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    Bob Balaban

     

    To Go, Or Not To Go: That Was the Question

    Bob Balaban  September 29 2008 09:15:07 AM
    Greetings, Geeks!

    Have you heard? Lotusphere09 is coming! (in 4 months...).
    If you wanted to submit an abstract or 3 so you could get the free ticket (value of almost $1900) or so you could work on your campaign to become a Lotusphere rock star, it's too late, the deadline was last Friday.

    Will I be going? Freakin' A! So far I've been to all 15, and I'm not breaking my streak now. That's not the only reason I'm going, of course. However, there was a time several years ago (2001) when I was seriously thinking I wouldn't attend. Really seriously thinking. I went and dug up the article I wrote about that at the time, and I'm posting it here for your reading pleasure (the magazine I wrote it for no longer exists, so there's no copyright issue). I have edited out a bunch of complaints about the registration and hotel reservation process, mainly because that's gotten a whole lot better since '01. I also added some [editorial comments, like this]. While I wouldn't write the same article today (lots of things have changed since 2001), it's fun to look back and remember where things were at back then.

    "To Go, Or Not To Go: That Was the Question"

    Bob Balaban, January, 2001

    To be completely honest about it, I was really on the fence about whether to attend Lotusphere 2001 for a long time. I had previously attended all seven Lotuspheres, the first four as a Lotus/Iris employee and speaker, and the succeeding three as a business partner. I wasn't especially looking forward to the eighth one this year, and my registration experience back in October had, to put it mildly, sucked. I began to question the certainty of my attendance, and wondered if I were alone in those feelings of doubt.

    So, in anticipation of writing this article, I made some notes on why I did and didn't want to go, and polled some of my friends and colleagues to see whether they were going, and if so why, if not, why not. Much of what I heard was expected, some of it was surprising. Now that Lotusphere 2001 is over (and, to steal my own thunder, I did go), I've polled some other friends and colleagues who also attended, to see how they felt about the conference: were they glad they went, or sorry?

    This article is a summary of my feelings, both pro and con, about attending Lotusphere, and some thoughts and observations from a selection of other people, some of whom attended and some of whom chose not to go this year.

    "It's Insanity"
    There were certainly many reasons to stay home this year. Attending Lotusphere is expensive. The conference registration and the hotel bills alone are around $3000 [WAY more than that now, in 2008; bob], and while the plane fare is relatively cheap (at least, from Boston it is), the revenue lost from spending 4 or 5 days in Orlando instead of spending that time doing billable work for my customers is substantial.

    And then, there's the hassle and aggravation. It started for me this year with the conference registration. I knew in advance that registration would open at 9am Eastern time on Tuesday, October 3. But I was teaching a course all day that day (ironically, at Lotus), and didn't get to log in to the registration site until 5pm, by which time the conference was sold out, as was every listed conference hotel. I added myself to every possible wait list, and put off making plane reservations. [Remember when Lotusphere sold out within hours? I'm not sorry that's not happening anymore...; bob]

    I was bummed, but as I began contemplating January without Lotusphere, I actually started looking forward to not going. Let's face it: the thrill of being at Disney World wore off for me after the third trip. While it would still be fun for me to spend that extra couple of days there with my kids, they're now too old to miss school for a week. Myself, I'm thoroughly sick of the Disney/Lotusphere experience: big crowds, long walks between hotels several times a day, boring food in big, noisy tents, long lines, overflow rooms, and spending 15 minutes just trying to get from one side of the showcase to the other.

    If I'd been given a session to do, I wouldn't have given it a second thought: the free registration and exposure for me and my business would have made the decision a no-brainer. But that didn't happen. I didn't have any customers going that I couldn't see somewhere else more conveniently. I wasn't desperate to garner any particular technical info or business coaching, or to rub shoulders and press the flesh with Lotus and Iris people.

    And there's the hassle.

    A week later I was notified that I could have a conference ticket, and because I'd provided my credit card number at wait-list time, they went ahead and charged me. My anticipation of staying home in January was short lived: to cancel now would mean paying the $100 penalty. Sigh.

