Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Web 2.0 Expo NYC-orama!

I just went to my first tech conference, Web2.0 Expo NYC (as opposed to those in Berlin or San Francisco) put on by O'Reilly Media. I copied lots of notes, page after page, the old-fashioned way, but mainly noticed the many ways that tech conferences are different from academic conferences*.

I went to my first academic conference in 1990 and probably have attended somewhere between 30 and 40. It's one of the rare times I get to go anywhere, usually to a city I want to see or somewhere I've never been before. In the upcoming year, it's Chicago and SF. About every other year I'll participate by presenting some of my research.

So here are some differences:

COST
Tech: Expensive, anywhere from $1200-3000 dollars. I assume that is deducted as a business expense? Ouch! Includes lunch though!

Academic: Inexpensive for students, between $25-100 dollars (more for on-site registration) and students bitch about having to pay that much. Between $100-300 for senior scholars. No food included.

DRESS
Tech: Men: Casual, anti-suit atmosphere, jeans & sneakers, even t-shirts & shorts. Women: Whatever you feel like wearing that day.

Academic: Men: Wrinkled suits that they wore while they slept on the plane. Same suit every year. Women: Matched long flowing blouse & long skirt (think professional earth mother).

COMMUNICATION
Tech: A lot of people are continually connected to the internet via their laptops. The most crowded area of the conference was where people could recharge their computers. People were tweeting, checking email during presentation. Use of mobile phones only for texting.

Academic: Mostly one-on-one conversations in conference center hallways and hotel bars. Most people in sessions watch presenters or consult their enormous program books to see what they are going to attend next. Occasionally, you'll see someone on a cell phone outside a meeting room.

PRESENTATIONS
Tech: Every presenter talked, no notes, through a powerpoint presentation. Just one presenter or, rarely a panel of people just talking about their jobs or the industry. Fifty minute sessions.

Academic: Four to six people reading papers to a captive audience. Strict moderator watching clock and motioning speakers to wrap things up (everyone goes over their allotted time). Sessions last between 2 and 2 1/2 hours. Sometimes no time for Q&A.

PLENARY/KEYNOTE TALKS
Tech: Lots of keynote talkers, big names in their field but only give between 5 and 30 minutes to talk! That's barely enough time to present one idea...soundbites!

Academic: Just 2 or 3 one-hour plenary sessions by people you should know but never heard of which are preceded by terribly long introductions of the speakers and sometimes award ceremonies. Almost mandatory to attend but usually little more than paying homage to senior scholars.

EXHIBITION HALL
Tech: A fair number of exhibitors, often wearing color-coordinated clothing. Booth crawl one night featuring free alcohol. Sometimes there are booth girls wearing high heels, short skirts, often blond, who call out to attendees passing by to get their attention. Lots of promotional stuff (swag), games & giveaways to draw your attention to booth.

Academic: Many more exhibitors, book publishers who are indistinguishable from the conference attendees. You can't tell who is there to browse and who is there to sell books. You sometimes need to flag a book rep down to purchase books and everyone is buying books, sometimes hundreds (especially people from outside the U.S.). Nothing is free but there are often discounts for on-site purchases. It's like Christmas only you spend money on yourself.

EVENING EVENTS
Tech: A few night time events, hosted but more often cash bar, at a local nightclub or restaurant. People create their own after parties and some events are invitation only. People take lots of pictures of themselves and their friends in crazy poses and post them online.

Academic: Attendees go on a rotation of receptions between 7 and 11 pm hosted by a university or book publisher. Mostly free alcohol so more drinking involved than at tech conference (a surprise, no?). Those left standing at the end of an evening who don't have a 8 am panel scheduled the next morning gather in headquarter hotels for more drinking. There is a huge danger of embarrassing yourself in front of senior scholars. Luckily, no one is ever taking a picture of you.

EVALUATION OF CONFERENCE
Tech: Attendees asked to evaluate and "rate" each presenter whose session they attended. Ratings probably determine who gets asked again to present at future conferences.

Academic: Attendees asked about the logistics of the event (food, location, shuttle busses). Lousy presenters usually present every year, no compensation to those who suffered through their presentation on labor disputes among poultry workers. You try to remember the spectacular failures so you can avoid them in the future.

There were commonalities, too, but these are some of the things which stood out to me. Who knows, maybe next year, I'll get a media pass and blog the conference!

I had a really great time, learned a lot, hoped to share some of that in posts in next few weeks if they seem appropriate.

*Edit: I realized that I never defined "academic conference". I mean conferences or annual meetings of professional associations of academics (professors & graduate students), usually held between August and December. The groups focus on a discipline & mostly have three initials containing the letter "A"...AAA, ASA, AHA, AAR, APA, etc.

4 comments:

liza said...

Ha! This had a lot of resonance for me because I move back and forth through both tech and academic worlds.

I'll make this correction, though: I got _way_ better swag at the American Library Association conference (free books, many actually good!) than I've ever gotten from any tech conference. And among tech conferences, I thought Web 2.0 Expo NYC was the worst in terms of swag.

The best thing that's happened in tech conferences in the last two years is that they've finally started distributing women's t-shirts. Thankfully we still have shorter lines for the bathroom.

Jackline said...

Hi Nice Blog .This web time clock is used to track the time and attendance of employees, and at the same time track labor activity against specific parts, jobs, and operations.

Liz said...

Thanks for your comment, Liza. I think I need to hang out with librarians more...some of the smartest graduate students in our program dropped out to become librarians. Didn't care for the teaching aspect. But free books! That is almost worth the price of admission!

Jackline, I'm not sure what the time clock has to do with my conference post but I'll check it out.

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