Tuesday, April 27, 2010

cf.Objective() 2010 Redux - The Good, What I'd Change and the Ugly

It's the week after the conference and I'm sure everybody that attended is currently digging themselves out of the pile of work that accrued during the conference.  I decided to blog about the conference now before I forget things.

Before I continue, I want to thank all of the fellow Content Advisory Board (CAB) members that helped decide the topic for the tracks this year.  Without all the help and diligence, I doubt the conference content would have been so good this year.

The Good

The conference was great this year and here are some of the random things I really thought made the conference different than in past years.
  • The Birds of a Feather (BoFs) were organized and put into the printed schedule this year.  This needs to be done at least a month in advance otherwise the BoFs are not well attended.  The BoFs are some of my most favorite moments of the conference.
  • Just about all of the presentations this year seemed pretty polished and informative.  Maybe it was because we had a turn over in content completely or that a different speaker spoke on a needed topic than in past years.
  • This year the conference used green / red cards in a punchbowl to rate the presentation.  If you had comments, you could write it on the cards.  One suggestion is to add a "white" card to indicate "indifferent".  I understand the needs of having an imbalanced rating system (either good or bad), but most people will rate higher than needed if pushed into a corner.  I suspect that very few red cards were put into the punch bowl.  This system made it easy for attendees to provide at least a minimum amount of feedback.
  • I dare say I am biased, but the location of the conference is great (being that I live in the city of Minneapolis myself).
  • The schedule this year was great in the terms of timing.  This year the conference allowed 15 minutes between presentation slots and the presentation slots were 60 minutes.  This allowed for ample time for the presentation and QA.
  • The Duct Tape and Astronaut skit / presentation was great.  I hope to see the written technical comedy of Matt Woodward again next year.

What I'd Change / Add

There are a few things I'd change for cf.Objective() 2011.  I am not being negative here; merely critical as that is only way for cf.Objective() 2011 to be even better than this year!
  • I would reduce the total number of members of the CAB for 2011.  This year we had three "co-chairs" per track and the phrase "three's company" comes to mind.  Yes, the topic select was done in mostly democratic voting manner, however there still needs to be somewhat of a benevolent "dictator" for each track.  I'd suggest two CAB co-chairs per track.
  • Now this might come as a surprise to some because I'm the lead developer for Mach-II, but I would eliminate all framework talks from cf.Objective() 2011 especially for the major frameworks.  In retrospect, I would have not had talks for Mach-II, Model-Glue, ColdSpring and ColdBox.  The smaller / younger projects I could see a talk being presented such as FW1 and CFWheels.  At some point, the frameworks really self-evangelize themselves and the framework talks in general have lower attendance.  Plus, you see the major frameworks if other talks that are not directly related the framework nowadays.  This would free up a lot of space in the Process and Methodology track for other really neat things.
  • The RIA: Flex / AJAX / AIR track was the least popular track in the terms of attendance based on my causal observations.  This year it really made me wonder if RIA deserves a track in 2011.  This is because if you are a Flex / AIR developer you go to Flex360 or other AJAX oriented conference.  I feel that the RIA track is really not attracting RIA people to cf.Objective() and just waters down the real focus of the conference -- CFML!
  • I'm starting to worry about the increasing cost to the conference.  I hope the cost can be reduced for next year as $799 early bird is a bit pricey over previous years.  I'd like to see the early bird back down to under $599 for a three day event.  However, I'm not the money man for the conference.  This is merely a suggestion.
  • The Pecha Kucha BoF was very well received from what I hear (I was in the mobile BoF that night).  I would definitely bring that back, but during the day -- preferably each track getting their own.  Also, I hope to offer a presentation that is similar to Pecha Kucha -- "Choose Your Own Adventure" style presentation in which multiple short presentations are strung together in a choose your own adventure format.
  • I would setup a "private" StatusNet (identi.ca / twitter) network for the conference.  It would be great fun to have "private" channel just for the conference.  Plus, StatusNet (open source) supports file uploads and photo sharing.

