Tech Conferences Struggle With Technology

When will tech conferences master technology? If recent experience is any guide, it appears that providing adequate WiFi access at tech conferences is as challenging as finding a cure for cancer. Is it just me, or does this strike the rest of you as strange and supremely ironic?

At February’s LegalTech 2009 NY conference, there were persistent problems with the WiFi.  In that case, it wasn’t made available in all sessions initially.  For those of us in the Web 2.0 track, sessions without reliable WiFi were frustrating to say the least.  And then this week we saw another WiFi problem at, of all places, the E2.0 Conference.  The tweet stream on this subject has been funny and at times rather sad.

First, elation:

elsuaRT @VMaryAbraham: @elsua Wifi Works!!! Perhaps you died and went to heaven? 😉 #e2conf < Yes, I did! & tables available, too! Impressed!

VMaryAbraham @elsua So glad the organizers understand the value of Wifi. Wish all tech conferences got this. Enjoy! #e2conf

elsua@VMaryAbraham Yeah, I know what you mean, Mary; last year it wasn’t a pretty experience, but so far, this year, it ROCKS!! (So far 😉 )

Then reality sets in:

VMaryAbraham RT @VMaryAbraham: @elsua @elsuacon I’ve found the solution to the wifi problem: Stay at home and watch the livestream! #e2conf

elsua@VMaryAbraham LOL! I am actually thinking you may have luckier with us struggling to get a connect working, while you guys watch it live! 😀

KMHobbie@VMaryAbraham so you have *more* access to #e20conf info sitting in NY than I do here in the room?? *grump*

carlfrappaolo RT @KMHobbie: @VMaryAbraham so you have *more* access to #e20conf info sitting in NY than I do here in the room?? *grump* FUNNY

e2conf RT @VMaryAbraham: @carlfrappaolo While I’m sorry I’m not able to meet all of you at #e2conf, I’m loving not having to fight for WiFi. (ha)

vanderwalIcon_lock@VMaryAbraham LOL! Yes, I keep looking on the ground for WiFi as it drops so much.

VMaryAbraham @dberlind Best of all, the WiFi in my home is GREAT! Too bad we can’t say the same for the Waterfront Westin. #e2conf

elsuacon #e2conf My energy levels are running on a deep low after several unsuccessful attempts to get decent wi-fi connectivity working :-///

elsuacon Suspecting #e2conf hasn’t been trending in Twitter during this time due to the yo-yo effect of the wifi connection; still working in patches

elsuacon PRT @leebryant: wifi down all session, but fantastic presentation from IDEO about their tools – massive congrats to @thoughtfarmer #e20conf

VMaryAbraham Condolences! RT @benkepes: It is very hard to live blog an event with no WiFi – frustrated at #e2conf

benkepes@VMaryAbraham even worse to be sitting in the hotel lobby trying decide between attending or connectivity….

VMaryAbraham @benkepes Forget connectivity. Attend the conference. Your pen and paper still work. Right? #e2conf

So help me out here.  What makes this technology so difficult for the organizers of tech conferences?  Is WiFi intrinsically difficult, or do all of us in the Web 2.0/tech space need to start practicing what we preach?

[Photo Credit:  Goldberg]

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14 thoughts on “Tech Conferences Struggle With Technology

  • June 25, 2009 at 1:38 am
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    The answer is simple. Contract with a site that CAN do wifi. Microsoft, SAP and others manage it OK. To say this was supposed to be E2.0, it kinda makes the event laughable.

  • June 25, 2009 at 7:37 am
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    One issue with venue-provided wi-fi that I've observed is very often reality does not live up to what is promised or advertised. We see this often enough on the consumer side where the wi-fi in hotels, cafes or conference centers. Common problems include weak signals overall, large dead zones, slow back-haul, crowded channels, poor user registration technology, no support for VPN connections and support for a limited number of simultaneous users.

    The only real way for an event organizer to know about these issues to see the venues connectivity in action with another event or conference before they sign their contract for the venue. Sadly this is not always possible, and venues use this to their advantage by over-selling what they are truly able or willing to provide. Even in tech conferences the event planner does not have a sufficient technology background to ask the detailed questions about the connectivity on offer. I can tell you from my own experience organizing events that it is also the rare venue sales rep that can truthfully answer technical questions.

    On top of performance issues are the ludicrous charges many venues apply to make wi-fi available for an event, which basically makes offering connectivity something outside of the financial wherewithal for many organizations.

