On Conferences, Chairs, Breakfasts and Wifi Crashes
Think about the following three scenarios for a moment ...
Scenario One. You go to a conference. It doesn't matter where or what the topic is but you turn up because you've been invited or because you've paid to attend. Breakfast is included in the conference package. There's 400 people attending the conference but when you get to the breakfast table, there's none left because they've run out of food. When you ask the conference venue why there's no breakfast they throw up their hands and say "The company who provides our food assured us there'd be enough for 400 but only enough for 200 turned up. What can we do?".
And now Scenario Two. Same conference. Same venue. But this time there's only 200 chairs in the venue and you've got 400 people trying to cram into those chairs. It's getting pretty cozy and people are ending up standing or going home. You ask the conference venue why there's no chairs and they throw up their hands and say "The company who provides our chairs assured us there'd be enough for 400 but only enough for 200 turned up. What can we do?".
For both of these scenarios you'd assume that the conference venue and their outsourced provider would have a very quick, very harsh, very frank exchange of views and that it wouldn't happen again because the conference venue would quickly become a laughing stock.
So now Scenario Three. Same conference and same venue again but this time it's internet connectivity we're talking about and internet connectivity of the wifi flavour. Or to be more precise, lack of internet connectivity of the wifi flavour. You ask the conference venue why the wifi keeps crashing and they throw up their hands and say "The company who provides our connectivity assured us there'd be enough for 400 connections but there's only enough for 200 connections. What can we do?".
But with this scenario the conference venues are still in business, the outsourced internet providers apologise and do nothing about it, the delegates complain and nothing changes. The last three conferences I've attended have had this problem to varying degrees. Conference number one had workable wifi for the first 30 minutes before connectivity crashed or the access point ran out of DHCP leases. Conference number two only managed 10 minutes after registration opened before crashing. Conference number three had no problems at all but that's only because they didn't offer any wifi at all and left everyone reliant on their own 3G dongles or mifi's. People in the tech community with far more reach and standing than me have written about this; TechCrunch wrote about the problems at Le Web and Joel Spolsky wrote about it as part of Joel on Software.
When are conference organisers going to get the message? Internet connectivity, it doesn't have to be wifi, indeed it's probably better if it isn't wifi, is essential at conferences these days, tech conferences or otherwise. And if it's a tech conference you need at least two IP addresses per delegate, minimum to cope with their laptops, iPhones, BlackBerrys and so on. Until conference organisers make conference venues understand this and start voting with their wallets, this sorry tale will keep on replaying itself. Photo credit: Leia on Flickr.