December 31, 2005
Received wisdom about conferences, pricing and so on
Recently, Eric Meyer, who along with Jeffrey Zeldman and Jason Santamaria held their first "An Event Apart" wrote about pricing for conferences. I started a short comment for the post, but it ended up being a bit bigger, so I thought I'd post it here.
Having had a little to do with conferences these last couple of years, I've both thought a great deal about pricing, and heard a lot of people's opinions about them, and all kinds of related stuff in that time. The comments to Eric's recent article contain many such opinions, about sponsorship, DVDs and other reuse, meals and the like. And given I've been thinking of writing a bit about running a conference, I thought I might do so in the context of that discussion.
First not to nitpick too much, but I think it is important to distinguish between a workshop and a conference. This is not to say either is better, rather they are different. AEA would be what I classify a workshop. WebEssentials is a conference (though many conferences, we05 included, include workshops as part of the program, usually for an additional fee.) We also run web development workshops on their own.
Why is the distinction important? I think because people are looking for different things at a workshop and a conference, and this will definitely impact on what a person thinks is reasonable pricing. The costs are rather different too - in ways which are probably a bit too involved to go into here.
What do people want from a workshop? They want to come away with greater practical skills in a certain area. They want to be able to do something they couldn't before, or to understand something they didn't before - something non trivial.
Over the course of a half day, a day or even two or more days, this is realistic.
For a conference, I think (and I certainly hope) attendees don't have this expectation. Rather, they want to be exposed to new stimulating ideas, techniques, people and so on, but probably realize they'll need to do some work themselves to really put what they come across into practice. Afterall, it's rare to get a conference session even of an hour, and if you go into much detail at all, you'd really not be able to cover much at all in that time.
Conferences in particular also provide a really good opportunity to expand and develop your professional relationships - you get to meet new people with similar interests, there are lunches, breaks, usually some kind of reception (that's why they are there, and why you pay for them, that expense is far from a waste as an attendee, the conference would be dramatically less valuable for you without these opportunities, I really believe).
OK, some specific ideas about pricing.
1. No one is ever going to get rich running a conference or workshops for developers. Maybe for managers, where you can charge an arm and a leg (several thousand for 3 days or so), but if you want to reach out to a broad spectrum of developers in government, industry, independents and so on, then there simply is no way you can make a lot of money doing it.
Trust me :-)
2. Different markets are clearly prepared to pay quite different amounts for similar events - WebEssentials charges close to half per day compared with similar conferences and workshops around the world. And it's not like our costs are lower - Sydney and Australia are world class cities in terms of pricing, and for our international speakers, we look after them well, and they are here for longer than they would be closer to home, so our costs there are very significant. Why do we charge so little? Because in the Australian market, it's not considered little - a lot of people are of the opinion it's a lot, not withstanding it's much cheaper than many overseas events, because they compare with local events here. Of course none of those local events feature the array of international speakers we do (which accounts for probably around 50% of our total costs), but that's not how people look at it.
The reason we can even think about doing the events we do is because we don't run it them a business - all the founders do pretty much all the work, and that time comes from our other endeavors, the ones that actually put food on our tables :-)
To be honest I don't think there would be a WebEssentials any other way. As much as anything it's a labor of love.
3. Sponsorship comes up all the time - people are forever suggesting we could get sponsorship and lower the prices (even further).
Forget about it.
Seriously, at least in Australia it is essentially a complete waste of time to pursue. We've pursued many avenues, all the way to the decision makers with quite a few local and international companies for whom we genuinely believe they'd get great value (BTW, westciv sponsors SxSW, so we know about this from both sides of the fence). The situation might be quite different elsewhere in the world, but here the interest in sponsoring one of the most talked about conferences of its kind anywhere, with more attendees than anything like it down here put together has been close to zero - and not, as I said, for lack of trying. Those events I've seen with apparently good sponsorship clearly put a lot of effort into drumming up sponsorship, particularly from companies they already have good relationships with, and very often, the sponsor's paw-prints are all over the conference. Keynote presentations which are little other than thinly disguised ads, logos and names on everything which moves - in essence, there is a cost to everything, so even if you are lucky to get good sponsorship, what are you willing to give up in its place? That being said, we welcome any interest from potential WE06 sponsors.
