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A Tale of Two Conferences — Gnomedex vs. Java One

On Tuesday morning I spent an hour talking about the Amazon Web Services to about 1000 people at Java One in San Francisco.

Having just spent 2 days at Gnomedex last week, it was interesting to compare the two conferences.

First, let’s talk style…

Gnomedex was a very personal, person-to-person style of event. In fact, Gnomedex is like Sunday dinner around a big, comfortable table, surrounded by close family and choice friends. It seemed like everyone knew each other already, be it from previous conferences, emails, shared interests, or by reading blogs. If you didn’t know the right people, Chris Pirillo would make every effort to connect you up in real time. There was a lot of conversation, a lot of networking, and a healthy disrespect for any “authority” that the presenters might or might not have — the audience was not shy about doing “on the fly research” (also known as Googling) to fact check the speakers, or to speak up if they found something objectionable.

Java One was far more corporate, staid, and to be honest, not all that interesting. Java is this generation’s COBOL: robust, ready for mission-critical applications, and chock full of acronyms, most of which start with the letter “J” (who would name their project JDIC, by the way?). There was a lot of talk about modeling, planning, design, and architecture. Great stuff, and necessary stuff, but it doesn’t really get my adrenaline flowing in the same way that blogging, XML, podcasting, and cool applications do.

Ok, so how about the physical facilities?

At Gnomedex, the facility was chosen and set up with the expectation that most attendees would have their laptops open and that they would be blogging about their thoughts and observations in real time. The Bell Harbor Convention Center was the perfect venue for this. The center has row upon row of nice, solid tables and comfy high-class chairs. Although the Gnomedex attendees managed to max out the wireless facilities (first time it was IP addresses and then raw bandwidth), their was, in the end, enough to go around.

The Java One planners certainly didn’t expect each and every attendee in the Moscone Center to have their laptop in front of them at all times. My 1200 seat room had a single LinkSys wireless access point tie-wrapped to a 10 foot tall pole. I am sure that this wouldn’t have had enough capacity for everyone in the room to get online at the same time, had they chosen to do so. I didn’t see a lot of laptops open in the audience, so maybe they used past experience as a guide here.

Finally, what about the food?

This is where I wanted to start, but I had to dignify this post with my objective observations about the other points that I made above. As Microsoft figured out a long time ago, you need to feed geeks well in order to make a good impression.

Chris continued this proud tradition at Gnomedex, making sure that we were fed from sunup to sundown. All of the food was included in the most reasonable conference fee of just $399. We had a variety of choices for breakfast, a sumptuous buffet lunch, and continuous snacks, soft drinks, and so forth. Quality: high, variety: high. overall impression: great.

Lunch at Java One was mediocre, and that’s when I started thinking about this post. Yes, there are some serious logistical problems involved in feeding thousands of people, but it can be done. For a conference that costs over $2500, I expect more than lukewarm fried chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes, salad, and carrot cake for lunch! Quality: medium, variety: low, overall impression: poor.


Anyone who wants to see how to do a conference the right way needs to come to next year’s Gnomedex!

These are, as always, my personal opinions, and not those of my employer.