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Behold the unconference

Traditional event organizers should be keeping their eye on this trend, as outlined by Ross Mayfield and expanded on by Ton and Rich at the TSMR blog, among others: The unconference. Ross points out this painful truth:

    With the right social software, you can promote, coordinate and self-organize events with near zero cost. Location does matter, but not for everything. Now cost can be a good thing, as some events are better with a little exclusivity, but inclusive options provide alternatives that help the ecosystem as a whole.

J. Leroy adds:

    Unconferences have grown out of people's growing lack of satisfaction for being talked to. The egalitarianism of the Internet has led many to expect that they will be in on the conversation - not a recipient of unchallenged wisdom.

That's why the "hallway track" has always been the most popular—we learn and retain what we learn by actively connecting with the knowledge, and when it relates to our situation specifically. That keynoter, while interesting, likely has little inkling of your daily challenges. Your colleagues do. We're becoming more and more seekers of specialized, personalized knowledge, cooked just how we like it and served steaming hot among like-minded colleagues somewhere nearby. Our growing familiarity with the Internet is changing how we learn, and sooner or later, we're all going to have to realize that the old conference model may not work for our audiences. If we don't catch up to them, attendees will be congregating in their own hallways instead of the convention center's.

So, your competition for attendees may not be who you think it is. It may be your attendees themselves as they learn to use some of the social software that's out there to connect with like-minded people in their own way, at their own time, and for a lot less money than it would cost to go to your annual convention.

We in business-to-business publishing feel your pain, as readers begin turning to blogs, listservs, and other social networks for their info, beginning to erode the once sacrosanct trade magazine, for similar reasons (except the cost part, since our particular magazines are offered free to readers).

So conference organizers, we're all in the same leaky boat, and the tide is rising. The question is whether we embrace the trend, or try to deny that it's happening.

As Rich says, "Ignore at your peril."

Sidebar: See Paul Conley's take on the ASAE show blog being run by volunteers. While I doubt ASAE would have a B2B publisher ever do a show daily for its conference, it's interesting to contemplate that just as we journalist types are thinking about doing show blogs to replace show dailies, the attendees are already leaving us in the dust. Interesting, eh?

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