4. DVDs and so on.
As Eric observed, DVD and video production is expensive. If you want decent quality, you'll need trained professionals doing the whole thing. It will detract from the experience of the people at the event, as good sight lines for cameras will get in people's way. So you are already out of pocket thousands for the shoot, then you need to do minimum runs too make the per unit cost effective, so now you have inventory. You won't sell them all, I promise (even Joel Spolsky can't sell all the run of his recent professionally made documentary, in reality, how many DVDs do you think you are going to sell? Now divide it by 10). Then you need to handle sales on an ongoing basis, shipping, returns, customer enquiries, and so on. Selling DVDs is not your core business, running events is. Always remember that, and work harder at what you do best.
There is also the real potential that people think "I won't spend all that money and go, I'll just get the DVD", which is bad enough as your profit margins per DVD are likely to be even lower than for physical attendees, but I am convinced there will be a significant number of people who think "it's OK, I'll just get the DVD" and then not even do that.
5. It's hard
At least a couple of people had the good sense to comment
And trust me, the people putting them on are most likely subsidizing them with their unpaid work.
Now don't get me wrong. I've loved doing WebEssentials, it's been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I hope that we'll do many more. But I also hope this little glimpse behind the scenes has been interesting.
Oh, and Eric, I'll be in Austin for SxSW, so if you'd like some of this presented in person on the panel...
P.S. a little comment on SxSW and it's pricing
I really like SxSW - I've spoken there, will speak again this year, have sponsored it, and will do so again this year.
Why is it so much less than many other conferences? All the following are guesses, but my observations are
1. SxSW interactive is part of a broader festival of conferences - so they can benefit from economies of scale for all kinds of things
2. As far as I know, they pay for very few speakers - no fees, no airfares, no accommodation, no nice meals in restaurants, no transfers to and from airports. These add up. There goes as much as half your costs.
3. No food, meals, coffee breaks and so on (there are some cool parties, all I'd say at least significantly supported by sponsors). There goes perhaps 30-40% of your costs.
4. I'm sure Austin/Texas coughs up a bit - SxSW takes over Austin, and must be fantastic for the economy - both during the conference and more generally. I mean, I can imagine going to Austin some time outside of SxSW cause it's such a great town.
5. 3000-4000 paying attendees for SxSWi alone - if we got 3000 to WebEssentials, I think we might be able to lower the prices a bit too.
web 2.0 podcast
A couple of weeks back, I went down to Melbourne at the invitation of VictoriaOnline, to speak to well over a hundred local, state and federal government web developers and managers. (For my non Australian readers, Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, the state to the south of New South Wales (NSW) of which Sydney is the capital - unlike in the United States, the most obvious cities are state capitals here - almost invariably, US state capitals are places I've never heard of :-)
Anyway, because Melbourne is 1000km away, and many people couldn't necessarily make it to Sydney for WebEssentials, Jason Harrop at VictoriaOnline asked if I could go and give a presentation on WE05 (and the web's) hot topic - you guessed it
Katamari Damacy Web 2.0.
In it I took a look at the philosophies, economics, technologies and business issues surrounding this much talked of phenomenon.
If you have some time to kill, we've got a podcast available at the webessentials web site, and there are also slides available [pdf], so you can reproduce the experience, minus the very nice auditorium and 28th floor view over Melbourne.
December 19, 2005
data at the edges
At this time of the year, people's eyes turn to the past, and they recap the last 12 months, or the future, as they predict the next 12. Many others have weighed in with their predictions (looks like web sites are going to look more like cartoons), but here is mine.
"People will become less and less important visitors to your site, while software will become smarter and more interested in your data."
"What what what?" as Kyle's mum would say. If you have a blog, how do most people read it? Not in a browser - so they won't be seeing your lovingly crafted designs. Most likely your loyal readers rarely if ever visit your site with a browser. But it's not only RSS software that is important for your sites. Your most important visitors aren't people at all - they are google, technorati, and other software. Technorati tags make your site much more visible to sites like technorati, and so to users who are looking for specific information. And a tag is structured data you can easily add to your site to take advantage of that.
Which leads me to part two of my prediction.
