Le Web ‘09

Have to admit, I’m kinda sad. Today and tomorrow the best web/tech conference in Europe is on in Paris… and for the first time in 4 years it’ll be without me. Since I had a good part in the sponsorship of the conference by Microsoft, the fact that I’m not even going this year makes the difference even bigger.

The first time I went to Le Web was in 2006. The conference just changed name from Les Blogs to Le Web 3 and MSN UK had been a sponsor for the first 2 edition of Les Blogs with Windows Live Spaces. With Le Web 3 we decided to sponsor from the EMEA budget and link it to Windows Live in general and not just Spaces… it wasn’t just about blogging anymore so that made sense. If you were there in 2006 you might remember that little piece of network cable in your welcome bag with which you could win a smartphone at our booth, it worked rather well I’ll tell ya :)

leweb3
© Peter Forret

That was where I met Hugh MacLeod for instance (where he did this interview), our paths would cross quite often again… especially in Paris.

In 2007 we were back, this time with shared sponsorship from the European and the French team of Microsoft. This was the year that Le Web became big, like really big. It was a always a good conference, but in 2007 it changed into big. Hans Rosling, Philippe Starck, Yossi Vardi, … just look at some of the videos I selected back then and see for yourself. Made a lot of good new contacts that year, unfortunately our presence (Microsoft’s I mean) wasn’t really good that year.

Last year Microsoft BizSpark took over the lead in the sponsorship, just like it’s the case this year. And I made sure we had the Blue Monster in Paris, with Hugh as our guest. Good fun, I’ll tell you that much.

hughinparis
© Dennis Howlett

Good thing about Le Web though is that the event is broadcasted Live, check out this page from tomorrow morning to follow the livestream from the main stage (via Ustream). Or check out the Le Web iPhone app.

And let’s hope I can make it back to Paris next year. Greetings to all my friends in Paris and good luck to Loic and Geraldine for what will be most certainly another great conference ;)

Hugh at LeWeb 08

As I mentioned about a week ago in the ‘Blue Monster in Paris’ post, Hugh MacLeod was a regular guest at the Microsoft BizSpark and Live Mesh booth at LeWeb in Paris this year. We had agreed with Hugh to try out something different than usual and everybody who stopped by while Hugh was there could get a personal Hughcard and maybe even something more… like say a signed Blue Monster wine bottle for instance.

"Amsterdam Blogs" by Hugh MacLeod @ Le Web 08  hermione

It was great to see a lot of people stopped by and had cartoons drawn on business cards, wine bottles, body parts, computers, etc. All good fun and a lot of times real conversation starters, just like we hoped it to be.

Those of you that were interested in the event will all probably have read what The Guardian had to say about it, well if you did then make sure you read Thomas Crampton’s answer to that as well. Every year when I look back at LeWeb it is with the eyes of both an attendee as a sponsor. Every year there are some things that could have been better (yes it was cold, yes I liked last year’s venue more, yes we were definitely spoilt re food last year, …) and there are always plenty of reasons why I will be back next year.

It’s still one of the best conferences for networking, there’s all kinds of great content to be discovered and you just know it’ll start a conversation just like the years before. When I checked with the program manager for BizSpark or the startups that were able to show off what they got as part of that program, feedback was very good. When I checked with the Live Mesh guys, feedback was good. And quite a few people went home with a personal cartoon… yeah it was good for me. Thanks again for joining us Hugh!

Blue Monster in Paris

Next week we’re heading to Paris again for what is probably one of the most exiting tech/web events in Europe: LeWeb. This year Microsoft is the main sponsor and so make sure you come and check us out. And while you’re at it, bring your business cards as Hugh Macleod will be a regular guest and he might just end up drawing a cartoon on the back of it ;)

blue-monster-spritzed-thumb

We’re also going to bring some Blue Monster Sauvignon Blanc with us but more on that later. For those that would like to get a chance to get one of those right now already, I’m actually going to give away 6 bottles right here, right now. (that is 1 bottle per winner to be clear). All you have to do is let me know in the comments why you should win it. By the start of LeWeb next week I will pick the winners (with the help of Hugh) out of the hopefully numerous comments ;) Make it original. Oh and just so you know, these bottles aren’t for sale.

Come and say hi if you’re going to be at LeWeb. Go here if you’re interested in finding out more about the Blue Monster.

The conference post

After I came back from the Web2.0 Expo in Berlin I thought about writing a post on what I like and don’t like about conferences. A recent post from Laurent Haug (who organizes LIFT) reminded me of that idea so here we go. I wanted to start with highlighting Laurent’s presentation as it’s actually a good introduction for the post I wanted to write anyway. Here it is:

If there’s one conference done right than that’s probably LIFT, hence why it’s such a good introduction. I think it’s fair to say that I am a ‘conference regular’ and on many occasions I see things I would like to see done differently… and for a reason. To be complete I’ve never organized a conference myself so my view is purely based on my own experience.

Location

With the increasing availability of real-time video, twitter, etc it has never been so easy as today to follow a conference online. Hence why it matters more than ever where your event takes place, especially in times of recession. How long to travel, where to stay, what about local transportation to the venue,… . Luckily we have some amazing conferences in Europe and don’t necessarily have to go the US for that (on the contrary) and travel within Europe doesn’t have to be expensive. Still it’s a key part of the choice.

