The rock critic Jon Landau once wrote a rather ugly sentence that changed his life and that of his subject: "I saw rock 'n' roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen." My claim is a bit thinner: I think I've found the cure to the plague... of tech conference deaths.
The conference business has been tanking for at least 15 years. Comdex, Which Computer, Networks and many others at home and abroad have all hit the wall and the survivors, like the once-mighty Cebit, aren't what they were. Why? Probably because nobody could in conscience justify going to them to hear the same old spielers talking a mile wide and an inch deep -- and when some of the big booth buyers dropped out, the rest got the jitters and chucked in their hands too.
The people who ran the shows had got fat and lazy, like owners who grow to resemble their dogs. Whatever the reasons, the old extravaganzas had turned into baggy monsters. I really believed that the whole show business had no business at all in the 21st century but this year an odd thing seems to have happened. Maybe spurred by collapsing audiences (and economies) and a growing sense of impending doom, there have been many (well, OK, several) events worth attending from Google's recent Atmosphere to IDM on identity management.
Their secret? Well, no secret at all really. If you build it (properly), they will come. Have something to say, focus on a tight theme, have good people speak and bright people will turn up to listen and meet peers. Better yet, make them speak for only a short time and have panels where people can question their perceptions. Even with an expensive telepresence videoconferencing system you can't do that.
Tomorrow, I'll catch at least part of the Business Cloud 9 conference in London and the line-up is terrific, including Premiership software-as-a-service CEOs Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com) and Zach Nelson (NetSuite), analysts who actually analyse like Katy Ring (K2 Advisory) and Rebecca Wettemann (Nucleus Research), leading ICT buyers, influential politicians and even a genuine coup in major government sector CIO Martin Bellamy talking publicly about the government cloud plans (or G-cloud) for the first time.
A show like this certainly deserves to succeed. Why can't there be more like it? I'd go to them and so would hundreds of others.
Springsteen was lauded for going back to basics: simple songs about falling in love, breaking up, driving cars and falling in love all over again. Something similar is happening in the conference world. So, in short, I have seen the future of tech shows -- and it says 'keep it simple, stupid'.