Conference Wishlist

First, there was this Tweet from Ron Hogan: Planning to blog at #BEA09? The New Media Zone will have about 10 electrical outlets; you’re responsible for your own WiFi.

Then – a correction: To repeat last night’s clarification from Roger Bilheimer, the #BEA09 New Media Zone has 10 electrical outlets AND internet connections.

Then, Kat Meyer pondered how much she’d be bringing with her: is it true about no wifi? should i not bring my 40 pound laptop to Javitts? #bea09

BEA attendees warned those giving sessions that it’s BYOW for BEA: RT @russmarshalek: If your session on social media requires streaming content, make sure u have wifi. #obama #bea09

Then the sessions began, and Ron Hogan quoted one presenter as saying: #BEA09 Use online resources to reach your customers: Facebook & Twitter along w/email.

Yeah. It would be a lot easier to do that if THE VENUE HAD WIFI. 

Are you freaking kidding me? It’s almost like a drinking game – every time a presenter talking about the publishing industry touts the use of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or any other online almost-real-time social media at a conference, and the presentation is in a place with shitty internet connection, grab your flask and chug. It’ll dull the pain. How many times are people eager to hear about new advances in social media publicity and online horizontal marketing going to hear about how important Twitter is within a venue that won’t let them connect? It’s looneytunes!

I went through this at Digital Book 2009, where the wifi in the McGraw Hill auditorium was abysmal, and the “avonguest” connection that was available soon became completely overwhelmed with the number of people hopping onto it. From years working in IT, I know to carry backup plans when dealing with technology – and my cell phone, my wireless broadband, and my laptop were all unable to maintain a connection, no matter what I did.

So I gave up, even though there were a number of people online who couldn’t attend the Digital Book conference who were eagerly waiting for Twitter updates. It was the one logistical flaw in an otherwise fantastically-planned conference.

The lack of available wifi and outlets makes it seem that BEA isn’t interested so much in building the kind of real-time buzz that folks looking in from points online enjoyed with conferences like Tools of Change, Digital Book, or Making Information Pay.

I’m well aware of how expensive venue space is in New York City, and for an event like BEA, spaces that contain an event that massive are tricky. But wifi isn’t, and really, if you’re a publisher and you want to make a splash? Spread the word that you’ll host a wifi connection free for random folks at your booth, and people will Tweet the wisdom and your name all over the damn place. It seems that wifi is available at the Javitz —for a fee.

So from the perspective of a conference attendee who is eager to share immediately with a curious audience what’s happening at your event, here’s a wishlist:

Outlets.

I carry a backup recharge power source, a small laptop, a power cable, an iPhone, charger, two USB cables and two thumb drives. Most of the time I have to use all of it, especially the backup source.

At Tools of Change in Publishing, there were extension cords run up and down the sides of the room, with outlets available in every aisle, and people plugged in from their seats. It was the first conference I’d ever seen where A/C power was a priority for those attending – and boy howdy, everyone had a laptop and was writing like crazy.

Wifi. FREE WIFI.

A paid connection? FAIL. I get annoyed with hotels for doing this, and conference venues are no different. If Holiday Inn Express can get me free Wifi in my room, why the hell should I pay $14 or more for the same service in my room at an upscale hotel?

Same for conferences: if people are already paying to get into the event, sometimes to the tune of several hundred dollars just for a day’s worth of activity, include the Wifi. At the Javitz center: it’s $30.00 a DAY, according to Heather Osborn (via Twitter).

That is a goddam outrageous ripoff.

Further, if there is free wifi for attendees, make sure it’s sturdy enough to handle the traffic, and make sure the connection info is available in more than one location.

ToC was also one of the first conferences that actively cultivated the use of Twitter coverage and collated every mention of their conference hashtag. The attendees were a community of press coverage, each one tweeting the speeches and the presentations they attended – and if the tweets from one were more interesting than another, folks would switch rooms mid-session. Live real-time coverage helps the attendees get as much out of the experience as they can, AND cultivates a potential audience of new attendees for the following year. I bet ToC will have epic huge attendance in 2010, because the online feed of information from the 2009 conference was exceptional.

Seats near those outlets.

Ever spent 2+ hours on the floor near a wall because that was where the outlet was? I once spent most of a conference under a table because the only outlet available was in the far corner. It’s pretty hard to network when I’m trying to stay on the network at the same time and my only option is to look like the mother of all introverts (which I am).

Chairs near outlets are always a plus. I hear from Alison Heittman via Twitter that at Google’s IO 2009, there’s lounges and power outlets in amongst the seats. She wishes for power stations to charge a variety of gadgets – which is a smart idea, and a great advertising opportunity for whatever vendor decides to host “charge stations” and… by golly, offer those charging up their phones a chance to, I dunno, read something?

The disconnect between actual online access and directives to seize the opportunities of online access at conferences about publishing is approaching absurd humor levels. Don’t be the conference where half the online coverage is gripes about the lack of online access. If you want real-time coverage and instant interest that may last to increase attendance for next year, remember:

If you wifi, we will Tweet.

 

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    janicu says:

    OK, that pretty much convinced me not to bring my laptop. 10 connections? No wi-fi? What.

  2. 2
    Katie Ann says:

    There was such a remarkable difference in the buildings on my college campus that were built in the last few years, compared to the ones built in the 1970s.  The new ones have outlets ON THE TABLES, one for each seat, which works well since just about everyone has a laptop and few have the battery power to go almost 3 hours for a whole class.  In the older classrooms, I’d scout out one of the two outlets in the room, find the end seat on that row, and bring a power strip for my classmates.