Personal Observations

  • I did four presentations this year: Speedy Websites, Open Source Debugging Tools, Mach-II and OpenBD on Google Application Engine.  To be entirely blunt, I over extended myself this year.  Yes, the Mach-II presentation was a snap to plan (thanks Kurt) and Matt basically put the whole GAE presentation together.  It was a lot of stress for me this year especially after my wife and I decided to buy a house and move between time I agreed to four presentations and the actual conference.  Next year I'm limiting myself to a maximum of two presentations (if they even selected).
  • I am local to conference and therefore I commuted to the conference hotel.  My parking was paid for, however non-local speakers get hotel room.  Honestly, it would be a lot less stress for the local presenters to have been giving a hotel room (I would have happily roomed with Kurt to save money).  I just don't understand why locals get way less in the terms of "compensation" than non-locals.
  • This is sort of a pet peeve of mine so please excuse me for getting on my soap box for a moment.  The CFO steering committee (all names read), the CFO CAB (just a mention of the committee as a whole) and CFO Sponsors (all names read) were all thanked.  However, the speakers were not thanked (either by name or as a whole) for a second year in a row.  In all honesty it is probably just an oversight, but without the speakers the conference cannot happen.  I hope next year the conference decides to thank speakers directly during the "closing ceremonies."  At the first CFO in 2006, we all got $100 gift cards to the Mall of America (actually place that accepted Visa).

The Ugly

  • Actually, there was nothing ugly.  Just thought it would be a nice joke to put up that category.
That's my cf.Objective() 2010 redux.  I hope to be there in 2011 -- it was a blast!


  1. @Sean, a Pecha Kucha for each track in that it would relate to the track subject. I'm sure there are more than few short subject presentations that relate to a track but don't need a full length presentation. I guess I'm saying it would be nice to offer a fast paced session in which there are 4-6 short presentations. The speakers wouldn't be given rooms / free admission (unless they were doing a full length talk). A great way for newer speakers / attendees to be part of the conference. For example, integration with CFML and Twitter in 6 minutes, learning how to read stacktraces in 6 minutes, deploying Railo in 6 minutes (I know it's simple but sometimes seeing it once is way to bring new people in) or Apache Mod_Rewrite crash course in 6 minutes.

  2. Gotcha! Nice idea!

  3. Totally agree with more Pecha Kucha being integrated. If we could have a room set aside for this and it'd just be ongoing throughout the conference that would be fantastic. The schedule could be posted at the beginning of each day so it'd be a bit like an unconference that would be going on during the conference, and if there were gaps in the schedule, no big deal.

    Honestly I'd like to see an unconference with full-length presentations mixed in as well. It's a great way for people to talk about things they're interested in that might not make sense as a traditional talk in one of the tracks.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree that local speakers should get hotel rooms for the conference. I felt like I missed out on a lot of the social events in the evening because I had to take the train/bus home and I am very uncomfortable walking around at night by myself.

  5. I've been thinking about "Choose Your Own Adventure" books style in the terms of presentations and this would be a great way to take a bunch of Pecha Kucha presos and make it entirely audience chosen. I do worry if Pecha Kucha is all the time -- nobody will attend. Hence why I suggest at least one session per track. People can sign up for the track their topic fits in the most.

    As for un-conference stuff, it would be cool to have a digital bulletin board. For example, I would have loved to have talked to somebody about MySQL Clustering if I knew a person. I would have put up a "Need 20 minutes to talk about MySQL Clustering. Anybody have any experience? - Peter J. Farrell (photo / twitter handle). I think it would be a great way to connect people that maybe would not connect normally.

  6. Yep, although if it was ongoing I don't think that necessarily would mean no one would attend. But the more organized the better.Love the idea of a better way to connect with people and do quick ad hoc discussions that could be advertised on the bulletin board so other people could listen in too. Would be cool to see some "hacker lounge" kind of activity come out of this as well--people could get together and code while they're there. Might mean an extra room or two to make this happen but would be great to see.

