverage that and get more UG runners involved in whatever happens next year, possibly including a Global User Group conference of some kind. IBM can be a platinum sponsor if they want.

Simplify the Content: The ATLUG group held our Day of Champions last April where we did a single track of 20 minute session by well-known, seasoned presenters. It was fantastic. Nobody put any code on the screen. The content was about vision, inspiration, principles, and poetry, not feature lists and install procedures. With this approach, the conference could have fewer tracks and therefore fewer schedule conflicts. I did a 1 hour session at DanNotes on the graph2 Tinkerpop implementation from the OpenNTF Domino API. I presented the same vision in 5 minutes at SpeedGeeking. The DanNotes audience was enthusiastic but felt like they needed to learn more about the “how.” The SpeedGeeking audience said exactly the same thing. More time did not achieve better understanding.

Support the Interaction: One of the biggest reasons to go to Lotusphere is because the attendees and presenters are the best of the best.  There’s always some expert walking past you in the halls or chatting at a nearby table. And while this spontaneity is great, it’s something of an all-or-nothing proposition. Either you have some kind of session, or you have some kind of booth, or you can hunch together over a laptop on bench and try to read source code and look at tiny icons. How about a middle ground of scattered tables of varying sizes with monitors. along with a few ad-hoc meeting rooms with presentation screens that can be reserved or simply “use if open?” Coupled with shorter sessions, this could be a great way to expose a large audience to a conceptual message as a whole, and then do one or more follow up deep dives in a more on-demand fashion. Bonus points if the tables & screens have some kind of automatic topic publication to a shared system when you sit down.

Change the Venue: Lotusphere is not about the technology, it’s not about the brand, it’s not about the Swan & Dolphin; it’s about the people.  While this venue may have been great conference hosts in 1995, today they are a Motel 6 at Ritz-Carlton prices. The rooms are tiny and ugly and have smelly carpet and bathrooms without doors at $270/night. The layouts are confusing and poorly-spaced (serving meals in the Dolphin while the sessions were in the Swan was a slap in the face.) The bars and restaurants are priced for pro-athletes and bankers on expense accounts, not IT professionals. More and more people have to stay off-site to be able to afford to attend, and that means more exhausted and possibly drunk attendees getting behind the wheel to get to and from events. It doesn’t have to be Vegas; it doesn’t even have to be in North America — but it needs to be some place where the experience matches the price.

Go Mobile; Go Social: Everything about the event should be paperless. Attendees should be able to find each other, plan sessions, set up meetings, invite friends for drinks, check schedules, swap contact details, and split bar tabs from a conference-sponsored mobile platform. This kind of anywhere, any time digital collaboration is what the conference is supposed to be about, and it needs high-quality tech to support it. We shouldn’t be getting conference booklets in the age of the iPhone and we don’t need a slight rebrand on an existing product.

As always, I hope readers will take time to comment.

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13 comments on “Thoughts on Lotusphere 2016
  1. ryanjbaxter says:

    Love the idea of ad-hoc meeting rooms, I think that is a good idea for any conference.

    As far as session length goes, I see your point, but I personally enjoy deep dives that are done well. Sometimes I don’t think you can get the same impact in 5 mins. I have been attending a bunch of non-IBM events over the past year now and I see a mix of session lengths. Some are 45 mins, some are an hour, some are 90 mins. I don’t think it is about session length, it is about quality.

    • thentf says:

      I’m not saying there shouldn’t be deep dives. Just not in a session room with 200 people. The content isn’t being absorbed that way anyway, IMO.

      Deep dives should be in groups of 5-10. And as an SME, I’d much rather repeat the conversation 10 times in 3 days then try to pretend people understand it when I wave a laser pointer at a block of code on a 20 foot projection. 🙂

  2. Tx Nathan. So good ideas in there I need to ponder upon. The 20-min sessions seems like an interesting idea. The ‘open ad-hoc’ meetings too. Unfortunately at Engage I don’t have a spare room to set things up this year (I had and did 2 years ago). Great seeing you again, and looking forward to it in a few months time.

  3. Thanks for the post Nathan, really interesting. We’re actually already introducing a couple of your ideas already for our next Social Connections event in Boston. We’ve a mix of 15-, 30- and 60-minute sessions, and we also have a two-hour slot set aside at the end of the event for a number of unconference-style sharing and brainstorming sessions.

