Critique of Gnomedex 2007
Tuesday, August 21, 2007 by Dave Winer.
If you go to the Gnomedex website, you'll see it's positioned as "The blogosphere's conference," and with the usual caveat that there are many blogospheres, if you look at the people who came, you'd see that's correct.
More specifically it's a blogosphere user's conference. Tech companies may sponsor the show, but they are largely observers. When the discussion on stage is focused on blogs the people presenting often are users. And that's the thing I like about Gnomedex. When you put vendors on stage, they have to get their money's worth, it's their job. I know because I've spoken at many conferences as a vendor. It's always a struggle, the temptation to sell, balanced against the audience's right to get value for their money.
Which brings me to another thing that's fairly unique about Gnomedex. Most of the attendees pay to be there, unlike most tech conferences where almost no one pays. At Gnomedex, the tradition is so strong that even though I've spoken at two of the three shows I've been to, I've always paid for my ticket. It may be be out of personal loyalty to Chris and Ponzi, or knowing that it's not a big corporation putting on the show, not sure what it is but it never occurs to me to ask for a comp.
This is a good thing, btw -- because its made it inappropriate for people to give commercials from the stage and kept the focus firmly on the users' interests. There are plenty of tech conferences where sponsors take the stage and pitch their products. At least there you're not paying to listen to an ad. Let there be at least one conference that is about users.
Too many of the speeches were about politics, the speakers were intolerant of discussions, and in two cases even questions were not appropriate. Someone has to say something about this, and surprisingly very few people have.
The opening keynote speaker, Robert Steele, was a total disaster, completely inappropriate, insulting to our intelligence, and way off-topic. He rushed through his complex slides, strung together countless buzzphrases into non-sentences, never completed a thought, and made it clear he wasn't even taking questions, much less disagreement (and how could you disagree with a presentation that never bothers to make a point). The guy looked and sounded like a poor man's Rush Limbaugh. I thought for a while maybe he was a joke, a parody, a comedian, but you don't make your opening speaker of a conference you care about a joke.
The presentation on Open Money was equally confusing and insulting, the speaker refused to even define the concept. And in the end, after supposedly explaining a revolutionary system of finance, he had the gall to ask us for the old kind of money that he was theoretically finished with. It was laughable.
There were other examples of speakers who should not have been on stage at Gnomedex, or should have been given 5 to 15 minutes, but couldn't make effective use of the hour they were given. That the audience was relegated to being only an audience this year only made it worse.
It's fine to have one off-topic speaker, a retired politician, a Nobel laureate, a sports hero, maybe an astronaut or former president. But not as a keynote, and not so many, and not such flakes. We are worth it. I don't think Chris gets that. A lot of accomplished people would like to present their ideas to the people who come to Gnomedex.
If Gnomedex is to continue, it must get back on track, it must reflect our interests, the audience's interests. Chris is a great entertainer, and a warm human being, but his vision of the political and economic future is not something I share, or would find interesting to discuss.
Chris may choose to run a conference about his political views, but I have a choice too, when I go to political conferences, they reflect my interests. I go to Gnomedex to meet other bloggers and discuss what's happening in the blogosphere. It shouldn't be hard to program that, we can help, if asked.
If you have comments, please post them here.
Tris Hussey defends Gnomedex, questions my honesty and value as a human. Sad. :-(
On 8/12 I wrote about the things that worked at Gnomedex.
I've been talking with Scoble about GD. He approves of this critique.