"data will become increasingly distributed, and reside on the edges of the network (a book review you do will reside on your site, not, for instance at Amazon)"
While tagging sites for technorati is quite common today, let's look forward to a year from now. Already microformats offer a mechanism to structure things like contact information (hCard), event information (hCalendar) and relationships between yourself and other people (XFN). What does the next 12 months hold? If you review something, a restaurant, book, site, game, album, why not use hReview - if we get a few hReviews out there, how quickly will someone throw together a review aggregator, like rubhub is for XFN? Next thing, Yahoo offers to buy them for $X million.
We all put a lot of effort into making our sites pretty - that is our effort is going to making them nicer for people to consume. It's time to start making sites nicer for software to consume. That's what this next 12 months will be about. Well, at least that's my prediction. Keep your eye on microformats and webpatterns
December 15, 2005
PatternQuiz I - Site patternsThe pattern quiz series now lives at webpatterns.org. Please come by, and take the quiz :-) john
December 13, 2005
Time to go, John Howard
The current second top search on Technorati right now is for Cronulla, the beachside suburb where the escalating racial tensions and violence first broke out two days ago. Earlier today it was the top search subject. This reflects the significant impact of and interest in this story in the blog world.
Meanwhile, Google News, which tracks stories in mainstream online media, has this as the second top story in the world, with over 900 stories in most of the major world newspapers and organisations. Bigger than the explosions in London, the political assassination in Lebanon.
And what does our Prime Minister have to say after three days of consideration, and ensuing violence and tension, the worst we have seen here for decades?
"He said the riots would have no long-term effect on Australia's international reputation."
"I would earnestly encourage and ask people to not take any notice of that sort of nonsense"
That's it? "Ignore it and it will go away!" Characterise it as "domestic dischord", and stick your head in the sand. Fine fine leadership. Especially as it now appears to be spreading to other cities in Australia.
Howard has never been a leader. He is a craven self serving politician, willing to sacrifice the best in our country for his personal ambitions, to lie repeatedly, take Australia to an illegal war, increasing the risk to all of us, here and abroad, and pander to the baser instincts in our society.
None of which esteems him for the role of leader of this country.
But the denial in the face of the obvious reality that a decade of winking at and pandering to xenophobia in this county has lead to ugly ugly violence, on all sides, is too much. Howard must go - both for the decade long lead up to this result, and to his complete lack of responsibility now it is occurring - given he's again off overseas while parts of the biggest city in the country burn, and racist violence spreads to other parts of the country.
Oh, and if you think I am a Howard hater, you are right - I hate what his "leadership" has done to this country. What a wasted decade.
Sadly, we have no alternate leadership, no vision waiting to step in and replace this corrupted, tired old lot. That's a genuine national tragedy.
And, if you think I am overreacting, read this eye witness account, then try and spin this as domestic dischord, a law and order problem, or some other nice way of avoiding the term "racist mob".
December 12, 2005
Political correctness is finally over
The One Nation phenomenon emerged after the 1996 election, when Pauline Hanson, a disendorsed Liberal candidate who was elected as the independent member for Oxley in Queensland, used her first speech to Parliament to attack multiculturalism and reconciliation and allege that Asian immigration was leading to the formation of ghettos in Australia, and later formed the One Nation Party. Howard was slow to criticise the views expressed by Hanson when compared with his opponents and liberal party collegues, and his initial public reaction was to comment that he thought it good that the years of "political correctness" were finally over.
Some saw Howard's lukewarm response to Hansonism as indicating either tacit support for its sentiments (especially given his 1988 comments on Asian immigration), or concern not to alienate conservative voters who agreed with the One Nation's position.
Hey Johnny, you got what you wanted, "political correctness" is finally over - this is what it looks like
Photo Sydney Morning Herald
You've been in government nearly a decade. You've paid the race card, the nationalism card, the us and them card cunningly well for that time. This is the wages of your sin.
You were a racist in the 1970s when you opposed your own governments Racial Discrimination Act, a racist in the late 80's with your anti chinese-Australian sentiments and comment, a racist in the 90s with your weasley psuedo criticism of Hanson, and a damned racist now. You'll be gone soon enough, but those of us decades longer will be living with your grubby legacy, and cleaning up the crap long after you've shuffled on the political stage, and this mortal coil.