    Karen Hobert, president of Top Dog Training and Development and a six-time Lotusphere attendee said, "It's insanity. It should have been moved to a bigger location many years ago. Why do I have to get up at 6am or else get locked out of sessions? I'm going on vacation. The downtime has already been built in to my schedule, and if I'm going to spend that kind of money, I'd rather relax." Karen also made the point that for the technically oriented, smaller business partner, the show has become less relevant. I agree with that assessment: much of the really technical content is now reserved for the DevCon (where the crowds are a lot smaller), and the business oriented sessions on raising venture capital, hiring employees and developing sales techniques are not particularly relevant to small businesses who focus primarily on consulting and services. [Note: Lotus stopped doing DevCons a long time ago, and the technical content at Lotusphere is definitely back up there; bob]

    There did seem to be a general sense of gloom among many of the people I discussed things with. There were rumors of layoffs at Lotus, further IBM-ification of the company and the product, and dejection over a perceived lack of commitment by Lotus to the Notes Client.

    It wasn't looking good for Lotusphere.

    "It's the People, Stupid"
    So I went anyway. I did all the usual stuff: picked the sessions I thought I'd get the most out of, cruised the showcase, went to some parties and other get-togethers (skipped the Wednesday night bash for the fourth year in a row, and was not a bit sorry), hung out with people I don't get to see very often.

    I asked around among my friends and colleagues to see if they were glad they had attended. The results of my informal poll (no, don't even think of asking for a recount) were a little surprising: most of the people I asked were happy they'd made the trip, despite the attendant hassle and aggravation.

    Gabriella Davis, of The Turtle Partnership, said, "It was my best Lotusphere in years." Wayne Scarano, of SGA Business Systems, was in general agreement, though he would have liked RNext to be "more in the forefront". [In 2001, "RNext" was the code name for what later became Version 6; bob]

    Most said that the main reason they attend Lotusphere is not for the technical information, but to get an idea of Lotus' product direction and strategy, and to network with other attendees. And that assessment is not exclusive to people from large companies. Richard Schwartz, president of RHS Consulting and an 8-time Lotusphere attendee, said "I go back every year to renew relationships and form new ones, and this is the key value for me.  Access to Iris developers and Lotus product managers is invaluable to me.  The networking opportunities with customers and other business partners are just as important, too.  There is no single event during the year that gives me even half the networking opportunities that Lotusphere does."

    Some (like me) also went to try to sign new customers. The expense is usually more than repaid if you can engage even a single new client. Of course that's a hit or miss proposition, and you can't count on it. Others who had been morose about perceived negative trends at Lotus/IBM were reassured by the Business Development Day and other sessions. Dick Gill, of Gill & Piette, Inc., said "Al Zollar is a steady hand on the tiller. The IBM presence was thankfully subtle, maybe they finally understand that the audience is Lotus people." Several people expressed relief that most of the sessions would be available (at no extra cost) via webcast following the conference, thus relieving some of the strain of having to choose between competing sessions.

    Conclusion: Worth it, or not?
    I'd say that most of the people I discussed it with who actually attended were happy they did. None of the people I discussed it with who did not attend were sorry that they didn't.

    For myself, I'm still on the fence, neither glad nor sorry that I went. The expense and aggravation was mainly balanced by the networking, by a few good technical sessions and by the labs. For me and those like me (small business partner, focused on consulting rather than seat-selling and primarily technical rather than sales/marketing), the value of Lotusphere has declined relative to the geekier DevCon. On balance, though, I'd have to admit that there is still gold to be mined down there in Lake Buena Vista. Just don't make me go on the "It's A Small World" ride, ok?

    [Summary: I've been to 7 Lotusphere's since 2001, 2 of them as an IBM employee. I still haven't been to the Wednesday party, but I'd still count the trip as an overall plus. It's still the only event where you get a chance to see absolutely everybody. And that's worth a lot. See you there, in 4 months!]


    (Need expert application development architecture/coding help? Contact me at: bbalaban, gmail.com)

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    Comments

    1Turtle  9/29/2008 3:43:34 PM  Yeah, OK, what he said...

    Um... yeah. What he said.

    2Perry Hiltz  10/9/2008 5:52:10 PM  To Go, Or Not To Go: That Was the Question

    Bob,

    Hopefully one of my abstracts (btw thanks for volunteering me, no, sincerely thank you!)

    will be approved and Lotus can pay for me to be there. It will be a nice change from being out on an engagement while the party goes on without me!!)

    Perry