The Internet is responsible for the demise of many “meatspace” industries, from magazine publishing to CD sales, but there are some things it’ll never do: No matter how much time you spend interacting online, meeting in person is something else entirely. I’m not trying to advocate a return to the old world of tech conferences and user groups. Rather, I envision a new breed of connected events that reinforce online communities with real face-to-face communication.
The Human Element
People used to read trade magazines and scour conference halls to uncover product and technology gems, but this kind of research is better done online today. The other day, a friend-of-a-friend tweeted a request to suggest “NAS storage in the $3k to $5k range.” Knowing I would have some suggestions, my friend retweeted the request and I fired back a list of suggestions. Since we were on Twitter, my reply included links to the companies that made the products in question. Back in the old days, this product search might have lasted weeks or months, but I bet jjx had her research done in hours.
So why go to a trade show if not to discover products? It’s all about the people. Increasingly, trade events like EMC World and Storage Networking World are becoming venues to meet people who were previously mere online avatars. They are for building friendships, business development, and cementing real connection and community. A look at my recent trade-show videos on Vimeo will reveal that most of my own interaction is personal, and the relationships built there could never be forged online.
The new people I have met, like Karl Lewis and David Scammell, will become part of my own community, and I will become part of theirs. We would have never met without the Internet (Karl recognized me from my blog, and David spotted me on Twitter), but we would never have become friends without real human interaction.
Devolving the Conference
The same can be said of the Gestalt IT community. We were friendly before we met, but our interactions at Tech Field Day cemented a surprisingly strong bond, especially between the delegates and presenting vendor staff. We are much more a community now than before these events. This is the main reason we will continue the Field Day event series: It brings a new kind of community to life! This kind of interaction might have happened at old-school conferences, but the specific (some might say peculiar) nature of the Field Day (invite-only, independent, and blogger-centric) makes it unique.
Another event I really look forward to is Greg and VaNessa Duplessie’s BD Event. It’s like the Field Day in that it distills a single element from the old trade show days to its purest form. In this case it is the business-to-business back-channel discussion that gets the focus. The BD Event is all about business development, and every part of it is designed to foster the sharing of ideas and opportunities between business people. I love the concept, and I hope I will see a tremendous crowd at the Boston event next month!
Even traditional conferences are changing. EMC World had a tremendous blogger lounge set up, including an amazing live video setup. SiliconAngle brought us “The Cube“, a live webcast that brought the social elements of the blogger lounge to a massive online audience. My hat is off to NiceFishFilms for their technical expertise, yet it was the human element, getting such diverse people together in the same place, that made it all work.
The Internet will certainly change many elements of the traditional trade show, but it will never kill the need for real interaction. I look forward to the next clever twist on the conference, complementing Gestalt IT’s Field Day, the BD Event, and The Cube, but do not worry that we will all some day remain in our secluded caves. We are social people, and nothing beats meeting someone face to face.