In the few remaining hours of .NET Fringe I found a seat, sat down, and just started contemplating the reasons .NET Fringe, and conferences it was inspired by like JSConf, Node Conf, and others are such great conferences. This is the list of reasons I came up with. Each bullet includes a few of the reasons why this is a contributing reason to these types of conferences. I also tried to prioritize them as seemed logical.
People Inclusion: We’ve tried with .NET Fringe, just as the organizers of the other named conference have, to be extremely inclusive. To invite people from communities we might not traditionally interact with. We make efforts to discover new groups of people outside of the normal day to day of our lives. This appears to work for the event, and we hope that it works well for all attendees.
Car-lite/Bus-lite/Commute-lite: If people have to commute to and from the conference everyday, that adds a massive detractor to the event. Being required to travel anything more than 5-10 minutes to get to an event just derails the focused energy that the attendees could have without such a monotonous thing. There’s a reason people pay high dollar to live somewhere with a minimalistic commute for their work, why would we force this on attendees? Simply, a commute is a no-go.
Location: I might sound like a real estate person, because conferences just like living really are all about location, location, and location. This is as much about the city, town, or forrest the event is in as much as the building the actual event takes place in. For .NET Fringe the McMenamins businesses are exceptional for this type of event, make it easy, and provide that catered, unique, charismatic weird that one is often drawn to in Portland.
Walking: Plenty of options to walk. Walking helps people think, it’s proven, and having lots of people walking around during breaks, during confernece events, provides all the more opportunities to get together and talk about new, existing, or create ideas with each other. This might seem like a small element of the conference, but in the end it actually adds to it in a huge way - that’s the basis for the breaks between talks, the basis in having the events in walkable areas, and generally focusing on a cohesive experience between individuals.
Pricing: Honestly, maybe we should charge more? I’m not sure because the pricing is great in my opinion of what I’d pay out of pocket without corporate backing. Overall pricing can be a barrier to entry, but we’ve attempted to keep it reasonably priced vs. the big trash fire conferences like VMWorld or that shit pile Oracle hosts every year. Those just don’t provide any real vested interest or connection to where they’re hosted and that brings up another point…
SMALL footprint: We aim to have a moderate sized crowd. We do NOT want a 3000 person conference for something like .NET Fringe. The reason is simple. We want people to be able to connect, feel like they’re connected to the place we’re at, and feel like they’re not fighting between FOMO and overwhelmed by excessive events occurring all at same time. At the same time, we don’t want attendees (like VMWorld, or whatever) to look like a flock of assholes that have invaded a city’s local community and are wrecking things. If you ever want an idea of what I’m talking about read the local news in NYC, San Francisco, or a similar city when a large scale conference comes to town and annoys (or worse trashes) the local community.
Food: Food can’t be a distraction. It also shouldn’t put people to sleep. There’s a reason we keep sugars and other trash foods to a minimum - they slow us down and make our brains put us to sleep. We attempt to stick to food that helps the thinker on the top of our shoulders. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes its a bit tough since we have a specific selection of items at most venues. Hopefully, everybody gets to eat, eat well, and stay focused. The other aim around food is to be in an area where there are vast numbers of breakfast and dinner joints around the venue. Portland makes this very easy with walking distance locations all over the place. Again combining two great things to have break out sessions and talk to others about things you’re passionate about!
(Added June 8th) Sponsored, but not Sponsored: The event does have sponsors, but we’re upfront with them immediately upon sponsoring that they are sponsoring a very community oriented event. This isn’t an event, beyond booths and swag, that anyone gets to stand up and talk about product for 45 minutes. No sponsored presentations, all presentations are either voted on by the organizing members or selected by by the organizing group. This, in the end, actually creates a better, more honest, direct, and effective means of sponsorship for the companies sponsoring and the attendees at the conference. The TLDR is that sponsors aren’t in your face, if you’re interested they’re there to talk!
(Added June 8th) Unique Content, Unique Speakers, New Speakers: We make an effort, specifically Lena (@lenadroid did this year, to find great new speakers. Lena also aimed, as did we all, to vote and find speakers who are new to the industry and are interested in speaking. Lena spent time reaching out to many people, but beyond just finding new people to speak and helping them get involved, Lena aimed to get great topics and speakers to present on the topics that are solid - not only from a speaking perspective but on knowledge and skill in the area they were speaking. In the end, this really lights up not only talks but also the open spaces, which is the next item.
(Added June 8th) Open Spaces: Some of the best conferences I attend are the open spaces conferences. One of those is Polyglot Conf in Vancouver BC (which I unfortunately didn’t make this year). We always hold an open spaces area in parallel to the main talks. This gives the opportunity for people to take topics they want to speak with others about, or topics they’ve just heard about, a chance to break out and dive deep with others. This is one more way to get people involved in conversations that increase learning opportunities and extrapolate new and expanding ideas.
Still likely to add more…
Follow up on Twitter and join others in contributing suggestions, ping me @Adron.
The following are some of the follow up tweets.
Re "SMALL footprint" - I think .NET Fringe should become (or span) "Open .NET" next year, the #1 conference in the whole .NET world— Don Syme (@dsyme) June 7, 2017
Well, we are aiming to grow it this next year. No promises, but maybe we’ve lit enough fires to inspire that it’ll be able to grow in many ways and somehow keep it’s local, community focused, and individually inspiring spirit?
Why not aim for 10,000 people in San Francisco in 2019 (1,000 in 2018). Fully community driven (not Microsoft driven).— Don Syme (@dsyme) June 7, 2017
Yikes, 10,000 people in in San Francisco, that might be a bit more than would work. Likely to decimate the objectives of the small footprint.
Agree. You can make a "community" within a conference feel as big or as small as you want. Up to the attendees.— Aaron Stannard (@Aaronontheweb) June 7, 2017
I disagree. But others might also agree with the sentiment. I’ve sworn off the big conferences mostly.
I’ll be attending Open F# this year. I know one of the speakers. ;)
Sounds a lot like what we try to do with @devopsdays!— 🦄 Matt Stratton 🦄 (@mattstratton) June 7, 2017
Oh, yeah, DevOps Days, in spite of my qualms with the almost generic nature of the word “DevOps” is one of my favorite conference series around! Attended the Portland DevOps Days last and it was great! Lots of great material, great community, solid grade A experience!
Is based on the richness / uniqueness and not driven by sponsors— 007 (@gblock) June 7, 2017
Oh, yeah, added this above!
Another important one is focusing ON the community and celebrating their work rather. We do this in multiple ways including with content— 007 (@gblock) June 8, 2017
Encouraging new speakers even if they have no experience. Lightning talks for example are tailored for this.— 007 (@gblock) June 8, 2017
There are more, I may update this entry a few times with additional reasons. This however is the starting point. Feel free to ping me with your thoughts @Adron.