d.Construct debrief | September 15, 2006

So a week has passed since d.Construct06 and I’ve finally found time to jot down my impression of the event. I’m not going to linger on the speakers and presentations too much–suffice to say they were all in top form. Furthermore, each presentation has been blogged about so much, I doubt there is anything I could add. Instead, I’m going to talk about the event in more general terms and then focus in on some specific elements.

dconstruct06 audience

As a side note, If you want to see what people have been saying about the session, I suggest you check out the excellent backnetwork. I’m going to talk about the backnetwork a little later in this post but lets start with the big picture.

In my impression d.Construct 2006 rocked, and I’m not just saying that because I helped organised it. The great location, amazing line-up of speakers and eager attendees made it one of the best conferences I’ve been to in a long time. Thankfully a lot of the attendees agreed, and here are a few of my favourite comments.

I attend a LOT of conferences, and this was one of the best run events I’ve been to.
Jeff Veen
Probably the Best Web Conference in the World
Stuart Gray
I absolutely loved dconstruct 2006. Well organised, engaging and informative speakers, goodie-bags, booze and of course all of the fun of the sea side.
David Singleton
I’d definetly recomend going next year simply because of value for money for the quality of presentation.
Ben Holliday

Jeremy Keith presenting at d.Construct06

The event obviously wasn’t without it’s hiccups, but I’ll come onto those in a bit.

As far as locations go, Brighton has a lot going for it. Situated on the Sussex coat, it’s 60 miles from London, and a short, 25 minute train ride from Gatwick airport. Brighton is one of the UKs best loved seaside resorts and is an extremely popular weekend destination for Londoners wanting to escape the big smoke. Brighton is a very young and relaxed city with two large universities and a prominent gay community. It is also a creative city, where everybody you meet is either a designer, artist, DJ or musician and sometimes all of them.

As you would expect from this type of environment, Brighton has a strong web development community. Combine that with its proximity to London and Gatwick and you have a great location for a web design conference. Brighton is also a great place to visit, and we saw this as a big selling points for the conference. By holding the conference on a Friday, we wanted to encourage people to stay for the weekend and enjoy our home town. I’m glad so many people took us up on the offer, and I spoke to a lot of people who liked Brighton so much they’d consider living here.

The one problem with Brighton is it’s lack of good conference facilities. There are lots of hotels, but they tend to be sterile and uninviting. There is also a dedicated conference centre on the seafront, but the 70s style architecture and local council ambience is enough to put anyone off. I believe there are plans to tear the place down and build a new venue, so maybe it’ll be ready for d.Construct 2014? We briefly toyed with the idea of moving the event to London as there is a wider choice of venues. Thankfully we dismissed that idea fairly quickly. The conference venues in London are overpriced, and we really didn’t want to lose the Brighton connection.

In the end we decided to hold the event at the Brighton Corn Exchange, which forms part of the historic Royal Pavilion Estate. Built in 1805 to act as the Prince Regent’s riding stables, it is now a popular theatre and conference venue. Its beautiful setting and quirky nature made is a good choice for a grassroots event. The central location also meant it was really close to the station and surrounded by good bars and eateries for lunch. The weather was on our side this year, so lots of people grabbed lunch and either sat in the pavilion gardens or headed down to the seafront.

Empty venue taken by Drew Mclellan

Because the venue isn’t a dedicated conference centre, we did face one or two issues. One problem was the lack of power strips in the seating area. We would have loved to have wired up the whole area, but sadly this wasn’t possible. Instead we set up a laptop charging station in the tea and coffee area so people could work and charge their batteries during breaks. I realise some of delegates didn’t know this area existed, so we’ll do a better job of highlighting the area next year. The main problem however was the lack of legroom.

dconstruct06 audience

The tiered seats were just a little too close for comfort, and meant people had to get up and stretch their legs between presentations. Sadly the seat pitch is fixed, so there is little we can do to improve the situation. We could decide not to use the tiered searing and have flat seating instead. Unfortunately this has its own issues such as restricting the view. Another option would be to use the Dome theatre next year. The Dome is more like a traditional theatre with an imposing stage and plush, comfortable seating. However its a huge venue and consequently costs a lot more. If we did use the Dome next year we’d either have to increase numbers, up the ticket price, or possibly both.