  7. @Sean, regarding rooms for locals. I'm sure the locals wouldn't have minded sharing with other locals (we all know each other) and it might be a good idea to ask out-of-town speakers to pair up (most of the speakers know each other). The reason I make the point is the reciprocity is skewed to out-of-town speakers between hotel room and shuttle from the airport. The locals only get parking.

    I guess I see that as a bit unfair and that the priorities are wrong. I know that Emily and I aren't the only locals that were a bit bummed about the deal. All speakers should be treated the same -- we all put work and effort into our presentations. I don't think that equal treatment is an unfair request.

    For example, cutting the shuttle from the airport I would suspect save some dollars for local speaker rooms.

  8. Perhaps an unconference track in place of a RIA track then?

    BTW, the cost of the shuttle for all non-local speakers would cover less than two extra speakers' rooms. I think there were four local speakers this year, maybe five? Keeping to a strict cap of 40 speakers would be a fairer solution I suspect (so a few more people would get two topics accepted instead of just one).

  9. An unconference track would be awesome IMO.I agree with a smaller speaker cap. With nearly 25% of total attendees being speakers this year I can see pushing the budget a bit. Tricky line to walk since one of the great things from the attendee standpoint is a low attendee to speaker ratio, but it could probably be balanced out a bit. Overall this was still the best cfobjective ever IMO. Great to see so many new faces and hear so many new topics.

  10. The unconference idea is a good one. In fact, I was going to suggest it until I read further down and saw that it had already been suggested. I had noticed that the RIA track wasn't well attended, either.

    For local speakers, some of the non-local speakers could offer to share a room with the local speakers who want to crash in the hotel for the night. I probably would have done it had I been asked. This would cost the conference nothing. I doubt you would get all the local speakers a roommate, but I'm guessing not all local speakers would want to stay in the hotel, either.

    I also like the idea of doing a Pecha Kucha per track. I went to another BOF and it sounds like it was pretty fun and was a big hit. I would do it in the regular time slots and not as a BOF.

    Next year, I would like to see some ability to do repeat tracks. It was difficult to see what you wanted to see, and I had to make some hard choices on almost every time slot during the conference. Honestly, I don't know if I have a good suggestion as to how that I know would work, perhaps adding an extra time slot or two per day would be feasible or not, but if you could and took on the same number of topics, that would allow for some repeat sessions. I would also stagger the same number of BOFs over three time slots (as per MAX) than only two. Again, I don't know if that would incur an extra cost or not, but it would be good if possible. The other option, and I know there would be a cost involved, would be a 4th day for repeats. Again, none of these may be possible, but just some ability to see the sessions that I miss would be appreciated. Perhaps recording them with Connect either with the ColdFusion meetup or a separate initiative would make this possible. I have already agreed to repeat my OO session on the CF Meetup in the next 2 or 3 weeks, so I know that I'm covered. :)

  11. To address some of Brian's points...

    Speakers are of course welcome to room share - but I don't know if that would address Peter's concerns (he could have easily asked any other speaker to share a room but his point is that local speakers should get a regular room like non-local speakers).

    Yes, there are increased costs to running BOFs over three hours instead of two. Also, a 4th day would add a lot of additional costs too. In the past, using Saturday as a mostly-repeat day has led to a lot of people taking the two-day option. CFUnited runs into the same issue with their 4th day of repeats: a lot of people take the three day option and the 4th day is not as well attended.

    As for Connect, a lot of speakers will not actually use Connect when they're presenting live in front of an audience at a conference - as CFUnited has found out... and feel free to ask Ray Camden about using Connect when you're presenting :)

    I'm going to be a little blunt here and risk offending people: if you haven't put on a successful conference for several years in a row, you're probably not aware of the costs and constraints. Whenever I've talked to attendees about the numbers, they're shocked. The conference steering committees - for all conferences - go out of their way to create the best possible experience for attendees (not necessarily for speakers) so that attendees recommend the conference and come back year after year. Speakers do not pay to attend, attendees do. Speaking at a conference is a privilege. When speakers act like prima donnas, they do not get invited to speak again (look around and you'll see several well-known community members and *former* speakers who are very clearly not invited / accepted to speak at conferences these days). Most conferences are very willing to accept new speakers - cf.Objective() has a history of being a "first experience" for a large number of speakers, many of whom go on to speak repeatedly at conferences all over the place. Conferences are less inclined to accept speakers who are a pain in the ass or complain about the conference...

