Future of Web Apps Dublin: great speakers, poorly organised

I attended my first Future of Web Apps conference yesterday when Carsonified’s FOWA troupe came to Dublin for a one-day event in Liberty Hall.

I was really looking forward to this event and the talks certainly fulfilled expectations. Blog reports on all presentations (apart from Ryan Carson’s whom I missed) will be published next week after some editing.

The highlights were David H. Hansson from 37signals and Eoghan McCabe and Des Traynor from Contrast. A theme that ran through many of the presentations was not to conform to conventional expectations, echoing the memes of change and revolution prevalent in today’s world.

An unwelcome change that was noticed by many attendees was the lack of “extras” during the conference, especially tea or coffees. In fact, apart from a name badge (and I didn’t even manage to get all of that as they had run out of the necklace clip thingys by the time I got there) that you had to write yourself, attendees received little more than the pleasure of seeing a varied lineup of great speakers and topics.

That’s fine, and indeed good speakers are what we came for in the main. But as many conference organizers will tell you, the secret to having a satisfied bunch of repeat attendees is good speakers, good food and drink, good wifi and good social activities – unfortunately FOWA Dublin failed on the wifi, food and drink, and there were precious few areas for socialising (the Liberty Hall is a limited venue with narrow walkways and one lecture theatre; I presented there last year so was surprised at the choice). I didn’t make the afters party so can’t comment on that.

Wifi was very, very poor, but this can be forgiven in part due to the fact that it probably rarely gets stress tested with 400 laptop- and iPhone-loving web professionals, and the organisers probably assumed “there’s wifi, great, another thing ticked off”. Toilets were abysmal: there was one working toilet for the male attendees in the afternoon (and the majority of attendees were male).

The main issue was no food or drink. This should have been included. Ticket prices were either 115 or 175 euro for early and regular purchasers, so 145 on average. As organizer of last year’s BlogTalk, I know that 150 euro tickets (plus four sponsorships) for 125 people can get you a lecture theatre and at least three or four extra rooms in a top-class hotel, tea, coffees, biscuits or muffins twice a day, plus lunch for THREE days, a banquet dinner and a t-shirt, and expenses for four plenary speakers. Oh, we printed out badges too!

FOWA Dublin had about 10 speakers, two or three from Ireland so about eight may have required expenses but many were from the UK. FOWA Dublin had around three times the people/revenues of the conference I organized, so there should have been plenty of extra cash for those four extra guests AND teas or coffees. I can’t imagine the fancy intro animations were more important than refreshments.

Overall, the fees were low so for the high quality speakers it was worth attending. But that little bit of extra devotion to attendees’ needs would have made all the difference.