Archive for Conferences
Why do we attend conferences should be a very easy question to answer and I was quite surprised when I was asked this question at this year’s cPanel Conference (though I think I will call it Bootcamp since that sounds far more fitting) in Houston. The logic follows that we have dozens of tools for instance communication to just about anywhere in the world. We have networking sites, voice and video phone, instant messenger, forums, micro blogging, hundreds of methods for delivering and receiving information of others so why for all that is wholesome and wondrous in the world, why oh why do we need conferences?
Okay so the question wasn’t asked quite like that, but work with me on this one.
There are three basic answers that you will get if you ask attendees this question. They are honestly fairly boring answers and can probably be rebutted with some piece of technology. They are to learn, to network, to be a part of a community. Well here is an easy reply:
To Learn: Buy a book, get a DVD, watch a webinar. Chances are you will learn more from a book that provides you with say 40 hours worth of information then a conference session which gives less than an hour.
To Network: You want to be a part of a network why not use LinkedIn, use Facebook, bombard industry blogs and even try to get hired on as a blog writer. Then open dialogues using Skype or IM and have a blast.
For Community: Spam the forums, get a blog. Pay attention to others in your industry and help out where ever you can and you too will be a part of the community.
Technology’s answers to conferences, have fun, see you later….
But then again I don’t give easy replies. Let me be blunt, if you are not going to ask questions of a speaker during a session, if you are not going to try to get hands on one-on-one face time with experts; you are seriously wasting your time. If all you are going to do is passive learning during training sessions, buy yourself a book and save a few thousand.
However, there are things you can do at a conference you simply can’t do online. Sure you can pop on a few of the network sites, but how is the interaction? You can of course participate online at all sorts of community websites, but the opportunity for light conversation, the type of things you talk about over dinner or a beer, well you can just forget about.
One of the problems with online conferences is that you lose the small talk side of networking. And some people may consider that a waste but I beg to differ. It is small talk that builds the personal connection between you and someone else and forms the basis of all successful business networking opportunities.
Another thing people lose with online conference is the added energy you gain from being at a conference. Let’s face it conferences are located in tourist areas cause they are like mini-vacations. I find myself working a great deal at conferences, lots of writing, preparing, etc., but even for me the change of scenery does your mind good. I find some of my best ideas come during or not long after a conference. In fact, they leave me energized even though I am completely worn out and tired. There is a level of inspiration we can gain from conferences as well. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I was getting a bite to eat with fellow attendees and we began discussing something mundane that ended up translating to technological practicality and before you know it the conversation becomes a full blown debate as to how automation will actually increase the amount of employment opportunities in the IT field.
Online conferences and networking opportunities often feel rather clinical to me because of the lack of, well that sense of connection. It is one of the reasons why I enjoy cPanel’s Bootcamp. cPanel gives you the sessions, all quite good if you want technical detail, but the networking events are extremely good.
So why do we attend conferences? There is an element of interactivity when it comes to learning, but the big reason why conferences work is because of the connection, the personal touch that can only be gained through face to face contact.
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For those who use to watch Bullwinkle and Rocky let me add an extra part to this title, As I Saw It or Dave Swallows Some Humble Pie. See now all of a sudden you are interested in this blog, shame on you. So this was my first cPanel Conference and I was pleasantly surprised.
You can tell a lot about a conference from the atmosphere found within the first hours. Will it be a power play? Will it be overly commercial? Will it be casual? Will it be unorganized? Will the sponsors work hard to support the attendees or will they act like its the attendees privilege to attend? Essentially from the moment you step within the boundaries of a convention the wee hourglass starts, ticking away with in your mind and it braces you for what mindset you need to be in.
Unfortunately, overly formal events and those that have plenty of marketing end up making people closed off. And that leads to less opportunities for networking, or asking questions during sessions, or to having less openness period on the exhibit floor. Conversely, if the atmosphere is overly casual it could lead to attendees not taking it seriously, which inevitably leads to them leaving and having a mini-vacation. Lastly, those who put on the conference need to have an eye for detail. We, as attendees, might not understand the lack of certain things or we might not be able to say what is wrong with something but we can always tell when a conference lacks polish. Its like listening to music that is missing a good bass line; you might not be able to identify it as missing the bass line, but you will definitely notice something is missing.
Now after this extremely long intro lets talk about cPanel’s conference. I arrived early and was able to watch cPanel set up and it was very telling. Everybody was looking for perfection. It wasn’t just one person wanting others to work at the highest of quality everyone desired to work at the highest level they could. Employees were asking questions and many of the spouses signed up to help out in any capacity they could. But the atmosphere was not rushed our stressful; there was still a good supply of humor. The conference wasn’t seen as a chore, but an opportunity.