    Constructive criticism is always welcome, of course.

    BTW, I'm stepping down from the cf.Objective() committee after five years. I need a break, and I'm pulling back from a number of commitments this year. Just in case you think I'm speaking on behalf of the committee or plan to hold any grudges... since I won't be involved in next year's speaker selections :)

  12. Thanks for your thoughts Sean. Although now it seems we might get to the point of rehashing stuff over again regarding rooms for local speakers however it wasn't in me to ask an out-of-town speaker to share. I know a few other local speakers say it would have been easier to make morning presentations if they had stayed at the hotel. Ultimately, in the end it worked out, but it begged the question of why not (hence it being an original point) and that is why I asked. I want to see cf.Objective() be its best and constructive and objective dissection of the conference is how it will get better!

    As for using Connect during a live presentation, I don't have that in me and I would honestly plain refuse. @Brian, maybe it's not a distraction for you, but for me -- speaking live is enough is distraction (questions, phones, notes, etc). Case in point is I forgot to turn off Gwibber for my first presentation -- funny for the audience to see conference tweets in the notification widget, distracting for me and off it went. If you want a recorded presentation, I believe it's best to perform it to be recorded as the situation will allow for the least distractions. Ask any musician, live recordings are terrifying!

    As for a fourth day, I would vote nay for that. I never thought that CFUnited's 4th day was worth much. Kurt and I would usually just pal around DC and take it all in.

    In regards to repeats, we all have to make decisions on what we want to see. I have a feeling that repeat sessions would just make for extra work -- some speakers might feel left out. I dare say it would be difficult to pick the repeats beforehand at that.

    @Sean, sorry to hear you are stepping down. I know you were a great asset to the conference as a whole. As you full well know by my stepping down from Open CFML Committee, sometimes you just need to pare down and focus on the things that make you happy (and sometimes make some money at that ;-). Here's to hoping some simplification in your life brings you great things! Thanks for all of your effort Sean!

    (P.s. This has been a great discussion this post -- hopefully it fruitful for 2011!)

  13. "Keeping to a strict cap of 40 speakers would be a fairer solution I suspect (so a few more people would get two topics accepted instead of just one)."

    This year I count 47 speakers. Two of which are Adobe and six were locals (Fred, Kurt, Emily, Jason, Dan Nelson? and myself). This idea seems doable. The RIA track had 15 speakers in which 12 were unique to the RIA track only (I may have the numbers slightly wrong -- sorry if I did). If the RIA track would be done away with next year, I think it's doable to fill a new track with other speakers plus the remaining 5 speaker slots (47 total minus 12 RIA only speakers) to a hard cap of 40. Just a thought.

  14. Not sure about others, but I think three days is PLENTY long. Once you get into a fourth day not only would the cost go up substantially, but it's just too long for a conference IMO. Burnout would set in and I suspect it would leave a bad taste in people's mouths. Leave 'em wanting more and they'll come back. I also personally don't care about repeat sessions. If the conference has multiple things you want to see in every slot, that's a sign of great content. You can't see everything.I think the CFMeetup is a great outlet to do sessions from CFO. That way people can potentially see what they missed and it certainly helps Charlie with getting content for the Meetup. I'm with Ray and Peter on the Connect issue. It's a non-starter for me for several reasons, not the least of which is that Connect doesn't work well on Linux, and I'm not changing operating systems just to record or doing any crazy VM nonsense while I'm trying to present. Plus, to me it seems rather insulting to the people that are at the conference in person to have them have to put up with the presenters futzing around with Connect and worrying about the recording. We investigated ways of doing this that would be transparent to the presenter and audience both, but the costs are exorbitant both to record and host the recordings. Overall I think CFO hit nearly all the marks this year, from content, to mix of speakers, to timing of the schedule ... there isn't a lot I'd change really other than the minor points we've been discussing here.

