Have web conferences, as we know them, played out their role?

From my own experiences, and based on what I’ve heard from friends, I start to wonder if web conferences as we see them now will lose their charm and become extinct, or at least more rare. Personally, I can’t motivate the cost of attending them to myself, since I feel that you don’t learn enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m that superb and Mr. Know-it-all; it’s rather just that socialising and mingling seem to be the most important thing about the events, not learning. And, of course, that’s very important, but must we have one without the other?

John Gruber usually has very strong opinions, and from time to time I find him to be too much of an Apple fan, but at times he’s spot on. In his Let’s Have a Panel on What We Didn’t Like About SXSW 2007, he manages to describe the exact feeling I had after being in Austin last year. Basically, I had a great time, socially, but when it came to learning, it wasn’t much new.

Reading his post, it all came back to. My personal takes, together with some of my friend’s impressions of @media 2006, is that the panels only scratch the surface of a topic that everyone there already know a lot about and generally agree with the presenters on every note. They usually become more of a “on-a-first-name-basis” name-dropping of the most well-known names in web developing and internal jokes, than being as instructive as most people are hoping for.

Don’t get me wrong, the panels are usually very entertaining and the panelists are, most of the time, very competent people. And, most definitely, these web conferences treat you to a great time, and if you’re lucky, you’re bound to make some new friends (or get lucky… :-)). But, at the end of day, my personal belief is that people want more than getting drunk with cool people and perhaps trade some business cards (or rather, URLs…).

And that’s fantastic! But at the same time, when it comes to me, I want to learn more, get better at what I do, and have something concrete, and hopefully groundbreaking, to present and explain to friends as well as colleagues.

Therefore, I think that people will be much more inclined to go to events with just one or two presenters, talking a full day or two, delving deep into certain topics and areas of web developing, and panel-based web conferences will just be a playground for people mostly interested in chilling and hanging out with some other international friends.

What’s your experience? Am I way off, or do web conference organizers need to rethink?


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