Conferences are a big business. CES 2018 just ended. Inside ETFs just began. Those are just two that I am aware of. There are likely dozens, if not, hundreds of other conferences occurring across the country at this moment.
If you think about it, however, conferences are a bit of a 20th century sort of technology. Conference organizers construct topics, find speakers bring together (hopefully) a sufficient number of interested conference goers to pay the bills. They essentially act as middlemen. And we know what technology is doing to middlemen…
Organizations today try to increase the reach and power of their conferences with simultaneous webcasts, conference-specific apps and other bells and whistles. In the end, it’s still largely a bunch of people getting into a big room to hear people talk. Seriously, when’s the last time you watched a livestream of a conference?
In short, conferences just not all that efficient. Think about it from the perspective of the speaker. Andrew Chen writes:
Speaking at conferences is the worst time suck. You spend hours prepping a deck, speak to a group of perhaps a few hundred people, and retain very few them in any meaningful relationship. It can feel good to be recognized, but at the same time, it just can’t compare to writing a piece of content that lives forever. I’m still getting traffic – and email feedback – on essays I wrote ten years ago, which is insane! But that’s the power of scale – nothing can beat content as a bat signal.
A good blog post can reach thousands, if not millions, of readers. Most conference appearances can’t do that. Just like a blog post, a good podcast episodes can compete with a conference appearance and scale in a much bigger way. Marco Arment writes:
Podcasts are a vastly more time-efficient way for people to communicate ideas than writing conference talks, and people who prefer crafting their message as a produced piece or with multimedia can do the same thing (and more) on YouTube. Both are much easier and more versatile for people to consume than conference talks, and they can reach and benefit far more people.
There’s always room for more (good) writers in this world. It’s near clear there is more room for additional (big) conferences. Michael Batnick at the Irrelevant Investor writes:
There is no limit on how many good writers the world can handle. Saturation is impossible. So if you feel like you’ve got something to say, then say it, but keep in mind that nobody wants to read your shit.
Live, in-person conferences aren’t going away any time soon. But given the competition from other forms of communication, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify the marginal conference any more.