A lot of great stuff being written about what's wrong with conferences today. I have wanted to say something about them and I wrote this after initially just del.icio.us-ing what Anil said.
Every year I get asked which web conferences I'm going to. I always say "none."
I like meeting new people and talking about projects. I like hearing what people think are best practices and how they are solving their problems. I love hearing what they're working on and seeing it demonstrated.
But web conferences are so BORING. So expected. So...done before.
To me it's not that everyone is white or male, it's that a conference is so typically boring and safe. Did you get your badge yet? Did you check-in? Let's all stand around and drink. I am looking at people's badges as they walk by. I think that was Zeldman. Whoah Kottke is taller than I thought he'd be. Let's go sit in a room with our laptops. Hey these guys are disagreeing! Did he just say that?! Now everyone agrees! Look he just took this photo of the crowd and posted it to Flickr! What day are you leaving? Let's totally make a site together when we get back home!!!
It amazed me back in the first days of the web (when the money arrived) that all these great web writers were suddenly psyched about their book deals. It seemed like every person I liked to read was talking about how they just got a book deal and they couldn't say anything about it and how awesome is it that they were going to get to put all their stories in a paper book.
Oh sure, they had like 10,000 daily readers and they were updating like madmen with funny, interesting, wild, completely new ways of presenting ideas. They invented perma-links and discovered syndication. They moderated the conversations happening beneath their own stories (think about that for a second, that's cool). And suddenly they've got a boner because they were offered 3 inches of copy in Entertainment Weekly?
This is how I feel about people and their conferences. It's like all these people went to conferences back when they were run by Oracle's High Volume Transactional Database Whiz Bang Ops and thought, "Oh shit, this is how we're supposed to do it! Keynotes! Schwag bags! Closing party!" Have you ever seen Glengarry Glen Ross? Remember those salesmen sitting in that boiler room grasping at paper leads and hoping to win a set of steak-knives? That's what conferences are to me. A bunch of people doing things in some sad routine because that's how it's always been done. These are the people you invite to speak, these are the things you need to say, have an odd number of people on a panel, get some corporate sponsors, and have a breakfast or something to kick it all off.
My friend Merlin often tells me this joke about people. This one guy is looking around for his keys but can't seem to find them. Another guy walks up and asks, "Where did you last have them at?" And the first guy says, "Over there somewhere." So the second guy says, "Why aren't you looking over there?" And the first guy says, "Because the light's better over here."
I do not want to go to your conference because I've already been to your conference. Give me something different. The web is this wonderful place where we get to make our own rules about how things get done, why do we persist on doing it how they did it?