Saturday morning, I awoke at 5 AM to pain and an awful headache. I know this headache well; it was a headache from looking at a computer screen too much (after 25 years in the industry, I rarely get these). It was the headache of sitting down before 8:30 AM on Friday, the next time you look up it’s almost 2 PM, and you’ve crossed one thing off your list. Friday was the last day of KubeCon. I thought I was actually going to be able to participate, but life had different plans. Saturday morning, I realized that the idea of an in real life (IRL) event being “lift and shift” into a virtual platform is something I no longer want to signup to attend. A simple statement like, “KubeCon was my last virtual event. We need a better way.” was needed. Please note, I’m still going to speak at any event I’m invited to (and can manage with schedule and everything). But, I’m no longer going to be part of a vast statistic of folks that don’t show after registering to attend an event. This is by no means a knock on KubeCon. They had a lot of things that made a conference good.

But, I don’t know how Intrado survives after that fecal performance. They must have some iron clad contracts and good lawyers because I expect way more than two 8s of uptime from a video platform. CNCF should be getting a healthy refund on whatever they paid. The errors that occurred on the platform did the content an incredible injustice. Instead of watching and learning, audiences were checking internet connections and asking folks if they lost the talk too. The one keynote I did get to see most of was marred by multiple periods of no output, but the video still jumped ahead as if nothing was wrong. I already know CNCF is never using Intrado again. I hope I never have to see that platform again. But, even then, there are many decent event platforms, but none of them are great for industry events. They all have some form of user friction that limits or sometimes blocks progress with the conference experience.

We need to give virtual events more thought. No one in their right mind will go to a physical event until late next year at the absolute earliest. Even that is somewhere between a wild ass and educated guess. We cannot take the same thing we’d do if we were all together, merely record it, and share it at a specific time. This leaves a gaping hole in people’s psyche as we’re removing the social aspect of sitting in a room full of like-minded peers. Someone is discussing a topic that folks in the room have varying degrees of understanding of the subject. Lift and shift virtual events are psychologically harmful and are actually more work than an in-person event. Often, the content has to be recorded weeks in advance for some reason.

Also, employers just flat out don’t respect virtual events. Suppose I were in Boston like we were supposed to be. My team would never have reached out to me unless something was broken or going wrong. When you’re traveling, you have a legitimate reason to focus on the thing your company is spending thousands of dollars (potentially) for you to attend. Event maintainers must realize by now that the low attendance rates are a systemic problem with virtual events themselves. We’ve reduced the sign up and logistics friction by an order of magnitude. But, people have to weigh how they use their time; if you’re not providing attendees clear value with a low level of friction, there will be high attrition rates. The right way to approach this is to show the attendees AND the employers what the value add is. Employers must weigh the benefit their employees will get against their time away from the office, just like always. Employers need to respect that the organization’s folks are at a conference this week to learn and grow.

We need to toss out the idea of taking an IRL event and making it virtual. That kind of lift and shift doesn’t work. The numbers show that. The industry lauds events when 25% of people that register actually attend. That’s not a problem??? No one is thinking about how to fix that? Cloud migrations have taught us that lift, shift, and optimize is a viable transition between on-premises and cloud environments. This goes back to my argument that there’s a lot that DevOps can teach marketing and marketing can teach DevOps a lot too. What’s the fix here? Let’s look at our constraints first:

  1. Time is valuable, scarce, and people might not be able to dedicate three to five days at a virtual conference. As a matter of fact, it appears that virtual events only add to folks’ (especially speakers) workloads and do nothing to reduce it.
  2. Some orgs are fighting for their existence right now. I’ve already mentioned having to show the org leaders and attendees alike the value in attending whatever event you’re putting together.
  3. People aren’t able to gather together physically. For KubeCon, Kubernetes community members stepped up and created an effective hallway track with Zoom, Slack, and Rambly. That worked! We should look at this example and see what else we can do to improve on it. Fast iterations are key (that thing didn’t work on day 1, try something different on day 2).
  4. Time Zones: You’re never going to solve this problem, but you can organize your schedule to optimize for good content being available at peak times for major regions.

In my opinion, less is more here. Suppose you did one hour a day with a talk and hallway track. That is way more effective than four days of asking for the impossible. Yes, that’s 261 hours of content to figure out but, you’ve got all year to do it. Note: I’ve personally produced more than 300 hours of live streamed content since May inside ONE business unit at Red Hat. This is more than possible; I’m doing it. I look at live streaming numbers and metrics all the time as part of my day job these days. I can definitively tell you that content matters most (Content is King (2003) still), audio is second, and video is third.

I also know that you have to keep things very easy for presenters that are varying degrees of nervous to chomping at the bit. I know I did not submit a talk to either of this year’s KubeCons because of the platform in use and the stress that it puts on speakers. Event organizers need to see themselves as complexity managers. Moving complexity to sit with the event owners is vital. It should never be dictated by the platform that’s in use.

We need to take the virtual event and flip it on its head. Shake what’s good out and experiment with literally everything else along the way (including during events). But, there are other things we should focus on too. Like events having REAL breaks in them. The actual accessibility of them. Accessibility in web design and in the Americans with Disabilities Act (which should be considered the bare minimum) sense. I can’t sit, stand, walk, run, or anything for that matter for more than about an hour without having to move or adjust or something. I have a standing desk for a reason. That same desk is on wheels for a reason too. I have to put a lot of thought about breaks, moving around to keep me sane, healthy, and such throughout my normal day to day life. If an event takes that away from me, it’s not going to end well. I’d encourage you to read the whole thread and follow on commentary so that you can see some of the ideas and comments from folks. It’s a worthwhile adventure.

That’s a step in the right direction, POP!

A very good question, Kevin.

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Firing Christopher Krebs Crosses a Line
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IBM to Acquire Instana as Company Continues to Advance its Hybrid Cloud and AI Strategy
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