I’ve intentionally left a gap between the closing keynote of Gluecon 2012 and this recap because it takes that long to let my brain recuperate from the intense barrage of data and information presented in the keynotes and workshops…not to mention the networking follow-up.
“Picture this: A crowd of 450 developers pack a ballroom at the Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield, Colorado. The lights dim, the drum rolls, and video plays out a techno-beat as Eric Norlin (@gluecon), conference chair, organizer, and cat-herder extraordinaire kicks off the third annual Glue Conference. Immediately, the crowds start tweeting out #gluecon 144-character quotes and quips. For the next two days, presentations continue non-stop—No breaks between sessions lest a minute be wasted.”
That’s the nut of the Gluecon experience: non-stop data from people with kilos of grey matter. From a social media perspective, the #gluecon hashtag becomes the center of the universe for two days. Smart people highlighting smart content. Backchannel chatter debating big ideas and issues. And just when you think your brain can’t hold another 1 or 0, the social spills out into the real social, where tech mortals come brain to brain with the day’s speakers. It’s this last part — the oft-ignored human part of social that makes Gluecon stand apart from other conferences.
But it’s not just me. The NextWeb’s Brad McCarty gets paid to be skeptical. He gets paid to attend and cover tech conferences (okay, maybe I’m oversimplifying what Brad does and maybe — okay, definitely — attending a bunch of other conferences that are focused on sponsors and vendors is not all that glamorous). But Brad hits on something I’ve felt at every Gluecon since I started attending: I go there to get smart, but, damn if I don’t feel really dumb by about halfway through the opening keynote. The content and people are that good. In the words of Gluecon’s founder and organizer, Eric Norlin: “If I can understand it, it doesn’t go on the agenda.”
“I went to the GLUE conference to get in over my head. That was my entire goal. I wanted to learn about the technology that helps to stitch together the various parts of the Internet, but I also wanted to spend some time getting to know the people who made that technology do what it does. Over the course of 2 days I met people who made me feel dumb, saw thousands of lines of code and left with a new appreciation for how technology works. I’ve tried for the past 3 days to write this post, but it wasn’t until now that I can finally sit down and make the thoughts collect into something that’s worth putting into pixels on a page. You see, GLUE isn’t your ordinary conference.” – Brad McCarty, The NextWeb
And just when you think you might grasp even a nugget of the deep API, cloud and big data conversation, someone like Jeff Malek comes along with a Turing-worthy wrap-up:
“…which results in a CNCP score of 5.4236E+180, which I believe is an impossibly gigantic number.That maps perfectly to my previous anecdotal, non-scientific assessment that Gluecon is one of the world’s best conferences.”
Why underwrite instead of take the traditional sponsor route? Because the traditional sponsor/conference model is a broken model. Too often, it is about logo visibility and vendor-focused content. Rarely is the primary focus on the attendee. Gluecon always seemed different; it always came across as content and participant first, vendor somewhere down the line below what type of dressing should go on the lunchtime salad. That’s the way it should be. As a result, Gluecon developed less into a conference and more into a yearly pilgrimage by the who’s who of cloud computing, APIs and big data.
Laura Merling of Alcatel-Lucent talks about #gluecon
We saw the collision of these three markets coming early. It’s the collision, and the network infrastructure that powers it, that drives our application enablement vision and high leverage network architecture. Gluecon is the one conference where the communities surrounding this vision come together (this year we saw LTE joining the mix, which is why RCR Wireless got into this year’s media mix and why we hosted an interactive VIP lunchtime brainstorming session on LTE business models).
“Alcatel-Lucent *understands* how big tech companies should do marketing. They understand that it’s not about “owning” the stage at a show. They understand that the power of the API (which crosses the cloud, big data and mobile) is that it is a technology that is ALL about community. They understand that supporting the community is the single best thing they can do.”