The networking events were fun. I enjoyed myself immensely and that feeling didn’t stop throughout the entirety of the conference. Another thing I found interesting was I learned something, a lot of somethings really. I am not one to brag, but most conferences I attend rehash material I learned months sometimes years prior. At this conference though I spent more time taking notes on the subject matter than I did on writing up articles. I had less time to observe my fellow attendees and that is also telling.
Ok, now for the second title of this article. I dislike control panels. I have used almost everyone and I found them to be unwieldy and archaic. Often times they carry for more things than I need or care for. For the most part, if I have a problem I go into Apache or IIS and solve them myself the “manual” way. Now this is not to say that I don’t see a point to control panels, quite the contrary I believe the software can help those who manage a great deal of accounts, but for someone like myself who only has about 20 or so to worry about, manual works.
After the sessions, and a good portion of my mead notebook being filled, I have been wanting to get cracking at my cPanel box and unleash a wee bit of my newly acquired know how (or lack thereof).
HostingCon this year was the biggest one yet, which has become a cliché since each subsequent HostingCon is bigger than the previous. Regardless, this year saw attendance up between 10% and 15% from 2008 and with it an increase in service providers and new technologies. If you didn’t make the conference or if you did but did not manage to see everything, I have composed the top 5 must see companies.
OpenSRS - If any company at HostingCon knew how to channel Twitter it was OpenSRS. After mining through every single twitter in the #HostingCon channel we found that of the top 20 key terms OpenSRS was the ONLY company that everyone seemed to be talking about. It’s easy to see why too since the OpenSRS booth was one of the most colorful and interesting and had some of the best bells and whistles at the show. Interest however would not end at the whirring noises and pretty lights of the booth, since OpenSRS does offer one of the most comprehensive email reselling service networks in the world. So OpenSRS, visit for the Service Guy, stay for the content.
Cloudmark, Inc. - Cloudmark is one of the biggest names is spam prevention. Earlier this year, Cloudmark released their in the cloud spam filter system called CloudFilter. Since then, Cloudmark has been making a push into the hosting space. CloudFilter has been on my Top 10 technologies for 2009 and its only going to get more popular as the months go by. CloudFilter boasts 98% plus accuracy and scrubs email before it reaches the mail server reducing the impact of spam on a Host’s infrastructure. Cloudmark’s CloudFilter is a powerful tool and can be applied in just about every form of hosting.
Dasient - One of the two new faces in this Top 5 list, Dasient provides Web Anti-Malware services, which identify, quarantine, filter, or even help remove depending on what service set you purchase. At its lowest level of service, Dasient gives web developers the ability to determine if their sites have been blacklisted due to malware intrusion. In the middle tier of service, Dasient gives blacklist monitoring as well as alerting the web developer if they malware on their site and how to solve the matter. At the higher end, Dasient will do all the other stuff previously mentioned, but will automatically quarantine malicious code and filter out malware before the pages are served providing bulletproof protection. Dasient’s service can compliment any Host’s feature list and they work alongside the Host to aid in the incorporation of Dasient’s services, seamlessly.
KEMP Technologies, Inc - In their sophomore year at HostingCon, KEMP has come a long way to add better features to their load balancers. KEMP load balancers have three things going for them. They all cover the same functions as the other, more popular, load balancers and in some places do it a lot better; they cost a lot less across the board; and use less power. It’s no wonder that KEMP has been so successful with Web Hosts. All the power for a lot less.
Packet Power - The amount of power used by devices inside a data center is not just something that only Green Hosts need be concerned over. Anyone who owns their own servers should be energy conscious. Over the past few years, electrical costs and the energy needs of servers and attached devices has been climbing. Reduction of the usage and overall price tag of monthly energy costs have been scrutinized but companies are hard pressed to find the proper tools to test if their energy cutting techniques are actually working at the device level. Packet Power solves this problem by giving users the power usage figures of every device you choose. Packet Power is easy to use and can tell Web Administrators where the problems are and if power usage policies are working.
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Before the exhibit hall opened its doors there were two strong keynotes; the first keynote was on Data Protection Policies in the US and EU and the second was on SEO best practices by SEOmoz’s Rand Fishkin.
As an aside, one of the areas I think iNet nailed this conference is the keynote speakers. When something as large as a conference changes hands there is always the worry that it will loose some of the flavor that made it popular. From the keynotes to the sessions and to the exhibit hall, iNet Interactive hit this one out of the park.
After the two keynotes, the exhibit hall opened and… it… was… packed. Day 3 made up for the apparent slowness of the previous day with attendees packing the hall.