Thanks for nothing. I am ashamed of my society, but not entirely surprised. "Relaxed and comfortable" now are we?
December 09, 2005
tips for new fathers
You may be having your first child next week, or it may be years off, but here are some tips from a new dad that I hope you may find useful. All you dads out there (and mums too) please add your own tips.
1. Take all advice, including this, with a big grain of salt - trust your instincts and feelings. Get really good at coping with lots and lots of out of date, conflicting advice. Develop a strategy of thanking people for their input, no matter how annoying (one colleague of my wife's pointed out it was not a good idea to be sick while pregnant - thanks for that, how could I have been so selfish, what was I thinking). I suspect people mean well. But you'll get sick to death of it.
2. learn as much as you can about pregnancy, labour and early childhood. There are plenty of times when your partner/wife will be sick, in pain, exhausted, over it, etc. It's up to you to step up to the plate - she can't be looking after you, herself, and after the baby is born the baby too. For as long as it takes, it's not about you.
3. Be as flexible as possible with everything - don't try to follow rules. Don't have in your mind the one way things should be. Don't have an ideal labour in mind. Don't have an ideal baby in mind. Nothing is likely to go smoothly, and if you are fixated on specific outcomes (drug and intervention free labour, a child who sleeps when you put them down for the night, whatever) then you are only going to make it harder on yourselves. Yes it might happen. That's a bonus. Be flexible.
4. Your wife/partner has most likely been through nine pretty unpleasant months, then a recent traumatic experience with labour (regardless of how well both those went, they will take a lot out of her). Do everything you possibly can to make her life easier. Particularly if she is breastfeeding (which in our experience is really really worth working at to do) that takes a lot of effort, and will interrupt sleep a lot, so it's not good enough for you to "help out", or even "pull your weight".
Can you cook? Get a copy of Jamie's Dinners, get together a repertoire of say 5 dishes to start with that take little effort or time, and get good at cooking them quickly. Pasta and salads are a great place to start. Anyone can cook. Then you can take it from there.
Do you know how to use the dishwasher? Seriously, find out NOW.
Do you know how to use the washing machine? Find out NOW.
5. Get as fit and healthy as you can during the pregnancy. It will stand you in great stead - babies are heavy. I used a pedometer the other day and found out I walk many kilometers a day with a 4.5 kilo baby in my arms. I am pretty fit, but my legs and arms are pretty tired.
6. Learn all you can about settling babies. This DVD and book have some great simple techniques. Being able to settle your baby, and not get frustrated and stressed out is perhaps the best thing you can do for all of you.
7. Take as much time off as you possibly can, and can afford, when the baby is born. Annual leave, unpaid leave, family leave. Can you organize to work from home for a while? - you'll be able to do stuff at all times of the day and night while settling your baby, perhaps not a full workload (at least try to have a couple of weeks completely focussed on your new family if at all possible). Do your level best to do this for your sake, for your partner's sake and for the babies sake.
8. Get wifi and a wifi laptop - if the web is important to you and your work - you may well be spending a lot of time on the couch settling your baby, so if you can use the web, email and so on, you might feel a little less isolated.
9. Write things down and take photos - create a free Flickr account, upload the photos there to share with friends and family. More personal ones you can keep private. In years to come, you and your family will have photos of the baby, but also your life together in these really special early days. Take photos of your pets, the weather outside, your living room. We quickly forget things we think we never will. Write your thoughts down too - perhaps start a blog, or just save a text file - how are you feeling today, what did your baby do?
10. Regardless of how nice and helpful other people think that their visiting might be, its a real strain often at this stage. You must learn to be firm with people - your new family needs all the rest and time together it can get. New babies can easily get unsettled and over stimulated. You have to deal with this after the visitors have gone.
Its OK to say no to visits, or even cancel them at the last moment.
Advice for those visiting new families - take meals. Offer to do their washing, dishes, shopping, anything that might help. It really will be appreciated. Forever.
11. Get sleep any time you can - if baby is sleeping, get some sleep. Share the sleep - if baby won't settle, then no point in two of you being awake. Take it in turns to settle the baby and sleep. Dad - offer to take the first settling shift. Always.
