Non-Governmental Imagination


Am I A Tech Conference Whore?
July 29, 2006, 5:40 pm
Filed under: Imagination, NGO Blogs, Web 2.0

Yup. ‘fraid so.

Today (and last night) I’m at BlogHer. In the past year I’ve been to the Blog Business Summit, nearly every Net Tuesday event, an NTEN happy hour, the Craigslist Nonprofit Boot Camp, the Net Squared Conference, WineCamp, Vloggercon, and maybe one or two others that I’m forgetting right now since too damn early to be on Caltrain (heading to BlogHer).

That’s a lot of tech conferences. Interplast pays my registration fee if I can’t wheedle out a free ticket due to my nonprofit-ness or in exchange for volunteering. That usually works, but not always, and I’ve probably made our donors shell out upwards of $200 for me to attend these shindigs. So why do I go?

  1. Schwag. I like free stuff. Depending on the conference, I pick up all kinds of lovely corporate-branded stuff, some of which I use. It’s funny, at the Blog Business Summit Microsoft gave us all these really suave laptop bags that seem pretty expensive. At WineCamp, an un-conference meant to bridge the gap between NGOs and software developers, we got t-shirts. They know who butters their bread. Disclosure: while I might abhor some of Microsoft’s business practices, they allow NGOs to get any of their products for unbelievable discounts, so they’re definitely awesome in that regard.

  1. Ladies. It’s funny, these conferences tend to be pretty male-dominated (BlogHer being a notable exception) yet I usually hang out with females. Maybe I’ve just grown more accustomed to their ways since I work at an organization that is 90% female. Or maybe they are more interested in helping me work out Interplast’s technical and marketing challenges (a greying community, distant clients, limited time, money and expertise, etc). Regardless, since living with a woman and working with lots of women has done little to give me anything approaching a decent knowledge of women, going to tech conferences helps elucidate me.

  1. Food and drink. I like buffets, and I like free drinks. Technology conferences usually have both. I can honestly say that well over half of the valuable contacts I have met have been either waiting in line for food/booze or consuming it. If I don’t know anyone and am feeling particularly shy, I hang out by the food. It never asks me if we’ve tried to get on Oprah/Rocketboom and always makes me happy 🙂

  1. Fun. There’s often a palpable excitement in the air at these events. Things are changing. Fast. And everyone is trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It’s a fun time.

  1. People. While the rest of these are quasi-joking, this one is serious. I learn very quickly when people explain or show me things one-on-one, and not so well just fooling around with it on my own. I’m not a very smart person, especially when it comes to technology. There’s plenty of web-based tutorials and explanations of CSS, Drupal, Creative Commons, Wordpress, OPML, Second Life and all the other stuff I’m sorta curious about these days, but dammit, I can rarely glean much from them. Net Squared does a great job of this, but I still find it much easier to learn from people. Folks at technology conferences are very approachable, and are usually pretty interested in helping out (if they have the time) if you work at an NGO. We all like to use our skill set to help save the world, and techie types have an enormous amount to offer in terms of raising productivity, increasing the scale of communications, reaching donors in more meaningful ways, making collaboration easier, etc. They want to help the world, I need help from them so I can help the world better.

So maybe I am a technology conference whore. In my mind, I justify what I do at these things as work, even if I don’t spend every minute pimping out InterplastDisclosure: I don’t get paid overtime for these, and I with one exception I pay for my own transportation and non-free drinks.  But it’s a fun style of work, where the capacity to learn is high and the schwag runs wild and free.

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