BIGOmaha, an obscure little show in Nebraska?There are dozens of tech conferences to attend in any given year. So why in the world would you choose
Next weekend marks the offbeat "tech et al." conference's first year, and it already stands in stark contrast to more established shows in the same sphere. Co-organizer Jeff Slobotski says that while the events are not solely about tech, they are definitely about passion and innovation. "We're not trying to be another South by Southwest or Web 2.0," he said. "Our goal is to have a tight-knit, solid event and to build a vibrant community."
Many longtime attendees of tech shows say the vibrancy and community have for some time been missing from some of the larger, more metropolitan events.
"It's a vendor feeding frenzy," said blogger Peter Kretzman. "People look at your badge before looking at your face."
"The least value comes from conferences heavy with panels run by market research firms with charts and bullet points that repeat the most obvious of trends: We're in a participatory culture; media is fragmenting; it's the age of user-generated blah blah blah," said Baratunde Thurston, web editor for The Onion and a multidiscinplinary comedian/pundit who attends about a dozen conferences each year.
"If conferences don't facilitate real-world value, they should disband and just post lectures on YouTube."
Serial show attendee, and sometimes organizer, Shannon Clark said that while he enjoys purely tech shows, the networking can be limited and the atmosphere corporate. "The formal conference structure," he said,"is an excuse to gather a group of people together and a framework around which to connect with people."
In marked contrast, many who plan to go to BIGOmaha cited its culling of passionate, creative, and technical speakers and attendees as reasons attend.
"[BIGOmaha] is targeting the most creative and active people in the startup world," said Startup Weekend founder and TechStars community manager Andrew Hyde.
Hyde noted the palpable difference between standard business conferences and multifaceted shows that offer more than tech alone. "I think a great amount of good comes from creatives and entrepreneurs being engaged. If you offer quality, they will enhance it; if you don't have a good group, they will point that out."
Thurston said, "I think a really successful, idea-generating conference has to borrow from the magic of improvisational comedy: Throw interesting, diverse participants together, and leave room for spontaneous collaboration... For my money and time, the ability to exchange ideas with cool people is the highest value of a conference."
Thurston further noted that at a smaller conference, attendees stand a better chance of getting their money's worth; Clark also said that at smaller shows, "A single track creates a shared experience"
Although BIGOmaha won't have the same breakneck party circuit of larger competing shows, Slobotski said, "I encourage people to give it a shot and experience the uniquely creative culture here." After all, he noted, the flyover states have birthed enterprises ranging from Internet powerhouses (WordPress, Dallas) to entrepreneurial success stories (Chicago, Threadless) to creative entities (Omaha's own Saddle Creek Records, home to Bright Eyes/Connor Oberst and the Faint).
And the venues for the conference are far more chic than shabby. Main events will be held in a space recently renovated by two local artists; and the opening evening wine event, hosted by Vaynerchuck, will take place in Slowdown, Esquire's pick for Club of the Year 2008.
Tickets for the May 7-8 show are currently priced at $219. ReadWriteWeb readers can claim a 10% discount by using the code BIGRWW at checkout.