A few weeks ago I wrote an article proposing a way that industry conferences could be rated (though it was also a subtle nudge to conference organizers). Now that I've spent three days at Macworld Expo in Boston, let's see how the rating system works, and how Macworld Expo rated this year.
Attendee Ratings -- Obviously, I can't speak for everyone, so my ratings here reflect my experiences and those of people I talked with during the show.
Cost/value. For the people who got in free (and plenty did, through the tickets we helped Peachpit give away, and via other approaches), I think it's safe to say that the cost and value were entirely reasonable, despite the smaller show floor. Boston is on the expensive side for travel and lodging costs, making the show more attractive to locals who could hop on the subway and spend a few hours. I can't evaluate how valuable the sessions were; it undoubtedly depended on the specifics. +1 point.
Time/place. Macworld Expo has held this mid-July time slot for a number of years now, so it's not fair to subtract points for being in the middle of conference hurricane season. (Starting in late June, we saw Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, followed by the small (but reportedly successful) Mac Networkers Retreat in Santa Barbara, California. This week, I'm off to the ADHOC (nee MacHack) conference in Dearborn, Michigan.) Since Boston is a nice city that will be even nicer once they finish their major construction, I'll give Macworld a point for this category. +1 point.
Logistics. IDG World Expo did a pretty good job with the logistics this year, with the only low point being the shuttle buses from the hotel to the convention center. Registration was easy and quick, and there were no hassles. +1 point.
Breadth and depth of exhibitors. Although IDG World Expo claimed 80 exhibitors, only 71 were listed on the Web site, and whatever the actual number, there's no question that this was the main place Macworld fell down. Without stopping to talk, it was easy to walk the entire floor in under an hour. -1 point.
Product support. Although attendees are probably most likely to want support from large vendors, most of whom weren't present, the smaller companies that were exhibiting tended to have technical staffers at their booths. +1 point.
Session quality. I didn't attend any sessions other than my own, but reports I heard from others were entirely positive. +1 point.
Keynote. In lieu of a keynote, Macworld Expo featured a panel discussion with four members of the original Mac team - Andy Hertzfeld, Bill Atkinson, Jerry Mannock, and Jef Raskin - moderated by David Pogue. Although a number of the anecdotes from the panel were amusing, and David did a good job of keeping things moving, the overall tenor was dragged down by Jef Raskin's claim that he had invented the Macintosh and his disdain for today's interfaces, though he wouldn't explain what his ideal interface would be. There's no question that Jef Raskin played an important role in the creation of the Macintosh, and even granting his claim to have come up with the initial idea, the way he presents his case feels denigrating to the other members of the Macintosh team, particularly considering that he left Apple years before the Mac even shipped. -1 point.
Free wireless Internet access. I can't complain about the wireless coverage, since it seemed to be ubiquitous, but actually connecting to the Internet was significantly flakier, such that I and others had constant trouble. Add to that a useless captive portal page at the Doubletree Bayside (one of the conference hotels) that required me to spend 20 minutes talking to tech support, and I'm removing any points that would otherwise have been won. 0 points.
Great deals. This category was again hurt by the number of exhibitors, since although some of those in attendance did have decent deals, ranging from 20 percent off books from Peachpit and O'Reilly to 50 percent off anything from Belkin and significant discounts on the Logitech Harmony universal remote controls, there weren't that many vendors to offer deals. 0 points.
Freebies. Some people had little tins of mints from Quark, Audible.com gave out some cards for a free month's subscription, Peachpit was unloading scads of red baseball hats, and IDG World Expo gave out free t-shirts to the first 400 people to pick up their badge holders each day, but that was about it. I didn't see a single amusing freebie, and I just can't see my way clear to awarding any points in this category. 0 points.
Snacks. Macworld Expo is too big to provide snacks for everyone, and although there was a food court, it clearly wasn't in full operation yet. 0 points.
