SharePoint Conference 2008, Final Thoughts

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SharePoint Conference 2008, Final Thoughts

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Day four of SPC’08 wrapped up with Ted Pattison’s talk on security and David Mann’s presentation on workflow (naturally). Dave had some excellent tips and tricks for managing workflows and is working on a cool new CodePlex tool to enumerate and manipulate running workflow instances. Be sure to bug him about so he’ll finish it up pronto!

As the conference was ending with a final lunch, I ran into my good friend Razvan from Luxembourg (get that blog going, Razvan!). I met Razvan last year at the EMEA SharePoint Conference in Berlin and was very impressed by his dedication to promoting SharePoint to the far corners of Europe. I’ll be working with him this year on expanding his efforts to build a quality SharePoint community in his region and on a few other endeavors. I also met a couple of SharePointers from Portugal who were lucky enough to convince their boss to send them halfway around the world to get some SPC goodness. We chatted at length about multilingual and accessibility issues, topics which frankly don’t get enough attention from the blogging community but which are BIG problems for all of our friends outside the US of A.

I stopped by the Colligo booth for a last chat with their team (if you haven’t tried v3 of Contributor yet you’re missing out on a killer offline SharePoint experience) and was joined by Steve Smith of Combined Knowledge and the SharePoint UK User Group. Steve graciously offered to include Colligo in their next vendor night so keep an eye out for them if you attend the UK user group meetings.

Despite the overwhelming success of SPC’08 there were quite a few problems (aren’t there always?). First of all, Microsoft seriously underestimated the amount of interest in this conference. The facilities were too small, many sessions were standing room only or completely full, and it sold out way too soon – hundreds of people were left out in the cold. Dynamic Events, the group that runs the conference for Microsoft, seemed like they left their playbook on the bench. Several mornings there was no coffee until after 10am and cold drinks disappeared within minutes between sessions. By the afternoon there wasn’t a bottle of water to be found. I didn’t speak this time around but several people told me that the speakers had all kinds of issues. And don’t even get me started on the problems changing reservation details prior to the event – there was very little "customer" in their customer service (just to be fair, they did work out my issues, but it took way more arguing and escalation than it should have to get it done). Can’t we find someone to run these events who has a clue?

And finally, in what appears to be a very disturbing trend, just who in the hell made the decision to close the exhibition hall while sessions were going on? I first complained about this at SharePoint Connections last fall. This is S-T-U-P-I-D on many levels. First, it’s a slap in the face to sponsors who pay tens of thousands of dollars to exhibit to be told that they only have a few hours a day to hawk their wares while people are trying to eat breakfast and lunch. Second, it’s very inconvenient to those of us who don’t go strictly for the session content; networking happens on the show floor, not in the presentation rooms. Finally, it limits the amount of time vendors can spend with prospects as they have to get to as many people in as short a period of time as possible.

Whoever is making these decisions, CUT IT OUT RIGHT NOW! If we had gotten a booth (which we tried to do but they also underestimated the vendor demand, selling the exhibitor space out in just a couple of days) I would be so angry that the only thing keeping my head from exploding would have been my cowboy hat. They keep the exhibit hall open during the entire show at TechEd so why is it so hard for everyone else to do the same? I’ve never been to an industry trade show that shuts down the vendor space during prime hours. If you’re going to charge me upwards of $5,000 for space then you damn well better let me talk to attendees as much as I want.

One thing I really missed this time around was the WSS and MOSS kiosks like Microsoft had at TechEd and SharePoint Connections. These are great places for customers to get advice on topics that aren’t covered in sessions. I meet so many people and get so many good questions at these stands that I felt their presence was really lacking at this event. I’m sure it was a space issue but I hope they consider putting these back up at the next conference.

On the upside, the conference center was conveniently located in downtown Seattle, as opposed to venues like Orlando or Anaheim where the center is in the middle of nowhere. And they did actually have WiFi this time around, which was refreshing even if it was a bit slow at times. The quality of speakers was outstanding – with more and more MVP’s like Bob Fox and Adam Buenz filling slots, who normally don’t do much public speaking, the amount and variety of information just keeps getting better. Naturally, I would have liked to see more developer-oriented content (which is another issue – we need all the SharePointers in the same place, not spread out between SPC and ODC) but there were a high number of 300+ level sessions, which was good. And of course the socializing was top-notch; kudos to Bob and AC for putting together the SharePint by Night event (which was packed to overflowing) and Lawrence Liu for organizing the MVP dinner on Monday night.

Overall, SPC was well worth it. Yes, we need to improve in some areas, but with so many people all over the world hungry for SharePoint knowledge, these events are only going to get larger and better. If I missed you, my apologies – I get pulled in so many directions that it’s hard to keep track of whether I’m coming or going. Speaking of coming and going, thanks to some bizarre winter weather in Dallas (four inches of snow in March? Seriously?), our flights have been cancelled and we’re on the standby roulette wheel for Friday. My guess is that we won’t make it home until the wee hours.

See you at TechEd in June!