  15. @Sean, as I said in the comments, I wasn't sure any of the suggestions were good ones. In fact, I was pretty sure each of them had their issues. Of the suggestions, I figured that a fourth day was most problematic.

    @Peter: I wasn't saying to use Connect while you are doing the live presentation. I was suggesting doing a Connect after your live presentation - a separate recording. I didn't make that point clear enough. I know the perils of presenting live while also doing a Connect, having done it a couple of times myself, and it's not a good experience for either the live audience, the Connect audience, or the speaker.

    The problem with doing each session as a meetup is that most speakers do not bother. Look at the meetup this week, for example. He couldn't get a speaker this week, even after CFObjective. That says it all to me. Now, as I said previously, I will be doing one, but I've got some stuff to do this week now that I'm back at work and it didn't make sense to do it this now. I doubt, though, that all speakers could say the same.

  16. Regarding the meetup this week: I suspect most speakers are still digging out from the result of being away from work for several days and are all a bit burned out after the conference. I know I certainly don't want to give any more presentations for a couple of weeks. My FW/1 talk had already been given on the meetup (February) and UGTV has an extended recording from BACFUG as well. My Open Source Landscape talk hasn't made it to the meetup yet but it is scheduled for CFUnited and will make it to the meetup sometime this year.

    Just as some speakers didn't want PDFs of their presos posted on the cf.Objective() site before the conference, I'm sure many speakers don't want a recording available before a conference presentation so for speakers giving the same talks at CFUnited, I think it's understandable that they may not want to do the meetup until August.

    Good to see you meant Connect presos separate from the live deal. I've gone with Connect once or twice when presenting at conferences but no longer do so out of respect for my live audience.

  17. I totally burned out from the conference.   BTW, I am the speaker next week for CFMeetup doing my Speedy Websites presentation.  Thought it might be good for me to re-present the presentation while it all fresh in my mind.  I will probably offer to Charlie to do my Open Source Debugging Tools talk as well.  I also know that Matt and I will be doing the OpenBD on GAE presentation to the CFMeetup either in late May or late June (scheduling). I was not selected to speak at CFUnited (tis OK -- it's a busy year for me) so I have no problems repeating my presentations on CFMeetup in the near future.  I know other presentations are being given at CFUnited so repeating them between the two conferences IMHO is poor form. .Peter

  18. I just want to add a little to what Sean has said about costs and constraints on running a conference. I've been fairly public about what it costs us to run Scotch on the Rocks every year, with the most expensive year so far being 2008, which cost us £50k ($76k at the current exchange rate). We charged £199 a ticket that year, and had about 100 paying attendees, plus 30-ish speakers, plus sponsors, comps, etc (180 in total). We got about £10k in sponsorship - yeah, that's all. So you can work out the loss we made yourself.

    Now, there are some conferences out there that truly take the piss in regards ticket prices, and although Sean raised a concern about the increasing cost of cf.O(), I still don't think it's excessive.

    Our 2009 and 2010 conferences have been downgraded massively due to economic constraints. In 2009, we took the conference across the UK and Europe, and whilst we visited approx 600 CFML developers, we lost a lot in atmosphere, wide variety of speakers, etc. For 2010 we're in London for 2 years in a very low-key venue but we're hoping to make up for that with some good speakers, topics and the usual SOTR fun.

    We've always had a harder time running SOTR than any US conference due to language barriers across the European countries, the cost of European flights, the cost of bringing in speakers from the US.

    But even with the challenges, especially the current economic ones, we always believed that a cut down event was better than no event at all. 2011 will be a completely different ball game though ;)

    Anyway, I thought I'd just throw in a perspective from the other side of the pond.