Norm and Steve in the audience of dconstruct06

I really liked the size of this years event. It was significantly bigger than last year, but still managed to retain that friendly, grassroots feel. I think there is a point beyond which a conference stops being a small, community affair and starts being a large, impersonal event. I think 400 people is probably the sweet spot, so I wouldn’t want d.Construct to grow much larger than that.

The other issue is price. The aim of d.Cosntruct is to be a low cost event that any developer can attend without needing deep pockets or a fat training budget. In that regard we want d.Construct to be the antithesis of these large, money making events. However conferences aren’t cheap things to run as we’re quickly discovering, and choices need to be made in order to keep costs down. As such, I’d be interested to know if people would be willing to pay a bit more for a slightly more comfortable venue, or if you’re happy keeping things as they are.

One way of offsetting the ticket price is through sponsorship. This year we were very lucky to have some great sponsors, and without their support the event wouldn’t have been possible. We’ll be looking for sponsors next year, so if you work for a company that would like to support our event and the larger developer community, please get in touch. Sponsorship can be a tricky proposition for a grassroots event as you need to make sure people don’t feel you’re selling out. One way to do this is have a good mix of sponsors, from small local companies to big corporations. Another is to make sure that the sponsors get a good deal without influencing the nature of the event.

This year our sponsors got a variety of benefits including stands at the event, inclusion in all our marketing material and goodies in the goodie bag. The goodie bags in particular were a big hit and contained things like Yahoo! branded water, backstage.bbc.co.uk t-shirts and a copy of .Net magazine. If you came to d.Construct I’d be interested to hear what you thought about the goodie bags and the sponsorship in general.

Pictures of schwag from d.COnstruct06

However one thing the sponsors didn’t get was the ability to influence the schedule. We had a couple of big companies offer us piles of cash in unmarked bills in return for a speaking slot. A few people even suggested that a couple of our speakers may have paid to be at the event. However all of our speakers were chosen on merit and we would never ever accept sponsorship in return for a speaking slot. I find the whole idea a little seedy and isn’t something we’d want to be associated with.

Yahoo branded water

One of the big successes of the event was the social side of things. Like most conferences half the value is in the hallway conversations and d.Construct was no exception. We arranged a pre event party on the Thursday night so people could meet up and get to know each other. During the day we made sure the breaks were long enough and there was plenty of time for lunch. Jeremy even organised an impromptu microformat picnic which was hugely popular. Set in the pavilion gardens to the sound of sitar music, passers by were stopping to see Jeremy evangelising microformats like the charismatic leader of some bizarre cult. I didn’t see any coolaid being passed out, but Jeremy did perform a small miracle with a platter of Pret sandwiches.

Jeremy Keith preaching about micdroformats. Photo by Neil Crosby

After the event, everybody headed down to the Snippperoo after party for drinks and cans of peas. Sadly the guys underestimated demand so the bar ran dry pretty quickly and the canapes failed to arrive is significant quantities to sate everybody’s hunger. I blame the venue for bad advice and will suggest all the money goes behind the bar next year. Despite the hiccup, Snipperoo put on a great bash and everybody had a fantastic time. One of highlights of the event was the crazy golf tournament to win a branded skateboard deck.

The other big hit of the event was the d.Construct backnetwork. Created by our friends over at Madgex, the backnetwork acted as a focal point for the conference. In the run-up to the event, people used the system to highlight their connections with other attendees using XFN. Once the event was over, the system aggregated all the blogs posts and flickr images from the event as well as giving people an opportunity to review the sessions. This has been an invaluable resource for gauging the buzz around the event and seeing what everybody thought. So much so that I hope Madgex will let us use the system for all our future events.

