In the past three weeks, I have “participated” in 4 conferences:
- Nonprofit Technology Conference (organized by NTEN, in DC)
- JDRF Government Day (organized by JDRF, also in DC)
- Ideas Economy (organized by The Economist, in Berkeley)
- Web 2.0 Expo (organized by O’Reilly Media, in San Francisco)
How did I do this without going broke with plane tickets and conference registration fees, more importantly putting my family in a far distant second place? The answer to this question has a lot to do with the reason I put the word “participated” in double quotes: I really wasn’t physically at the conference (in all cases, except for a morning that I actually did swing by the Web 2.0 Expo Exhibit Hall).
How can you be at a conference and not BE there?
An interesting trend I’ve observed this year is that more and more portions of conferences (in some cases all the presentations on the main stage) are being streamed online:
- NTC online streamed a fair number of sessions at a cost of $150 for NTEN members, aside from the amazing coverage of the conference through attendes via the #11NTC hashtag on Twitter.
- JDRF Government Day made the JDRF Government Day Blogger Roundtable session available for free via Ustream and also helped those of us on Twitter to follow the conversation through the #JDRFGovDay hashtag.
- In the case of “Ideas Economy”, all main stage presentations (there were a number of breakout sessions) were streamed through FORA.tv at a cost of $150 (early bird passes). Twitter conversations about this conference could be followed through #ideaseconomy.
- As for Web 2.0 Expo, their Exhibit Hall pass was available for free if you used a discount code they offered through Twitter and all the keynotes were streamed (are being streamed, as a matter of fact, as I write this). The hashtag #w2e served as a container for comments about the conference on Twitter.
Can you really BE at a conference without BEING there?
This is a tricky question because ultimately you do get what you pay for. Was the experience and the lessons I took with me from “participating” in these conferences comparable to the opportunity of being THERE? Heck no! I couldn’t network equally. For sure, I couldn’t attend all sessions I would have been interested in and talked with the presenters (if I sat close enough to the podium to run for it at the end) with more specific questions for them or to get a chance to meet them personally.
But also, I didn’t spend as much money AND I didn’t travel, except for the BART ride from Berkeley to San Francisco for Web 2.0 Expo! This seems like a convenient tradeoff for me considering that I work on a (very) limited budget and the fact that most of the time conferences are not worth attending every year, but (I’ve found to be the case) every other year.
So, though a first take on this trend of conference content being made available online at a lower cost may make you think that the business model for conference organizers is being questioned, I see it differently. They are growing their audience and bringing in additional income that was not available to them until streaming technologies have made it more affordable to offer this kind of content live.
What do you think is going to happen with conferences in the coming years?