The heartbreak was palpable when John Battelle announced via blog post back in April that the Web 2.0 Summit would not be held for the first time since its debut in 2004. The conference was an undeniable focal point for the startup culture, having been one of the earliest podiums for tech stars like Mary Meeker, Eric Schmidt and the inventor of Web himself, Tim Berners-Lee.
While Battelle claims the decision was simply due to a matter of bandwidth — he’s in the middle of completing a new book and partners O’Reilly and UBM TechWeb are “full to the brink with other conferences” — the fact that it’s not clear if the conference will ever return inspires a little speculation.
At this year’s SXSW Interactive conference, Shiv Singh of PepsiCo made an interesting point about the event’s lack of organized discussion around Kony 2012. He noted that the film, which was released only days before the start of the conference, had over 60 million YouTube views and was being talked about on social outlets five times more than the conference itself. “It’s a campaign that deserves a really meaty conversation, and yet a conference designed to be on the bleeding edge of everything digital and real time couldn’t pivot in a way that allowed for that.”
Now, SXSW was an amazing experience. I went to a couple of really valuable sessions and attendance was record-breaking. But the majority of what resonated with me was hiding in serendipitous conversations, crowded blogger lounges and after party after after party. In other words, it was the connections I made that had the most to offer in terms of disruptive ideas or intriguing information. I can’t help but wonder if, given today’s speed of information exchange, large conference like these are simply too planned.
In addition to our lack of pivot-ability, it’s worth it to note that our expectations when it comes to innovation are through the roof.
“I found my two days at the 5th Annual Launch Festival pleasant but dull,” wrote Shel Isreal, a consultant and Forbes contributor. “CNET Reporter Rafe Needleman called his favorite presenting companies amazing and boring. He saw them ‘solving boring, dull, old-fashioned, real-world business problems.’ I consider Needleman to be both a friend, and in this case, a journalistic competitor. So I regret to report I could not have said it better myself.” In closing, Israel also made a comment that I think most techies these days can relate to: “I’m a startup conference junky and I will continue to attend these sorts of conferences–and Launch–is among the very best of them. But I look forward to the next time I go to one of these conference and see the jaws of people sitting next to me drop down. I look forward to the entrepreneur or technologist who steps up onto the dais and shows me what I never dreamed was possible.”
On the bright side, there are those who are doing what they can to keep the scene alive. IBM’s VP of social software, Jeff Schick, went around asking people what they wanted to hear about in his keynote at this year’s Enterprise 2.0 Conference (now known as E2 Innovate). The top two answers: “You know we want social but we don’t want crap social.” And, “We don’t want to hear from vendors that think they are smart and want to congratulate themselves.”
Contribute to the conversation. Do you still find value in these large to large-ish conferences? Why or why not?