E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Enterprise 2.0 Conference Highlights – A Proposal for DIA

Before I move on into detailing the main highlights from Day 1 at the recently attended Enterprise 2.0 conference event in Boston, I thought I would spend a few minutes sharing a couple of thoughts on what has been, repeatedly, one of my long time pet peeves from every single event I have attended in the last couple of years or so and which, once again, re-surfaced this year at this event. Yes, indeed, I am talking about the incredibly poor quality of the wi-fi connection throughout the whole week, to the point where folks who weren’t even attending the conference in person noticed it big time as well.

Check out the very insightful blog post from Mary Abraham under the title "Tech Conferences Struggle With Technology" to give you an idea of the kind of frustration that permeated throughout the entire event. Once again, and this is not the first, nor the second time, that the wi-fi at a large technical conference venue as Enterprise 2.0 in Boston failed to deliver one more time. And why plenty of people claim that the hotel is probably the main guilty party for such poor experience, I still think the conference organisers should think twice before committing with a hotel on providing the best accessibility to the network for those of us who are going to be there.

There needs to be much better guarantees to prove that, once and for all, we can do it right. And it may not well be down to the hotel itself, but more the organisers of events themselves. Here is why. This time I have been one of the lucky ones. I have been connected for most of the time and I must confess that it was not because of the wi-fi provided at the conference, nor the hotel one (Like the lobby and such), nor my own roaming one (Which, as you would expect, is a no-no so far!), but a good friend of mine who, after last year’s frustrations, where I complained consistently about the poor performance, came to the rescue and kindly offered to lend me his own 3G connection through a portable device that was a treat throughout the whole week!

So if you see me this week sharing various blog posts on the highlights from Enterprise 2.0, it’s because I have been able to capture plenty of really good insights through my live tweeting at @elsuacon, as well as make other kinds of online annotations I could then use to draft the longer blog posts with those highlights. And all of that thanks to my good friend Doug Neal who surely saved me plenty of hassle and frustration by allowing me to borrow his connection while attending the various speaker sessions.

Very thoughtful and considerate, if you ask me, (Thanks ever so much, Doug! You know I owe you big time for this one!) taking into account that we have never met face to face and it was our first time meeting up "in the carbon" at the same event; yet, we have been following each other for a while now and I think last year’s annoyances were what had him well prepared to come to the rescue of this poor soul who just keeps asking for Decent Internet Access, as David Terrar blogged about a while ago, and time and time again he doesn’t see it happening.

I cannot imagine how annoyed I would have become if Doug wouldn’t have helped me stay connected throughout. It’s the second time I was kindly invited to the event as a media / blogger, and, as such, I always think about the compromise to give back; it’s my job; it’s fair; yet without the proper access to the right tools, it becomes increasingly more irritating than anything else. To the point where more and more I am starting to stop going to conferences, just because of this very same reason. We need to do better. We should do better. We should start demanding Decent Internet Access at these technical events, otherwise we may as well switch off and move elsewhere! And that’s just what I am about to do. If no DIA, no go. Sorry. Enterprise 2.0 in Boston has been the last time I’m going to put up with it.

Next time I am going to a technical conference I will wait for the first 15 minutes and if I cannot get connected right there, right then to start "reporting" on what’s happening, I will switch off all of my equipment and just passively go through the event: no live tweeting, no follow up blog posts, no highlights, no spreading the message around, no encouraging folks to make it to the next year, no further involvement from yours truly. As simple as that.

Perhaps conference organisers need to start getting more serious about what we expect from audiences attending these kinds of events, even more when some of them have got the "responsibility" of reporting and spreading the message around sharing our insights on what’s going on. And then deliver, of course. And big time!

So what could have been improved in such tech conference as Enterprise 2.0 for us attendees with regards to the wi-fi connectivity? Well, here are a few suggestions; provide multiple networks, not just access points, to the attendees (One for media / bloggers and another one for the rest. That load balancing, I am sure, would help out quite a bit!); also provide a network, or two, specifically implemented for the event itself, not just the hotel wi-fi connection, because we all know what hotels think about such commodities as wireless access to the Net. Non-existent! And pretty expensive, too!