  3. 3
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    If Holiday Inn Express can get me free Wifi in my room, why the hell should I pay $14 or more for the same service in my room at an upscale hotel?

    I have often asked this—like at RWA last year in SF. I was at the W, and they wanted approx $20/day on top of the $250+/day for the room. Crap. Motel 6 in Nowheresville, KS gives me free wifi.

    As far as the conference, though:  My husband attends the Apple World Wide Developers Conference on a regular basis. There are 4000+ techies, and everyone has plenty of wifi. It would be tempting to say BEA could do the same thing.

    And they could, but then they’d have to charge $1600, too.

    Reality check: This isn’t a matter of plugging in a couple of Airport Base Stations and calling it good. According to hubby, in order to handle the volume of traffic at WWDS, Apple (not the convention center) brings in huge data lines and all the network infrastructure that goes with it, then mounts bases stations and repeaters all over the walls. Then there are the power lines and outlets. All for a week. Then they pay to have it all taken down. Labor, equipment, connections for that many heavy users at once—it’s expensive as hell. That’s why you don’t have it at BEA. 

    I don’t know what O’Reilly charged for ToC, but their Where2.0 conference, just over, cost $1145 early bird and went up from there. No doubt they had good wifi, too.

    TAANSTAFL.

  4. 4
    Maria Lokken says:

    I was at a BEA seminar yesterday given by Michael Terpin about how important it is for authors and publishers to go viral.  He touted Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc.  Gave stats on how he’s gotten his client’s message out.  He is one of the key people behind the Will.I.Am Obama video, Yes We Can.  When he began to show the video it was a disaster.  It played in starts and fits and he kept going – it took 20 minutes to play the first minute of the video and it was awkward to say the least.  Finally he gave up. 

    If you’re going to give a conference that praises the virtues of digital at the VERY LEAST they should be able to show a download to the audience.

  5. 5

    Good for Apple – but ultimately these things need to be BUILT IN to the conference centers. So who is doing the cutting-edge building/updating? That’s where the traffic, particularly anything tech-related, should be going. Or is this another digital ball being dropped?

    Sarah, how was the Princeton wifi coverage? Do campuses have the advantage, like Katie Ann mentioned?

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    Princeton was amazing. Wifi everywhere, easily accessible, and multiple options for connection. There were not nearly enough outlets in the room where the conference was held (for an architecture hall, it was designed by someone who didn’t think we’d want computers or a/c power, apparently, even though that newfangled a/c current has been around for a few months now) but the wifi was kickin’.

  7. 7
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    @Anthea Lawson said

    ultimately these things need to be BUILT IN to the conference centers. So who is doing the cutting-edge building/updating? That’s where the traffic, particularly anything tech-related, should be going. Or is this another digital ball being dropped?

    I agree, but the Javitz Center was opened in 1986, which likely means it was designed in 1980 or even earlier—thus, no prep for computers and wifi. According to Wikipedia:

    On October 16, 2006, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to start construction of an expansion. The $1.7 billion dollar expansion project will expand the center’s size by 45 percent, and include a hotel. The project is scheduled for completion by 2010 //snip//
    In April 2008, Governor David Paterson decided to move forward with a renovation and modest expansion for Javits, with plans for an additional 50,000 square feet of exposition space and a truck storage area. The budget, $1.3 billion for the whole ordeal, $300 million or so less than the amount approved for a much larger expansion and renovation under the Pataki administration (which the former Governor Elliott Spitzer office later found to have a true cost of more than $3 billion).

    $3 billion (which should be almost $5 billion) and who knows whether that includes adequate wifi capacity for what will be going on by 2015. But again, TANSTAAFL. Built in or not, conferences that want to supply sufficient wifi services are going to have to pay for it, which means the attendees must be willing to pay. I doubt your typical BEA attendee will be up for $1000+ for three days. Until they are, BEA will have poor wifi and a dearth of outlets.

  8. 8
    Sarah W says:

    If you wifi, we will Tweet.

    Seriously—this needs to be on a t-shirt.

  9. 9
    Gwynnyd says:

    Reality check: This isn’t a matter of plugging in a couple of Airport Base Stations and calling it good. According to hubby, in order to handle the volume of traffic at WWDS, Apple (not the convention center) brings in huge data lines and all the network infrastructure that goes with it, then mounts bases stations and repeaters all over the walls. Then there are the power lines and outlets. All for a week. Then they pay to have it all taken down. Labor, equipment, connections for that many heavy users at once—it’s expensive as hell. That’s why you don’t have it at BEA.

    See, how stupid is that?  Were I in charge, the conference center would split the tab with Apple and leave the infrastructure in place!  You get Apple to engineer it for free that way.  Apple gets to use the next year for very little cost.  The conference center can sell the service to other conventions at a reasonable cost and make some money off of it.  The attendees get good wifi. 

    I know – unions, contracts, big convention center crap.  And someone is making a fortune off all that putting in and tearing down of networks.

    However, I know it is possible, at least on a smaller scale. 

    Back in the day when I was running heavy-network use network programmer conferences when email was the hot new technology, I left local-talk wire then ether cable then wireless routers in place in hotels and sold it to them as a service after I made it happen.  I went back to one of those hotels a few years later, after a change in management, and was proudly shown the extra power that came down from the ceiling in several of the rooms that I had used as labs where I’d set up fifty computers and needed power for all of them and was told that all their conference rooms had – golly, gosh wow! – built in ethernet connections.  Well, yes, I kinda knew that.

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