Don Marti

Tue 09 Jun 2009 11:11:50 AM PDT

Conventions, warp factor two

It's now been more that ten years since Eric Raymond wrote Conventions at Light Speed: What Hackers Can Learn From SF Fandom. Today, some of the best-run conventions are hacker events. SCALE is still one sign short, but otherwise follows Eric's advice well. Since "Conventions at Light Speed" came out, most of the big-time IT events are dead or struggling, and the hacker events are booming.

Yes, I'm working on OpenSource World (Registration!) which is the new version of one of the corporate-style events, LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. OSW is learning to do a lot of this stuff right, but isn't there yet. But a lot of the corporate events haven't made it this far.

rm -rf ~/speakers: Ditch the speaker lounge but have plenty of informal space with seating, beverages, and power outlets. The hotel lobby and bar at SCALE are always packed. Instead of a regular conference plus a secret speakers-only 31337 conference, you get a better experience for everyone.

Web design: Keep the old web sites up. Abstracts are loaded with names and keywords, and make cheap Google-bait.

Fair admission price: Charge admission—not enough that people can't afford it if they're paying for it themselves, but enough to keep out people who aren't serious. Offer early bird and student discounts, and a bunch of passes and discount codes for exhibitors. A little price discrimination works better than a lot of qualification and filtration.

Cheap printed show guide: Print a decent schedule and exhibitors list, but don't splash out on expensive design and paper, and don't print too many extra copies. (Melinda Kendall suggests going paperless, but that doesn't work when you have broke-ass students as well as early-adopter corporate VPs with the latest smartphones.)

One more random idea. The USENIX Technical Conference has had a table of stickers that you can put on your badge to show your interests and affinities, and Eric mentions sticker sheets at science fiction conventions, too. It seems like a cheap investment for distribution and project community managers to send a sheet of small (1cm or so) badge stickers to each event. Make it easy to spot other Ununteros or PHP developers or GNOME users or whatever.