Jul 17, 2008

ED-Media 2008, Vienna > disappointing

I went to ED-Media 2008 in Vienna, presenting my paper about Delft OCW (Open Courseware >> project I graduated on @ Delft University of Technology). Clearly, I was thrilled to do that, but it kind of resulted in a disappointment. Having a handful of people listening to your story cannot be the reason for coming to such an event and travel so far. A bigger disappointment was the conference itself: it was so large, so chaotic, treating so many different subjects, and so diverging in quality, I ended up attending too many uninspiring or even disappointing presentations. Even the get-together of people was virtually non-existent: there was not really a place to hang out and get together. Moreover, the whole event was organized in three different buildings that were not too near to each other.

Overall: an uninspiring conference, and I would not go again. Although I am young, and have not attended many conferences, I have to say that all conferences, both online and offline, I have experienced in the past, were much better, and left me with many new ideas, contacts, and lots of inspiration and motivation. This one did not.

This disappointment is one, but think about all the people coming from all over the world to attend this conference. There were heaps from Asia, South-America and Australia, from the US, Mexico and South-Africa, next to European people. This costs an enormous amount of money. Let's calculate:

# of people: 1000+ people
average travel + hotel expenses: €1000 to €2500
abg. conference fee: €400

This amounts to more than 2 million euros spent collectively to attend this conference. Additionally, people get paid by their host institution to be here, meaning that another half a million to a million euros is spent: almost €3 mio for this conference (1000 persons). Can this be justified? Can all the CO2 emissions by these people be justified? As I experienced it, I would say absolutely not. It lacked interaction, inspiration, quality, and focus ...

I suggest the organization to radically change to setup of this conference, or it will die a slow death.

  • Online & Offline! Start by blending online and offline interaction, change the whole "presentation" thing: instead each person to present gets 2 minutes to introduce a discussion. Also, people need to upload a short 2 or 3 minute podcast or video to explain their talk on the conference website. Going online is a possibity as well, clearly (before, during, and after physical events). I attended 2 great online conferences organized by George Siemens, so learn from him.
  • Focus! Try to have one topic at a time, and decrease the size of the conference. You could do this per day as well.
  • Social! The most interesting discussions are held not in the presentation room, but afterwards. Support these interactions in nice rooms (not necessarily in a conference building, can be a park or coffee-room or someone's house as well), with tools and through funny, interesting, and interactive sessions &c.
These are just three ideas. A traditional conference can still be very engaging, but please don't make the same mistakes as ED-Media.