I received yet another email about the upcoming Gartner BPM Summit, and I continue to be horrified by the price of conferences: U$1,895 for 3 days?! Or how about the AIIM records management conference in Toronto next week: C$2,899 for 3 days? By the time you add in travel and living, it's no mean chunk of change when you're an independent: I don't have the luxury of a big company picking up my tab. Even those of you working for larger companies know that it's not easy to find funding for attending conferences, even if you believe that they'll be of value.
I know that analysts are in the business of making money from knowledge (so am I), but knowledge is becoming a commodity these days, and a lot of people won't (or can't) shell out that much cash just to sit in a room for three days and hear someone talk when the same information is available (albeit in a less structured manner) in a variety of other forms at a much lower cost: blogs, podcasts, vendor seminars, webinars, analyst reports and other sources that don't believe that it's in their best interests to charge everyone an arm and a leg just to have a conversation.
I only attend these big-money conferences once every few years; in the interim, I do just fine with my RSS feeds, daily email newsletters, webinars, vendor seminars, and other sources of free or reasonably-priced information. For example, in the past year, I've attended two major conferences: BPM 2005 in London, where I paid full price as an attendee, and FileNet's user conference in Las Vegas, where I was a speaker so had my conference fee waived (check out the series of entries in my November archive, where I was blogging live from the conference sessions by emailing from my Blackberry). I also attended some local seminars/mini-conferences at little or no cost, such as e-Content Institute, plus some vendor seminars; in fact, I spent yesterday morning at a LabOne seminar hearing about how their next generation of products is going to better integrate into my insurance clients' systems.
I attended a ton of webinars last year, most from ebizQ and BPMinstitute.org, but also from vendors such as Global 360 and Proforma (search my archives for "webinar" to see my comments on the webinars). I have a list of past webinars that I want to watch but haven't found time yet: a wealth of information delivered to my desk, for free, with a relatively modest amount of vendor promotional material wrapped around it.
There is something to be said about a conference atmosphere, however. As much as I dislike most professional networking (I'm a closet introvert), conferences provide a great opportunity to meet people with the same interests: for me, that includes potential clients, but also vendors, potential partners, industry analysts and a variety of other types. Most conferences also include some sort of vendor showcase where I can have a peek at the latest and greatest technology.
The dilemma is this, then: given that much of the "information" (content) of the big conferences is available in the public domain or through lower-cost alternatives, how do we share that information in a conference-like networking atmosphere?
The answer may lie in the new generation of "un-conferences" or "camps". These still exist mostly as technical conferences, but with the focus on collaboration rather than presentations (i.e., have a conversation guided by an actual practioner rather than death-by-Powerpoint from a hired speaker), limited enrolment, and free (or nearly so) fees for attending, this movement has the potential to expand into other traditional conference areas. One popular technical camp is BarCamp, including the recent TorCamp. David Crow, the prime organizer of TorCamp (and my neighbour), just posted about the camp format for un-conferences, and links to Chris Heuer with more about these sort of amateur conferences. A camp with a specific focus on integration is Mashup Camp next month in San Jose, which I'll be attending because I want to explore how to use mashup concepts in the context of enterprise application integration: this is the part of the future of orchestration. And the expected "conference fee"? $0.
Camps are still, for the most part, for techno-geeks (I admit it, I am a geek). But how long before this "amateur" format hits the mainstream? How long before Gartner's BPM summit is competing with BPMcamp?