On Conferences and Diversity
I will sum it up to start: SXSW Interactive is my favorite conference. It is affordable, it has a great and diverse roster of speakers, and it covers a wide variety of topics within the field.
1) As a freelancer, I do not have a corporate budget behind me. I can't afford @ Media, O'Reilly, most of the Flash conferences, An Event Apart, etc. I can afford the $225 for a SXSW Badge, I can afford the $125 for d.Construct, I can afford Carson Workshops. It is not just the $795 - $2000+ price tags that come with the other conferences, one must also add in travel, hotel, food and entertainment. If it comes off of my credit card or bank account, I have to add it all up and consider it even if I can write most of it off on my taxes.
I know quite a few freelancers who would love to attend a conference and can't. In a world economy, where more and more of us are working freelance or as consultants, this matters. Does this mean that conferences are designed and marketed for folks who work at big corporations?
The best speakers at SXSW Interactive 2003 was not any of the A-list web design or development folk, nor any of the fabulous bloggers there that year, but instead was three women (Ana Boa Ventura, and sorry I don't have my notes here for the other two) who spoke on a panel entitled, "Women who kill Tigers". They spoke on how art informs their design and activism practices. One of the speakers, a South American painter and designer, spends half her year in Paris or Montreal working as a designer for opera companies and half her year in Austin. The ideas on how to kill a tiger or design and make art was amazing. ((Hugh Forest, bring these women back!!!))
I find conferences, be they one day or 5 days, to be dull if the speakers are all the same folks speaking about the same things. Who wants to eat a meal entirely of bread? Not me.
To respond to Eric's post on Diverse it Gets, of which I did in the comments, I could care less about whether a person is racially or sexual diverse from the usual white male speaker, but what about a diversity of thought? Of ideas?
3) Ok, so Eric makes a case for limiting speakers to the A-listers who have published and excelled in web design and development. I say, "Eric, it is becoming a circle jerk." Not literally. But in essence, yes. All of the top 15 - 20 guys who speak on web design standards or the intersection of CSS and code, are all the same guys speaking at all the conferences these days, be it SXSW, or Carson, or @ Media, or any of the Web Directions conferences, etc. By and large, other than the emergence of the Philadelphia folk, the Aussies, and the Brit Pack in the last 2.5 years, the above group are the same folk who have been on the conference and book circuit for the last 4-10 years. It is getting stale.
Folks, it sells conferences out when you get the "known" A-listers or at least the perception that these folks are the rock stars. And maybe corporations want to send their folks to conferences and training with known names or at least published names so that one can justify the expense to one's manager.
The web is still young. Do we want to be so conservative so early in the game?
I say no! Let's innovate. Let's invigorate. Let new speakers in. Let new ideas in. Let's increase the scope to include folks like Tom Coates, Liza Sabater, Maggie Mason (moderated the a great panel at BlogHer last summer), Jessica Spengler (very bright, very thoughtful, someone give that woman a microphone), Jason Toney, Lynn D. Johnson, Ana Boa Ventura, and many many many more.
Want to speak? Want to shake it up? Don't have time for unlimited self-promotion? Do as Tantek suggests and get yourself out there, sign up for a Bar Camp, or send a panel or workshop proposal into a conference (SXSWi and BlogHer encourage proposals).
Make great art/design/code and let's speak out.
((p.s. As for the lack of women speakers at the average web conference, the argument that there are no A-list women to speak, is bullshit. I have had it out with two friends who organize conferences on this matter. Due the insularity of vision on who can and should speak a lot of women are going unnoticed or uninvited. If Jason Santa Maria and Rob Weychert have been allowed to join the party, then I nominate Liza Sabater, Rachel Andrew, and Eris Free. There it has been said.))
Update on Fri. 2/23/07 at 12:58pm:Rachel Andrew twittered this link to her post on Women Speakers from last fall. I recommend reading it as she brings up the issue of childcare and the comments are illuminating. I further nominate Rachel.