July 1998
s m u g
net worth
by Leslie Harpold


No Fez Required

The image of conventions as it was programmed into me, was a bunch of guys in fezzes and suits stumbling drunk up and down a hotel corridor waiting for someone to send a hooker to their room. Things have changed dramatically, and conventions have become a place to disseminate information and although vendors still aggressively hawk their wares, things like hookers are now saved for those really saucy weekend junkets that I don't have enough purchasing power to net an invitation.

I've suggested that the computer related conference experience could be easily repeated by standing in the middle of your laundromat and having a hundred very loud people in khakis throw tshirts at you while screaming "COOL!" before but after attending Web98 in San Francisco this year, I've got to say, things have changed.

No more free tshirts, that's for sure.

Okay, you can get one, but you have to make a commitment to sitting down for a 15 minute demonstration of the product, but that's a lot of work to get a shirt you won't realize you don't actually want until you're back in your hotel room. At the end of the day when you paw through your bag of swag to see what the real take away of all the smiling and nodding you did on the conference room floor, you'll realize that all you have is a big bag of CD-Roms full of plug ins. The very same ones available free on the web.


I've now completed the convention hat trick. Having done I-World, Seybold and now Web98 I can actually say that I went to a conference and came away with something more than a few business cards and that awful vertigo you get in giant airless convention halls. I actually learned something. Luxuriating in the delicious freeness that was my press pass this conference was the first time I walked away saying "I would have paid money for that and not felt resentful." Not to mention the added bonus of only hearing the word "e-commerce" used superfluously once. It was the gratuitous use of this very word that sent me running prematurely from Seybold this winter.


Miller - Freeman seems to be getting it right after a few warm up shots. While at Web97 in Washington DC last year I saw signs of promising - dare I say - content, but I didn't really get the full bodied "I might actually miss something good" feeling I got as I selected my itinerary from this year's course offerings. Frequently there were classes of interest and relevance to the web developer being offered concurrently in their six tracks - Strategy, Usability, Info Design, Visual Design, Programming, and Back end. The delineation of the courses to these categories did help attendees self-select seminars of interest, and my straw poll of conference-goers showed that most people seemed to attend in more than one category.

The lunch time panel discussions attracted vibrant and talkative crowds and were a nice informal and informative way to facilitate exploration of ideas on the day's topic. I saw professionals exchanging ideas with audience members making contributions equally valuable to those of the panelists, and the not frequently seen enough phenomenon of the panelists offering the audience the respect they deserved - after all, this was a professional summit, no matter which side of the table you were on.

Bearing in mind that I couldn't be everywhere at once, there were a couple of standouts I encountered, and I'm sure more I didn't. The reason I'm so confident that even the seminars I didn't attend were valuable is this: the absence of the telltale sign - people walking out of the classrooms yawning and loudly moaning the hour of their life they were never going to get back - proving a conference attendee is in it solely for the expense account week. There was none of that. Pinpointing a few great things I saw: Jakob Nielsen's Usability Engineering, Drue Miller's "What is Information Design?" and Lou Rosenfeld's Information Architecture for the Worldwide Web.

Look, vendors will be vendors, that's their job. Since people love to get anything for free, no matter how trivial and useless it is, that part won't change. (And I confess I wish I scored one of those nice Microsoft blankets if only to enjoy the metaphor it presented.) As much as I have bitched about these events in the past, I confess that Web98 was a good thing indeed, and I'm not just saying that because they let me plug Smug once to a room of 30 people. Oh yes, I was on a panel about "Women on the Web" which I have to confess or I just wouldn't be telling you the whole story. Still, if it weren't for my 15 minutes in Moscone Center, I would have still walked away with some new ideas and renewed enthusiasm for my chosen profession. (But still not as much enthusiasm as I have for you, the readers)



back to the junk drawer

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