by Esther Schindler

When Technology Works: the New Age of Conference Attendance

Dec 28, 20074 mins
Data Center

In which our heroine rediscovers how online communities really can improve the quality of life—or at least improve her confidence of attending MacWorld.

In all my varied personae, I’ve attended lot of tech conferences. For example, I missed only one Fall Comdex between 1986 and the bitter end of the trade show: first as a computer dealer (I owned a computer store in rural Maine) and as a user group officer (the Association of PC User Groups held its annual get-togethers during Comdex), later as a computer consultant and freelance writer.

Preparing for an intense, weeklong trip in another city is difficult, when you’re not sure of the necessary survival skills. I was lucky enough to have other APCUG officers advise me (“wear comfortable shoes!” and “Distances in Las Vegas are deceiving; it’s a full mile from the MGM Grand entrance to its conference facilities, so plan your time accordingly”). But mostly, I was on my own.

Fast forward to today. I’m in the process of preparing to attend the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, the week after my birthday. (There, that’s a nice broad hint. Dark chocolate, please.) I’ve been to MacWorld a couple of times before, and I’ve attended several events at Moscone so I know my way around the area. Still— finding out “what’s happening” can be a lonely experience.

Except it isn’t. Between social networks and the kindness of Internet strangers, I’m impressed with the resources available to me as a MacWorld attendee. (Similar resources exist, I’m sure, for almost any conference. It’s just that Mac people can be so gosh-durn friendly to people who share their passions.)

I’ve been a journalist long enough that I don’t really need a social network to find friends to hang with. A short e-mail message to other writers (including Mac book authors who used to write articles for me) and to other tech journalists (schmoozing with writer-buddies is the only thing I miss about Comdex) took care of my dinner plans for Tuesday night.

But I was tickled by the response when I posted a “Want to meet up at Macworld?” tweet on Twitter. As a result, an old friend from Santa Cruz, whom I didn’t think to contact directly, will do the show floor with me. If that hadn’t helped me fill up my social calendar, I probably would have been more excited about the pages devoted to the conference on Facebook and Upcoming. Though I gotta say that, loner or no, I can’t imagine showing up for the pre-keynote gathering (to get the best seats) since everyone is meeting at the Apple store at 4:00am. It’s cool with me if you do; just don’t expect to see me there.

However, two sites absolutely charm me, and thaw my frozen, cynical heart. One of them is MacWorld Bound, in which kind soul Adam Jackson shares more than “wear comfortable shoes” advice. He offers a healthy dose of pragmatic wisdom about travel and the event itself, such as whether you can buy products on the exhibit floor, and the useful-to-know information that no Internet access is provided during the keynote address.

MacWorld Bound let me to another useful resource, Pixelography, where the author laboriously typed in every single bit of the conference program into iCal. You can download, say, the MacIT presentations. That’ll save me a bunch of time during the conference (let’s see, when’s that session on “Using Collaboration Services on Mac OS X Server”?).

And thanks to the folks at O’Reilly, I was directed to the detailed events list. Ilene, whoever she is, includes everything from a pre-MacWorld San Francisco photo tour to press conferences that I sure hadn’t heard about yet, despite being registered as a Media attendee.

I’m sure I could find more resources—and that’s just my point. I love how people connect to help one another, at times like this. It’s a great example of what online community is all about.