    I was at a Gartner conference recently where the wi-fi connectivity was excellent. When I asked the program managers how they pulled this off, they told me that they usually order a fixed line broadband or dedicated access to the Internet and deploy their own wi-fi equipment throughout the venue. This is certainly preferable if the organizers have the technical capability to deploy, manage and support that approach. I would not be surprised to find that many venues will either outright prohibit this approach or claim that they are unable to accommodate the technical requirements for such an approach. When all else fails you can always blame the unions.

  • June 25, 2009 at 10:39 pm
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    Since most tech conferences fall short on this, I suspect that connectivity
    is not a priority for the organizers. What a shame.

    Mary

  • June 25, 2009 at 11:10 pm
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    What a sad state of affairs, August. How do we help conference organizers
    change this for the better?

    – Mary

  • June 26, 2009 at 10:39 am
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    It's a *very* difficult technical problem to get rock-solid mobile out to a conference. Realistically if you want to guarantee this you've got to make it a prime item on your conference budget – and thus your attendee's cost to participate.

    Check out this crazy article on the Obama inauguration and its momentarily crippling impact on the US cellular networks. Imagine the same sort of thing on a smaller scale being necessary for every tech conference.

    There are a few companies and products out there aiming to solve this problem but it's just not big enough – yet – for everyone to really “get” it. If more of these conferences were run by centralized management maybe they'd be able to insitutionalize a proper Wifi process but then they'd probably wind up irritating con-goers with the other aspects of a tightly managed experience.

  • June 26, 2009 at 10:42 am
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    It's even harder for conference organizers to wrap their minds around when you consider that attendees of techy conferences like e2conf are using orders of magnitude more bandwidth than attendees of other industry trade shows.

    I continue to think that anyone attending these things needs to go in with open eyes and *not* expect usable wifi at any time throughout the show. Take a 3g phone and figure out a way to tether your laptop to it.

    If that won't work, set up a post by email function for your blog (or use posterous) and use a blackberry/iphone/whatever to blog/tweet to your heart's content. You might have trouble sampling the hashtag stream in realtime that way but you can still keep your output level high.

  • June 26, 2009 at 11:09 am
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    One approach is for conference planners to reach out to other conference planners and attendees that have experience in specific venues to ask about their experience with connectivity in those venues. When all else fails pose a question on Twitter, a LinkedIn group and engage your personal and professional network.

  • June 26, 2009 at 3:16 pm
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    Although we blame the conference organizers, it is the hotels that let us down. Hotels don't understand that internet connectivity has become a utility, like plumbing. They still charge an extra fee for connecting to the internet in your room.

    At the Westin last year, they installed extra connection spots during E2.0. Someone ripped them out over the course of the year.

  • June 26, 2009 at 3:36 pm
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    I agree with Doug and recognize it's not the conference planners, but the Hotel. I'm sure the conference planners at our E2.0 conference last year made the Westin (who hosted this event again this year) painfully aware of our connectivity issues and requirements last year.

    Did they not think a new model of business and support for a tech event was required? Maybe this requires a “Conference & Event Planning 2.0” mindset that hotels and conference facilities need to think of and adapt to as well. I like Doug's point – “connectivity has become a utility, like plumbing” for all the same reasons we all just discussed this past week.

  • June 27, 2009 at 3:37 pm
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    Daniel –

    Given the enthusiastic use of these resources by the tech crowd, perhaps self-help solutions (like the 3g phone) are the only path forward. Too bad these solutions aren't cheap. We could transform society with cheap/free widely-available, reliable WiFi.

    – Mary

  • June 27, 2009 at 3:39 pm
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    Doug –

    Connectivity=Plumbing. Too true! The hotel hosting ILTA09 is charging folks a daily fee for Internet access. The fee is mandatory. It will be interesting to see if the access is widely available or limited to hotel rooms.

    – Mary

  • June 27, 2009 at 7:37 pm
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    Daniel –

    Given the enthusiastic use of these resources by the tech crowd, perhaps self-help solutions (like the 3g phone) are the only path forward. Too bad these solutions aren't cheap. We could transform society with cheap/free widely-available, reliable WiFi.

    – Mary

  • June 27, 2009 at 7:39 pm
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    Claire & Doug –

    Connectivity=Plumbing. Too true! The hotel hosting ILTA09 is charging folks a daily fee for Internet access. The fee is mandatory. It will be interesting to see if the internet access is widely available or limited to hotel rooms. Let's hope they've adopted Claire's “Conference & Event Planning 2.0” mindset and execute flawlessly. (Yes, I am an incurable optimist…)

    – Mary

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