Sessions started up after lunch; 16 sessions, 4 separate tracks. It was not as hard as Tuesday to choose between sessions but there was still something for everyone. Of the sessions my top 5 would have to be:
- Top Social Media Strategies
- Affiliate Marketing/Lead Generation in an Extremely Competitive Market
- Handling Scalability, Marketing, and Service Level Agreements in a Web 2.0 World
- Dissecting a Hosting Company Acquisition
- How Security Researchers Run Web Servers
Unfortunately, two of these sessions occupied the same slot as several exhibitors’ giveaway ceremonies. This should be a good tip for exhibitors next year, a few months before the conference talk to the speakers on the third day time slots and see which ones coincide with your company (i.e. an email company would do well not to have their giveaway during email information sessions).
The closing general session hit on points that are very near and dear to my heart. Many companies in Web hosting and her supporting markets are entrepreneurial ventures. These are companies which were started by women and men who had an idea, know how, and decided to put a risk on going into business on their own. As the industry becomes more mature these things will continue to fall by the wayside. Dan Hackett discussed the keys to management. I have had these types of classes before, and Dan was absolutely right, management needs to manage, lead, and delegate.
Part of me is happy for this since a lot of what web hosts do is somewhat haphazard and the lack of general knowledge in areas like basic marketing, human resources, and the like cripples not only their business but my own since I take it upon myself to educate advertisers. However, as the industry moves towards the same tried and true methods as other industries will we loose that pioneering spirit that made hosting so much fun to be in to begin with?
Perhaps this closing speech will be where people will mark the death knell for the web host hobbyist, the administrator turned CEO, and the programmer turned software selling maven. In its place, the professional C-level executives who when asked what do you do for a living instead of replying with, I’m a programmer or I’m a visionary they say I am an executive… makes you think doesn’t it?
The 2nd day of Hostingcon saw the opening of the Exhibit Hall. This year’s Exhibit Hall is nearly the double the size of the previous year’s hall. However, both halls had the same amount of exhibitors. This translated to many vendors having bigger booths, more walking space, and a larger network lounge and presentation section. Unfortunately, many exhibitors were complaining about the lack of foot traffic. However, if they saw how good the sessions were today I think they would understand why the exhibit hall received few passersby.
Zane Adam from Microsoft began the day with two keynote speeches; one on virtualization and adding software and services to customer plans. The second keynote was a round table that included Antonio Piraino from Tier1, Stephen Cho from Google, Daniel Burton from Salesforce.com, and Emil Sayegh from Rackspace’s Cloud Hosting company Mosso.
My own day began with interviews and therefore I was unable to attend either, However, I do know that the “ban” on Microsoft keynotes by Linux hosts continued this year and that the round table provided some good, if not generalized information.
Day 2 was especially difficult when it came to choosing sessions. The first time slot in fact had four well written and presented sessions. If I were to choose it would have to be a toss up between 20 Ways to Outsmart Your Competitors by Adam Eisner of Tucows and the Accepting Credit Card and PCI/DSS Compliance round table with Curtis R. Curtis moderating.
The second session was calmer with more specialized sessions giving attendees several areas to choose from. Those who use email marketing definitely should have sat in on Jeff Rohrs’ (ExactTarget) Get More From Email Marketing. While those who offer domain name services should have attended It’s No Longer IPv4, Meet IPv6 by Richard Jimmerson of ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers). Lastly, to go with the conference’s theme, Bob Angus of VeriSign presented Selling Premium Services to Cost-conscious Customers.
From this point on the clouds took over. Not just indoors in the conference halls, but outside as well. Though the thunderstorm did not hit, it was beginning to build. Indoors, the individual sessions, the general session, and even the evening’s big networking party all brought cloud computing to mind.
For the non-cloud conscious “Launch Your Product Like a Pro” from NaviSite’s William Toll and Sunmeet Sabharwal.
Figuring out which session to visit at the end of the day was yet another tough decision. All four were extremely good with a star stellar cast of speakers. Gillian Muessig (SEOmoz) delivered High Impact Email, Search, and Social Media Marketing. Neil Daswani from startup Dasient presented Stop Web-based Malware Attacks. Rafael Laguna de la Vera from Open-Xchange discussed messaging through a cloud platform with Driving Cloud Computing with Open Source Messaging. Lastly, Growing Your Business: Getting Upside in a Down Economy from Chris West of CDGcommerce.
With the final general session coming to a close, attendees began shuffling to various places for networking opportunities. For myself, I went to the Microsoft/Parallels Networking Event and had a blast. Afterward I went for a brief stretch of the legs along the Potomac waterfront then headed to bed for another long day. Even with the calmness of the exhibit hall and attendees settling into a rhythm, the rolling clouds in the sky above was a portent for the final day of Hostingcon 2009.