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August 08, 2003

Putting a Value to a Conference

In the past days there has been some discussion about the registration cost of professional conferences, especially the PDC ($1700) and BloggerCon ($500).  The discussion about the PDC is that without question the conference produces value for its fee, but that the fee in itself is just too high for some people. With BloggerCon people remarked with $500 for a one day conference with no history to show for, and a vague semi-technical content its return-on-investment (in contrast to for example the PDC) is questionable.

I thought a bit about this because I visits about 10-12 conferences per year, although most of them are academically oriented. I think there are a number of criteria to consider when selecting a conference:

  • Innovation - will you hear new stuff that may challenge you
  • Technical - will you learn about techniques/technologies you will use
  • Political - will you get a better of view at the strategic level
  • Networking - will you hook up with (new) people
  • Career - will this conference help you to advance your professional goals
  • Entertainment - Will you be able to have some fun
  • Location - if the conference sucks can you go somewhere else

Warning! The following is not scientific:

If I takes these criteria and apply them a number of professional conferences that have just happened or are about to take place, I get the following:

Conference  I  T  P  N  C  E  L  Days  Price  Value
Gnomedex  7  7  6  9  4  9  4  2  99  92.9
PDC  9  10  5  8  8  7  8  5  1700  16.2
BloggerCon  6  5  9  7  3  7  6  1  500  8.6
O'Reilly MacOSX  8  8  7  8  5  7  5  3  795  18.1
XML-DevCon  8  10  5  8  8  6  5  2  299  33.4

The weights for each of the criteria is from 1-10, and are made up by me for a fictive professional who wants to go to each of the conferences. Your mileage may vary. (BTW I am not sure what the registration for XML-DevCon was). The return value is calculated by 100 / (cost of the conference / (sum of the weights * number of days)).

Gnomedex is the absolute winner in terms of return on investment, with XML-DevCon also as a positive value maker. PDC and O'Reilly probably will give you a similar value.

BloggerCon however will need to do something drastic, either in its program or in its fee, if it wants to provide real value for it participants.

Posted by Werner Vogels at August 8, 2003 09:09 AM

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This is one of the most innovative approaches to conferences I've seen lately.

I disagree with some of your numbers (not just ones that'd go in Microsoft's direction, either).

But, it's all subjective, so who knows what the right numbers are?

Posted by: Robert Scoble on August 8, 2003 09:19 PM

You're absolutely right about the numbers. I can pretend to be a proffesional developer, but I remain an academic and I can afford to have an irreal word view. I am probably not viewing the potential of each conference correctly.

In all honesty the moment I had written the numbers down I knew I didn't agree with myself about them.

Posted by: Werner Vogels on August 8, 2003 09:49 PM

You could easily develop criteria for each of the subitems (to explain why something got a 9 or a 4). Each conference evaluation should also include some editorial. A final touch would be to divide the conferences into baskets and evaluate conference in those baskets based on the needs of specific user groups (technical, strategic, etc.). I think you might be able to get the top Google rating on most of these conferences fairly easily since many don't have a permanent Web presence (or one that is in place 6 months prior to the event). This would enable you to turn this into a business.

Posted by: John Robb on August 11, 2003 12:15 PM

Leave it to a true entrepreneur like John to evaluate an idea and immediately see a potential business behind it.

Also from some e-mails I received, I get the impression that a place where past conferences can be evaluated (using some structure), which then are used to predict the possible value of the next conference installments really seems to fulfill a need. A professional could provide a personal profile, and the system would indicate what type of value the conference would have for you.

Even in academia where we have been fighting with an explosion of conferences and workshops in the past 3-4 years, this could be a valuable service. The value of some academic conferences seems obvious but the set of conferences just below the ultimate top are always a hard choice. It could even be used as a guideline where to subject your paper. Or for the professional conferences circuit where to subject your presentations.

The first issue I can think of is how to build up the initial database with knowledge.

Posted by: Werner Vogels on August 11, 2003 01:00 PM

Here are a couple numbers that I've come up with for conferences I attended this year:

I: 10 T: 10 P: 6 N: 7 C: 7 E: 10 L: 5
Days: 3
Price: 525
Value: 31.4

I: 10 T: 10 P: 8 N: 8 C: 8 E: 7 L: 8
Days: 5
Price: 1395
Value: 21.1

I keep saying that as cool as Gnomedex is, MacHack blows it away when it comes to coolness. Now I have numbers to back it up... ;)

Posted by: Chris Hanson on August 11, 2003 05:32 PM

You're just not hanging with the right people at Gnomedex Chris.

Posted by: Jason D- on August 31, 2003 09:29 PM

In Austin TX South by southwest strikes a good balance between geekiness, politics, emerging technology and creativity. Boy I feel lucky that I live only 200 miles away!

Posted by: Robert Nagle on September 18, 2003 04:43 PM