Fun. In past years, Macworld Expo has been a pretty staid show, but this year saw a reprise of the MacBrainiac Challenge, a trivia game show with two teams of well-known Mac names competing. I was a member of Andy Ihnatko's Copland Development Team this year, along with Dan Frakes (Macworld and MacFixIt) and Rich Siegel (Bare Bones). Facing off against us was the Genius Barred team of Jason Snell (Macworld), Jim Dalrymple (MacCentral), Peter Cohen (MacCentral), and Bryan Chaffin (the Mac Observer), and the whole thing was ably moderated by Chris Breen (Macworld). Our goal was to be entertaining above all else, and to judge from the audience reaction, we succeeded. Our secondary goal of winning was less successful, since although we took most of the multiple choice questions, our worthy competitors were generally faster at the tasks Chris set us, resulting in a tie and setting us all up for a rematch in San Francisco this coming January. +1 points.
Community. The smaller size of this year's show definitely improved the sense of community, and the physical layout of the convention center helped as well, since there were plenty of tables and benches for people to congregate, chat, and hang out. An added bonus was the Mardi Gras-themed party that IDG World Expo threw for attendees, and although it wasn't free to get in, everyone who went seemed to enjoy the party and listening the Macintosh All Star Band. +1 points.
Exhibitors -- I can't legitimately rate Macworld Expo from the point of an exhibitor, but if I were to go on hearsay, I'd rate down somewhat for booth cost, since the prices were reportedly near what companies paid in San Francisco for a much larger audience. On the upside, even though there weren't that many attendees compared to previous years, vendors I spoke with said that people were much more interested than normal, and for those exhibitors who were selling products, sales were good.
Speakers -- Roughly the same people speak at every Macworld Expo, so over the years, the speaker room has acquired the comfortable feel of a neighborhood watering hole. It doesn't matter where the show is held, it's always the same round tables with white tablecloths, and the wireless Internet access and food are always welcome before dashing off to give a session.
Payment. Speaking at Macworld Expo is one of those things one does because it generally doesn't require extra travel or particularly onerous preparation. That's good because Macworld doesn't pay speakers for anything but the all-day sessions on the day before the show floor opens. Nevertheless, attendance is free, the food was extremely tasty this year, and the gift this year was a tremendously welcome anorak that kept many of us dry after the show on the first night. +1 points.
Moderators. Macworld has never had moderators, and it would be a welcome addition. On the positive side, the AV staff was particularly eager to please this year. 0 points.
Logistics. It may be more confusing for a first-time speaker, but since the same group, headed by Paul Kent, has been organizing the sessions for years, the logistics have become quite simple for repeat speakers. +1 points.
Press -- It wasn't a great year to be a journalist at Macworld Expo. Some ratings:
Press registration. Although registering for Macworld Expo is a bit fussy, what with having to fax a variety of Web page printouts to IDG World Expo to prove one's bona fides, the process hasn't changed for years, making it less of an annoyance. And without a Steve Jobs keynote to wait for on the first morning, Tonya and I had no trouble picking up our press badges. +1 points.
News events. Macworld simply wasn't that kind of show this year and nothing much happened. 0 points.
Press room. Although there was a press room, complete with tables and couches and even some iMacs for journalists without laptops, the press room itself was located in Outer Mongolia, thus ensuring that I spent my free time in the bustling speaker room instead. 0 points.
Food. Honestly, I'm not sure if there was food in the press room or not, since I didn't see any the one time I trekked down to it, but I never ventured that far again. 0 points.
Totals -- As I work through this rating system for real, rather than purely as a thought exercise, the more it seems to me that totals don't make sense. In large part that's because I can't see the totals being a legitimate way to compare completely different conferences; I think the scores are more useful as a way of evaluating how successful any given conference was, perhaps in comparison to previous instances of the same conference.
I also hope the ratings in different categories will help people decide if attending some conference in the future is worthwhile. The fact that Macworld picked up points for fun and community might be irrelevant if your desire was to see as many Mac vendors as possible, and that in turn would be irrelevant if you were more interested in attending presentations than traipsing around the show floor.