12 .Lastly, to repeat #3 - do what it takes for you. Be flexible. Be outcome oriented (peaceful, rested, well fed baby, some sleep each for mum and dad) not process oriented (feeding at specific intervals, sleeping for certain periods at certain times).
All the best and please add your thoughts and experiences
December 06, 2005
Why social/networking sites will never really work
I find myself increasingly straying from my brief to write about developing software. Oh well, what can you do?
One issue that I've found myself discussing with several smart people of late is social software/networking sites. Things like Friendster, Orkut, and latterly, Myspace (recently purchased by New Limited for nearly $600 Million). Several such networks have flourished and then seemingly died off over the last 3 or 4 years, which lead me to consider whether there is actually any viability to such social software.
I actually I'll come right out and so I don't think there is. I'll predict any attempt to develop a site whose motivation is to help people create relationships will fail. Why?
Think about your friends. How do you know them? Why are they your friends? By and large, we generally think that our friends are our friends' friends. And while that may often be the case, is that actually why they are our friends? Or is that simply the mechanism by which we came to know these people? Our friends afterall, most likely have many friends who are not our friends.
Our friendships are based on shared tastes, values and interests. And while there is probably a better than random chance that our friends' friends to some extent share these, there are many many people in our communities, and beyond, who more closely share these relationship drivers. Those of us who have lived in a country other than that in which we were born, or travelled extensively will very likely have very close relationships with people who are very distantly if not completely removed from our social circles. Who have nothing to do with our friends.
But what has all this to do with social software and its potential for success or otherwise? Social software is by and large designed to replicate the friend of a friend mechanism, which just happens to be the mechanism which works best in the "real world". But does it work best in the virtual world? If anything it limits our capacity to meet those who share our interests, values and tastes, the things which actually cement relationships. Because with sites like Orkut, we only get to meet people who are friends of friends, regardless of whether they might be good candidates for friendship.
But what about myspace? You can make anyone your friend, as long as they'll have you. They don't have to be a friend of a friend to be my friend.
Now, when was the last time someone asked you to be their friend, or "we are friends, right?" in the "real world". We know who our friends are, we are very good at discerning relationships. As much as anything because genuine relationships take work. Time to talk, email, meet. Relationships are organic, self correcting, complex things. So while the first generation of explicitly social software, like Orkut, were overly limiting by replicating the real world mechanism of friend of a friend relationship building, the myspace generation is too promiscuous - there is no guarantee your myspace "friend" is a friend at all.
But, social software which actually works exists already - it just doesn't look explicitly like social software, and I'd be interested to know whether the developers ever thought of it as such. What is it? Flickr.
Where services like Photobucket are just ways to upload/manage/share/backup photos, Flickr's differentiating factor is "contacts", comments, groups - its tools for building relationships which are much more like those in the real world - complex, nuanced, based on active shared interests (not much more passive things like "bands I like") - firstly photography, then areas of active interest (the things you photograph). It's much harder to fake, and much more work to build a relationship than simply "click here to add this person as a friend".
Lastly, while Orkut, Friendster, and myspace are all essentially self contained universes, Flickr lets the real world in. In fact with their requirement that you only upload photos, they insist that the primary motivation and currency of use are artefacts from reality.
For tens of thousands of years, our survival has depended on close relationships which are reciprocal, rich and lasting, and our ability to form and maintain them. We have got very very good at this. Because of the complexity of forming, maintaining and evolving relationships, I doubt that software which attempts to explicitly provide mechanisms for forming and maintaining relationships will ever survive their brief "bubble" stage, where virally they explode as people collect friends, much like baseball cards, only to tire and move on.
But the urge to form lasting complex relationships is so profoundly human that I suspect like Flickr, successful online services will increasingly become places where communities form and grow.
So if you are building an online app - think about where the community is. Oh, and Mr Murdoch, I think you blew $580 Million bucks
December 02, 2005
I invented Web 2.0 - Really, truly
OK, the title is a little tongue in cheek, but the following is all true.