    Since our first event we’ve defaulted to 30-minute slots, simply to keep the pace high, to offer plenty of variety and to enforce brevity. That’s still the model for well over half the sessions. However, we opened up 60-minute slots recently for those really in-depth jumpstart style topics. At Social Connections 8 we’re bringing in 15-minute slots, to encourage new speakers and to support sharing of ideas, stories and concepts that are not mature enough to warrant a full session. We’ll see how it goes!

    I think that this year will be an interesting one, not just to find out the future for this event, but also to see how user groups such as Engage, MWLUG, UKLUG and Social Connections step up to the mark in terms of growing and supporting the wider ‘Lotusphere’ community. I think there is both opportunity and significant risk for the (typically single-person) companies that run these groups in trying to fulfil the role you mention, and we need to tread carefully.

    Lastly, I’ve long held similar views to you on the Swolphin. It is crazily overpriced for the quality of venue and service that it offers. However the habits and traditions that it has inspired over the years will be hard to replicate or replace elsewhere. That said, should the event move from that location, I firmly believe that to properly support the worldwide ‘Lotus’ community should be moved around the world rather than to a new US location such as Vegas.

    • thentf says:

      The Social Connections events are obviously another great example of a community-led conference that’s achieved great success. It’s interesting that your default session is 30 minutes, and now you’re introducing 15 minute blocks. 20 minutes is the other smooth division of an hour, and I think it’s just the right amount to talk about the What and the Why, but saving the How for more intimate settings, or Internet reading, or even billable hours.

      For what it’s worth, Louis Richardson agrees. And I think he knows a few things about making effective presentations 🙂

  4. Timothy Briley says:

    Anywhere but Vegas. Preferably in a “nice” hotel with less expensive hotels in walking distance. But seriously, anywhere but Vegas.

  5. 20-minute sessions with separate breakouts may have some merit. But repeating the deeper dive 10 times in a day is only really okay if you don’t want to get anything else out of the conference. Possibly a couple of times to about 30. XPages (and it’s now really “web development”) is becoming so specialised and diverse, conferences are very useful for getting an overview of other aspects you don’t have time to research personally. And when you’re trying to balance personal, professional and community lives, plus aren’t adept at picking up new concepts on your own (like me), I personally don’t have time to dig into everything. Theo’s session on various web frameworks was very useful; if we could get 3 people each delivering 20 minutes on one framework, great, but if not, that 1 hour was invaluable for getting an overview. The same goes for Mark Myers session on setting up the same app for Domino, Websphere and Tomcat.

    And I’d echo “anywhere but Vegas” – too many distractions. I’d suggest Boston based on previous conferences there.

  6. Timothy Briley says:

    I’m okay with Boston as long as the conference is changed from being held in January to being held in April or later. Being a guy from the Gulf Coast, I have no desire to deal with snow.

  7. 20 minutes is great for non-tech how-to sessions and maybe for smaller topics. The 30 minutes we did at SocCnx while it seems short is really great as it keeps you the speaker focused on no more than 2-3 topics or side topics. The community is strong, but Vegas does not lend it self to the community as well a Disney has historically. Maybe something in a more resort friendly area would be good where you don’t need to figure out where people are across a 2 mile swatch of the city.
    Given I am now overseas, my time and money to get to a show is different and will watch what unfolds to decide future involvements.

    • thentf says:

      “20 minutes is great for non-tech how-to sessions…”

      I hear you Keith, but allow me to reiterate a point: I don’t want a conference of tech or non-tech how-to sessions. They can and should exist, like the Master Class and Jumpstarts we’ve known for a long time. But they shouldn’t be the default format of the conference.

      The default format should be tech and non-tech “What and Why” sessions. Not How or at least only as much how as it takes to show that it’s easy (which is part of the Why.)

      The problem is that there’s no way to get very far in the How in an hour. The amount of How that you can get to is basically only enough to get someone to start googling more, and if they’re just going to rely on Google, then stop pretending to give them a How. It’s just a waste of their time.

      If instead the sessions focus on the Why, then the audience will go research How for themselves. “He who has a why can endure any how” — Friedrich Nietzsche

  8. Quin Filipowicz says:

    I love the ideas, and I agree – no not Orlando and not Vega$. Someplace where the price of the rooms equal the quality of the rooms. Where WI-FI isn’t spotty throughout the complex. And the event must be in a warm city if it’s going to take place in January (Phoenix or San Diego?).

  9. thentf says:

    “And the event must be in a warm city…” I’m thinking Miami, personally. Easier for European visitors, and who doesn’t want to party in South Beach after a day of sessions?

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