Europe, SAP, and two-way conferences

It’s the end of the week that saw the SDN Meets Labs down in Walldorf. There was plenty of interest (apparently over 300 people attended, way more than in the similar event held in Palo Alto earlier this year) during, before and after (lots of reviews on the ‘planet’ SDN weblog collective).

But despite this interest, and despite the great efforts of those behind the scenes (thanks Karl and Mark) to get the behemoth to provide blanket Internet access for the conference location, there was something, well, lacking. It’s something that some people have noticed and talked about before now, something that’s particularly European (or rather, non-U.S.). Whereas at U.S.-based events (for example, O’Reilly’s OSCON, or more pertinently, the SDN Meets Labs in Palo Alto) there’s a parallel conversation, a parallel conference going on in the ether, via IM, IRC, and weblogging, there’s a noticeable silence at some events in Europe. For example, at the Palo Alto event, there was active participation from people not actually there (with a lot of help from the webcasts), and plenty of conversation in the #sdnmeetslabs backchannel. In Walldorf this week, you could see the digital tumbleweed roll by in there – partly due to the fact that the Internet connectivity didn’t extend to the actual session rooms.

I think it’s partly the environment (Internet availability at SAP events have been poor to non-existent in the past), but it’s also culture. Matthew has talked about before – conferences are two-way, not one-way. In other words, events are read/write, not read-only. The culture in Europe needs to change. Change from within the corporate mind, and from within the minds of event attendees. I think it is changing. And the more companies realise the benefit of two-way interaction at technical events, the quicker the change will happen.

Roll on Euro-OSCON!