lists.eckel at gmail.com
Sun Mar 16 12:10:58 CET 2008
If the following seems unnecessarily harsh, it was even more harsh for
me to discover that the time and money I had spent to get to my
favorite conference had been sold to vendors, presenting me as a
captive audience they could pitch to.
I believe that this year's Pycon organizers suffered from inexperience
and naivete, because they didn't know that some vendors will ask for
anything just to see how far they can push it. And that it's a
negotiation, that you must push back rather than give in just because
the conference might get some money for it. More importantly, that the
imperative to grow Pycon does not mean "at all costs." I've already
spoken to more than one vendor who was dismayed by the state of
things, so we are not talking about all vendors here by any means.
At first the morning plenary sessions -- where the entire conference
audience was in a single room -- just seemed a bit commercial. But
then I slowly figured out that the so-called "diamond keynotes" were
actually sold to vendors. It must have sounded great to some vendors:
you get to pitch to everyone and nothing else is going on so the
audience is trapped.
But it gets worse. The lightning talks, traditionally the best, newest
and edgiest part of the conference, were also sold like commercial air
time. Vendors were guaranteed first pick on lightning talk slots, and
we in the audience, expectantly looking forward to interesting and
entertaining content, again started to feel like things were awfully
commercial. And what seemed like a good idea, moving lightning talks
into plenary sessions with no competition, began to look like another
way to deliver a captive audience to vendors.
What was supremely frustrating was discovering that the people wanting
to give REAL lightning talks had been pushed off the end of the list
by this guarantee to vendors. We didn't get to see the good stuff, the
real stuff, because that time had been sold.
On top of that, the quality of the presentations was unusually low.
I'd say that 80% were not worth going to -- there were definitely some
good ones, but it was a lot of pain to discover them.
In my opinion, open spaces should have had greater status and billing,
with eyes-forward talks and vendor sessions offered only as possible
alternatives. Especially, vendor sessions should not be presented as
"keynotes" during plenary sessions. I think it took a little while
for people to catch on to the idea that they could have control of
their own experience through the open spaces and that the main
offerings were not the only option.
The worst thing about the whole experience was the feeling that
someone was trying to trick me and control me into watching these
things, presenting them under the guise of real keynotes and real
lightning talks. My trust has been violated. I paid a lot, in both
money and time, to be at this conference just to be herded into a room
and have my eyeballs sold to the highest bidder. And it's going to bug
me, especially when I think about coming back next year. I'm going to
need a lot of reassurance that this isn't going to happen again.
I think a lot of people have been caught up in the idea that we need
to commercialize Python, and ride some kind of wave of publicity the
way that Java and C# and Rails seem to have done. This kind of
thinking leads to bad, impulsive decisions that can have long-lasting
or even permanent negative impacts on the community. Maybe things
don't seem to be happening fast enough in comparison with those
commercial endeavors, but this is a grass-roots movement. It's never
been about moving as fast as you can. It's always been about vision,
not tactics. For many, it's fun and exciting and really important to
"catch the wave," but the wave passes and then you've just exhausted
yourself chasing a brief bump in the water. Python may not have caught
any particular wave, but it's always grown, steadily.
I know what the argument for the results of Pycon 2008 will be: we
needed the money. My answer: it's not worth it. If this is what you
have to do to grow the conference, then don't. If the choice is
between selling my experience to vendors and reducing the size of the
conference, then cut the size of the conference. Keep the quality of
my experience as the primary decision criteria, or I'll stop coming.
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