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.