Another good suggestion may well be to help educate your audience attending the event that it is ok to have one device connected to the network, not 5 or 10 of them! People should respect you can only have up to so many access points at a specific venue, so let’s all get connected, with one device, and enjoy a reliable and constant access to the Web from there onwards. It’s that simple.

And, finally, perhaps the one suggestion that I would hope folks out there organising conference events would be paying more attention to than what I have been saying so far in the above paragraphs: learn from others! I think it’s about time that conferences learn from one another and start providing true 2.0 experiences throughout the entire event for us attendees. And that includes access to the Internet as well!

Take, for example, the cases of Defrag or EventoBlog (Which, by the way, just announced Evento Blog 2009 in November, in Seville, for 1,500 people, with a specific and unique wi-fi installation of 100mbps download (Yes, that’s right! 100mbps download!) for all attendees to enjoy. On the first day open for pre-registrations, they maxed out in a matter of hours already! And that shows!). So two incredibly successful conference events that have raised the standards and ensure that the wi-fi works throughout the event. Year after year. No matter how many people attend.

Now, I have never been to Defrag just yet, perhaps sometime in the near future, but I have been to Evento Blog in Seville last year, and I must confess I was gladly surprised the connectivity throughout the event was outstanding! Only conference event that made it work from over 40 events I have attended in the last couple of years!

So if they have managed to make it work, why can’t others? I refuse to think that they are not committed to make their own conferences a real success; yet, time after time, they keep failing on the very same basic principles, i.e. not caring enough about your audience(s) or how you would want to engage with it to help them spread the message around for you. I refuse to think about that, but the truth is that here I am, writing this blog post on this pet peeve of mine that I managed to escape this year at Enterprise 2.0, by the wonderful Doug Neal who surely sensed, and witnessed, the level of frustration I went through last year and he wanted to help me avoid reaching that same level, or worse!, this year; so why can’t tech conferences come to our rescue? Once and for all…

What’s stopping you from providing the best experience out there when attending face to face events, like both Defrag and Evento Blog have proved over and over again? Isn’t it time for you all to catch up, learn from past experiences, learn what works and what doesn’t and start applying new solutions in your next gig? Well, I will be looking forward to it, because so far it’s not happening and I’d certainly object to becoming a passive attendee of such events. I might as well stay home doing some other productive work.

Thank you very much!

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  1. Luis –

    Thanks so much for this post and thanks for the mention. I think your post qualifies as the DIA Manifesto of anyone who attends a tech conference. These conferences attract exactly the sort of people who expect to have reliable technology. And, yet, this group has been putting up with sub-standard internet access for far too long. Given the cost of attending these conferences (which is not negligible), let’s hope conference organizers get serious about this issue soon.

    – Mary

  2. Luis-

    Thanks for the Defrag mention (and please consider this a standing invite to come join us). Bad wifi has long been a pet peeve of mine – and having been in a conference biz for 10yrs, it’s also long been a foe (one soundly defeated now, i might add).

    Here’s what really bothers me: providing good wifi only takes one thing – money. That’s it. It’s not rocket science, nor is it technically hard (unless you’re talking about multiple 1000s of people at once). So, remember, the next time you attend a conference with bad wifi (unless it’s some momentary problem that gets corrected quickly), it is that way for basically one reason – not spending the money to have good wifi.

    I’ll share my “how to provide good wifi” with any conference organizer that wants to know – it’s quite simple:

    1. Don’t EVER trust the hotel to provide. You need to hire a provider with the sole job over the course of your conference of walking around and making sure things work (i have my guy on constant standby).

    2. take your anticipated # of attendees and multiply it by AT LEAST 2 (maybe 3) to account for iPhones, etc. That is the number of CONCURRENT connections you will need.

    3. Pick which areas of the show will be saturated and which won’t – and don’t be afraid to tell your attendees where the wifi will be best. For example, the keynote space should be DROWNING in enough wifi to cover all attendees, while a breakout room may only need enough connections for 1/3 of the attendee base.

    4. Provide hard wired drops to your sponsors. They run a lot of pretty intensive stuff in their booths – hard wire them.

    5. And finally – as a basic rule of thumb, spend roughly a MINIMUM of $15,000 (USD) per 300 people attending. If you’re not spending that, you’re not spending enough.

    Do those things, and you’ll get happy attendees….and really, nothing matters more than happy attendees. Not even money.


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