Conference v Unconference

Disclosure: I was covering the conference as an hired blogger by Blog Expert.

So, Webcom was interesting, a couple of excellent talks, a couple of more so so ones. The thing that kept coming back to me is the difference in setup and mentality between a more business oriented version, such as this, and unconferences. It’s a topic that’s been discussed at length but with our second BarCampMontréal just a few weeks back and RoCoCoCamp in a week, it’s current events around here.

Comparing RoCoCoCamp with Webcom, quality of presentations would be pretty subjective and the former hasn’t happened yet but a few things we can compare.

  • Registration: free vs $395
  • Duration: 3 days vs 1
  • Organisation: Open with a number of volunteers pitching in vs a somewhat closed process, conference is run as a business venture.
  • Venue: SAT vs OACI (most people probably don’t know that one; awesome (although a tad too big for this event))
  • Philosophy: Open source and collaborative vs star based and used an adversarial “duel” as it’s main draw (and the two speakers didn’t really disagree, they were pitted against each other from the start for effect).

    Again, quite subjective but since it was definitely a recurring theme at Webcom lets compare the “stars” present. Scratch that, I just got hives trying to do that. Can’t weigh and compare the value of people like that but have a look at both lineups. From my own gut feeling ratings and valuations, RoCoCoCamp has a better lineup. Webcom had a good one, the other one is more interesting to me.

    The goal here is not to harp on Webcom. It had a better lineup than the previous one, was run pretty smoothly, food was good, venue was fantastic.

    I find however that you’d be hard pressed to find an aspect where it outclasses the last BarCamp or RoCoCo, on any level. In a couple of years, when (if) it’s much bigger, they’ll be able to draw more big speakers (assuming you decide you need them) and the financial structure will be useful for that.

    In the mean time though, I wonder if using unconferences as a “ramp” for future new conferences could be a good way to go. Start by sponsoring and supporting a grass roots conference and then later on when it’s reached a certain level where the next stage is paying and/or flying in people, assemble a financed side and keep the unconference associated. Kind of the inverse of what O’Reilly did with Web 2.0 Expo and Web 2.0 Open where they tacked on an unconference this year. Could also simply be done with more sponsors.

    Don’t misread this though, I’m not saying use the free version and other people’s work then benefit from it. I’m saying prepare and hold the conference like any camp and when you see opportunities to go more structured with a bigger budget, add workshops with big names, organize an add on or a pre-conference day. Hard mix to get while keeping volunteers happy and un-exploited but could be interesting.

    Mostly thinking out loud here suggesting it but one thing I know for sure is that looking at everything all day yesterday, I couldn’t quite see what couldn’t have been done open source style.