So, what does underwriting entail? Well, I can assure it does not entail the usual “you’ll get your logo on the web site, we’ll put it on one 24×36″ banner, and we’ll tweet about your twice before the conference.” In fact, there’s not a lot of “here’s what you get” in how we or Eric approach our support. It is one of those rare (very rare, almost-probably nonexistent) instances where the organizer and community come together to build a better conference. That’s how the Alcatel-Lucent Demo Pod Pavilion came about:
And it’s why we didn’t stop there. Supporting the community means sometimes supporting hot-button issues that many corporations stay away from. We believe supporting the community means supporting it whether it’s filled with issues or not. Which is why we immediately stepped up to send 10 female developers to Gluecon in the aftermath of an absolutely atrocious and embarassing week for sexism in tech.
Of course, we had a booth…but it wasn’t your typical corporate booth (huge kudos to my colleague Matt Helmke who gets this new approach to marketing better than just about anybody I know). We’ve found over the years that giving people a place to sit down and have conversations had immense value. So, we did just that with a couple of couches and chairs…and then ringed it with art from the artist we brought in to live scribe the keynote sessions.
And Alcatel-Lucent application enablement chief architect Greg Thompson moderated a packed-house, all-afternoon track on mobile technologies.
The tech conference market is evolving. The ROI has shifted. It’s no longer about the leads generated (we have the web for that) or about who has the bigger booth (and don’t get me started on booth babes). It’s shifted to a recognition that the community matters more than the conference. Smart marketers get it and are adapting. Some insights from my own experience with Gluecon:
(1) Stop marketing. Become part of the conference rather than someone guarding a costly booth full of printed collateral. If you stopped by the Alcatel-Lucent lounge at Gluecon, you may or may not find us there. There’s a better chance you’d find us mingling and speaking to attendees instead of pitching them approved corporate marketing bullet points.
(2) Buy a round instead of collateral. Nobody wants paper at a conference. Nobody. Take the money you would have spent on a glossy brochure and buy a round at the hotel bar. That’s how we funded the post-CloudCamp get-together.
(3) Kill the vendor pitch and have some fun. A speaker’s job is threefold: Inform, entertain…and finish early. Drop the corporate pitch and talk like the expert you are. Don’t be afraid to let your hair down (says the bald guy). Laura spoke about beer. Beaker spoke about “Sh*t His Cloud Evangelist Says.” James Governor spoke about…well, we’re still trying to figure it out but it had something to do with the similarities between the paleo food chain and developers. Each, like every other keynote, was filled with smart information that challenged you to think beyond what you expected to think about at the conference and was delivered in a creative, non-stuffy manner.
(4) Speaking of Beaker… You’ll remember earlier in this post that I mentioned Alcatel-Lucent is the lead underwriter of the conference. Now, in a traditional conference, that would mean we’d probably ask (and get) all kinds of concessions from the organizer about who and what was on stage. That’s not the way we or Eric play it at Gluecon. Christopher Hoff — the aforementioned Beaker — is a former big shot at Cisco. He’s currently a big swinging kahuna at Juniper. No shock to know that Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco and Juniper are sworn mortal enemies ready to slice each other’s throats to win in the marketplace. Beaker was the day one opening keynote. And I’d have had it no other way, underwriter or not. The right person for the right job. Plus, he knows a bunch of jiujitsu-like stuff, so it’s not like Eric or I were going to tell him no. This is all a way of saying that if you’re really part of a community, it’s okay (no, required) to let down your competitive dukes and work together to educate.
(5) Rethink your ROI. The metrics for traditional conferences usually revolve around leads and customer meetings. Gluecon is not one of those conferences, at least from a traditional sense. For us, it’s about supporting the community we work in, doing what we can to make it stronger and smarter. Sure, we walked away with quite a few business development and partnership opportunities, but they happened because of conversations we had away from the booth or because people realized we were one of them and not just there to sell.
Want to read the entire Gluecon firehose? Check out the awesome reverse-chronological capture Graeme Thickins pulled together: