The conference I'd like to attend to

7 minute read Published: 2022-09-21

I'd like to pin down some thoughts I had during a conversation with a friend about technical conferences in 2023.

Thinking to the past +2 years, I realize that my conference content consumption has gone to almost zero. Before the pandemic I enthusiastically participated to conferences, enjoying meeting people and picking their brains about a lot of subjects. Gossiping and sharing a dinner was a fun part. Then COVID happened and conference organizers had to figure out how to make the format survive.

The solution were online conference: basically mostly prerecorded talks with after a Q&A area (usually a chat of some sort) where conference participants could ask questions to the speaker. This format never really clicked to me: after the first or second online conference (where I tried to financially support the project) I gave up attending these online events and just waited for the release of the talks on YouTube, downloaded the ones looking more interesting, watched them at 1.25x (or faster), skipping a lot of parts. In the end I lost interest also in this, content consumption this way was not engaging (despite the efforts of the speakers1).

I have in my SSD gigabytes of talks sitting there since months about topics that are of interest for me, waiting to be watched and I know I won't watch them because I can't commit myself anymore to such a task2.

Now we start seeing more and more in person live events again and while I can't say if it will last this winter, here's how I would like to see them after 2 years of virtual hiatus.

First off, I find the whole "technical conference" format a bit stale and in need of fresh paint. I'm looking at some conferences happening in 2022, I won't name names out of respect and gratitude to those that are working hard to make them happen.

This said, here are some points that in my opinion can be improved or "reinvented":

Online conferences are an heroic attempt to carry the torch forward but in my opinion ultimately I see them now as the final blow to the "in presence" conference format that once was. Online conferences basically made the conference format itself useless. I am completely not interested in seeing a prerecorded talk that I can see later on some streaming platform at 2x skipping all the uninteresting parts. Conferences are cool because of meeting people, gossiping and have real social event with people. Let's save this part!

Possible ideas to reinvent the "in presence" conference format:

§ Conclusions

Really, the previous points are not suggesting anything new, what I wish is a return to the origins. Tech conferences are great tools but after just a couple of years of attendance I'm getting tired of them.

We need to distill the distinguishing traits (in a time where everything is online), cut with the bullshit and leverage their added value. Bring them back to Earth, to their original hacking spirit.


1

I remember an online talk by Bryan Cantrill (ex-Sun Microsystems, now Oxide), a public speaker I really enjoy. I could notice his effort to engage an invisible audience, but it felt so awkward.

2

It's a bit like me watching movies: I can hardly see an entire movie on the sofa without falling asleep but if I happen to go to a cinema/theater I can sustain hours of full attention span. Go figure.

3

and then see them disappear to visit the city where the conference takes place, because of course a historical UNESCO living site is more interesting than compilers.