In the dark days of early 2004, when many of us felt that innovation on the web was in big trouble due to the almost complete dominance of a particular, increasingly long in the tooth browser (Firefox had far from become the success it is today, and I, as well as many others didn't hold out a lot of hope for that happening, as good as the browser was) I wrote an email to a number of people I had known, or knew of, in the web standards arena, some whom I had been involved with at WASP for some years, others whom I knew from their more recent work.
I won't name any names, but many of them you would know very well from their writing, books, presentations and work.
It was sent on the 29th of May 2004 (Sydney time, so the 228th in much of the world :-)
My aim was to help build a "brand" (like the term Ajax is a brand for an existing set of technologies) for the standards based web. Something a little "sexier" than the "standards based web". Something that made developing for a specific browser look "old hat", old fashioned, which made standards based development the thing to do.
The ideal situation for web development would be "write once, run everywhere".
Web standards promise this for the web.
This seeming nirvana is actually in sight.
Let's call it "the Web2.0 or some such "brand" that captures the spirit of a standards based web and which browser developers, tool developers, web developers and web user can all "buy into"
What is Web2.0?
It's a web built on top of the W3C and other recommendations and standards
Developers could think of it as a standardized set of APIs for the web.
- xhtml 1.0
- CSS 2.1
- W3C DOM (which version?)
- ECMAScript (1.what?)
Morphic resonance or what?
OK, so this is not the Web 2.0 as we think of it today. It focusses mostly on technology, and on the front end, whereas the ideas floating around about web2.0 take in philosophies, business models, user experience design, and backend technologies. But a lot of it is there - the idea of the web as a standardized platform, reinforcing its openness and interoperability.
So why am I publishing this now?
Well, I just kick myself that I didn't over 18 months ago (before the folks at O'Rielly talk about coining the term). Usually, I'm not averse to shooting my mouth off in public. Just this once I shopped the idea round privately, as something WaSP might use to get some public attention.
Anyway, the term was far from non obvious, the internet/web oriented business magazine, Business 2.0 had been round for years, so Web2.0 was a bit of a no brainer really. In fact I think the email suggests I wasn't sure it was a great term at the time.
I'm sure most off us have had an idea we then put on the back burner, only to see someone else also have the idea, take it and run with it. More power to them.
The moral of the story? There aint one really, just thought I'd let you know.
tags Web 2.0
December 01, 2005
I am sitting here with my week old baby in my arms.
Tomorrow morning, the State of Singapore will hang a foolish young Australian for smuggling drugs (he was in Singapore only in transit, the drugs had never been, nor would ever be in Singapore). It's a sad terrible story of an addict brother, money lenders to whom the brother was in debt, and a foolish attempt to pay off those debts.
In Singapore, the barbarity of the death penalty (per capita far ahead of any nations, even the chinese and USA) is compounded by it being mandatory - a judge cannot commute a sentence, regardless of the situation of the defendent. Regardless of his remorse, cooperation, pleading guilty. This young Australian has shown and done all that.
23 years ago his mother, a refugee with her young family from Vietnam, held Nguyen Tuong Van in her arms, as I do Zoe Kate now. Now, passionlessly, premeditatedly, rationally, the State of Singapore will take just another of the countless lives States have taken over the centuries, diminishing that nation and all its citizens, diminishing all of us.
If you agree with me, please do something, possibly (though very unlikely) for Nguyen Tuong Van, but hopefully for others who will come after.
See Amnesty international for what you can do right now.
And if you don't agree with me, then please don't demean yourself by leaving a comment. Just go and take a good hard look at yourself.
Finally to the government of Australia. Nice one, you bunch of gutless arseholes. Done nothing for a citizen of their country. Add this to your litany of racist, war mongering, self serving actions over the last sorry sorry 9 years for our country. Your undoing may be some way off, but will not go unrejoiced by many.
Then perhaps my country can move past the huge backward steps in terms of values, the environment, our society as a whole, our place in the wider world, our treatment of our indiginous peoples, that we have taken since 1996.
I can only hope.
Peace to Nguyen Tuong Van and his family.
Apparently nearly half of all Australians believe this man should be hanged.
If that's you, keep it to yourself around me. You have been warned.
I'll happily go on the record to say that if you believe in the death penalty at all, in any circumstances, I firmly believe you have a vital piece of your humanity missing.