Venue

I think too often the choice of the venue is purely based on budget rather than anything else, which is not how it should be. Personally I like venues that are somewhat unique because they give extra flavor to the event. I also prefer to have a limited number of rooms/areas to be used. At an event like LIFT you have the main room and right next to it an open space where you can network, at Web2.0 Expo there where god knows how many areas (although the venue wasn’t that big) which made it sometimes difficult to find people. Also the venue has got to be big enough, it’s never nice to sit on the ground in the plenary room because it lacks capacity (like at Web2.0 Expo). Is it that much to ask for that when you sell 1000 tickets you can actually seat 1000 people?!

Theme

This is something I miss at most conferences: LeWeb this year is themed around ‘Love’, LIFT in February around “Where did the future go?”, etc but most of the times it’s just ‘Web2.0’ or so which you can hardly call a theme. What is the story they want to convey with their conference? What is it that connects all presentations to each other? What was the motivation to go after those speakers to begin with? What’s the take-away attendees should go home with? During the keynotes at Web2.0 Expo in Berlin this lack of a common theme became clear all too quickly. If I remember well there were 5 short presentations in the keynote: 2 about startups and VC’s, a presentation about open source hardware, another one about the Drupal.org redesign, … It doesn’t matter at this point if those were good presentations or not, the questions is what links them to each other. I sure couldn’t tell. It really isn’t good enough to line up a bunch of speakers on a stage to build a great conference.

Audience

We know from traditional mass media that you cannot target everyone, still that’s what a lot of conference organizers seem to want to do. Organizers have to choose whether they want the geeks or the newbies, the digital media strategists or the traditional advertisers, … All for one very simple reason, you’ll always disappoint half the audience if you don’t make a choice. Unless – yes there is a way – there are several tracks, but I think you should think of this as 2 conferences in 1, which means both tracks have to be rock solid for that specific audience which hardly ever is the case. Big conferences like PDC manage to do that but I think it’s a tough task. So whenever a conference sums up pretty much every possible job out there as target audience, beware.

Content

Once the theme is set – and audience defined – it’s time to go after speakers. That’s part of why I liked last year’s LeWeb so much I think. You could clearly tell that the program was built up (by Cathy Brooks) based on theme and audience. Less on ‘friends of’ or ‘same old, same old’ or sponsor contributions. As a sponsor I can regret the latter but I don’t as I want our contributions to fit in like everyone else. Too many times the content being presented is only loosely linked to each other, some of the presentations are old (as in – seen that exact presentation already a year ago) and often only the first and the last slide don’t sound like a product pitch. I know it’s hard work for a speaker to come up with new stuff all the time (and yes you can use your talk more than once) but some revision every now and then is very welcome. Same goes for organizers, follow up with your speakers and what they will present.

Networking

It’s probably half of the value of each conference, meeting with old and new ‘friends’, in many cases meeting online friends in real life for the first time. It’s part of the reason why the venue matters so much for me, make networking easy to do. And organize side events, or make it easy for people to find all ‘unofficial’ side events organized around the conference. And then I don’t only talk about the speaker/sponsor dinner but in many cases also the Barcamps, GGDs, Workshops, … etc When you visit a conference, you want to maximize your time away from work – and a big part of that is in networking.

Hotel & Transport

On many occasions people will visit the city the conference is in for the first time, or definitely not often enough to know their way around. And yes, we’ll all get around, but I always find it a good idea when a conference organizer tries to cut some deals with hotels in the neighborhood of the conference, in several price categories. It eases the search for attendees to find a good place to stay AND since there’s a better chance for networking since more people will stay in the same places. And inform about all transportation means to get there, or set up transport from the main hotels (like at PDC).

Not@Conference

Although it’s on the list for the last 2 years, I again couldn’t make it to Picnic this year. But I didn’t miss the conference really. As they do a good job at offering LIVE coverage – their own video etc combined with tweets, photos, … that people posted using the picnic tag. At SIME they didn’t offer this, but then they had their LIVE wall to which people (both at the conference and those at home) to send questions for the qna’s after each keynote or panel. For PDC there even was a #notatpdc hashtag in use. Think about this, it won’t keep people away from the conference, it just broadens reach.

I probably missed a few things that you think should be on the list (feel free to point it out to me) but these are the key elements for a good conference for me. I know price wasn’t mentioned but that was on purpose. I didn’t want to start a discussion about which price was right for which conference as I believe most are good value for money.

What aspect of a good conference is missing for you? Or what do you think  about the list?

[Update] Just spent another day at a conference today (Creativity World Forum) and it struck me I forgot to talk about 2 other times on my list: WIFI and food. WIFI because it never really works anywhere (although I must say the Microsoft Event guys do a terrific job at that). And food because it’s pretty much never any good… last’ year’s LeWeb being the exception to confirm the rule. The CWF today had foreseen food for like 200 people (unfortunately they sold 1500 tickets) so I guess that’s what must have been what triggered the reminder to add this to the list ;)