I’m sure there is a stack of stuff I’ve missed, but this has already turned into an epic post. Suffice to say that the event was a huge success and everybody I’ve spoken to had a great time. If you came to d.Construct I’d love to hear your comments, and if you couldn’t make it this year, I trust we’ll see you at d.Construct 2007.

Posted at September 15, 2006 3:10 PM

Comments

Jane said on September 15, 2006 5:48 PM

Excellent review, I’m planning to make sure I get to next years :-)

Clive Walker said on September 15, 2006 6:13 PM

I enjoyed the day and learnt a few things in the process. More Q and A after each presenter is the main thing that might have improved it for me. Kudos to you guys for organising.

Robert Lee-Cann said on September 15, 2006 7:01 PM

An excellent event, being the first web conference I have attended any others have a lot to live up to.

Yes, I was cramped in the seats, but I’m used to it, and the presentations weren’t too long to get too uncomfortable! I’d rather have that than pay more, or feel guilty in flat seating that I’m blocking someone else’s view.

I disagree slightly about the after party drink situation, i’d prefer the money to go on the food, especially after how short a time the tab took to get used up. Plus, I don’t drink so I never make full advantage of a free bar!

All in all, an excellent way to spend a day, and such a great change to conferences in London.

Looking forward to dConstruct 2007!

Ms. Jen said on September 15, 2006 7:15 PM

Hi Andy,

Thank you for the wonderful event. Please don’t go above 400, as that is a wonderful size for a one day event or a good intimate concert/gig…

Maybe next year they can put out power strips at the end of each row of seating and it will foster the type of “plugin” community per row that happens at SXSW near the walls.

;o)

bruce said on September 15, 2006 7:51 PM

I gotta try to make it next year. Trouble is, my wife takes the kids away for 2 weeks in the summer, so I could do anything in that fortnight. But dConstruct is always the first weekend they’re back from hols when it would be divorce-worthy to charge off to Brighton. (And there’s no cash to take the whole family to the seaside with me, as it’s all gone on their recent hols).

Mind you, if you loved me, you’d plan it around my missus’ visits to see her sister.

Tom said on September 15, 2006 7:53 PM

Hi Andy,

I had a lot of fun, thank you!
On your questions:
I would definitely prefer to pay a bit more for more comfort. I’ll probably skip next year if you’d stay in the Corn Exchange.
On sponsorship: the stands in the main hall were a good idea. As long as they don’t influence the programme, I’m fine with all kinds of sponsor exposure!

Justin Thorp said on September 15, 2006 7:58 PM

The event sounds really great! I wish I could have been there.

Gordon Mackay said on September 15, 2006 8:37 PM

Looks like a hoot :) The after hours stuff always appears to be equally entertaining as the main feature! Good work guys :)

Rosie Sherry said on September 15, 2006 11:37 PM

Hold back a few tickets for next years event and put them up for auction on Ebay. Use the profits to donate to a good cause :)

Dominic Mitchell said on September 16, 2006 1:13 AM

I’ve just been to three conferences in three weeks d.Construct was the most professional of these by some way (and the others were pretty good!) I was hugely impressed by the effort that you all put into organising it.

As to changes? How about running power cords to the seating areas? :) H&S is likely to have a field day with that idea.

On a more serious note, I’d love to see a bunch of shorter, lightning talks. They’re a great way to get more people involved, and share more ideas in a short space of time.

As to the venue, I think that the Corn Exchange is just about perfect. Yes, the seats were a teeny bit cramped, but I can’t say I noticed after sitting in them for 5 minutes. You got the capacity just about right, too. I was sitting right at the back of the Corn Exchange when I saw James Lovelock talk. They had the entire hall filled with chairs to the point that I could barely see the stage at the far end of the hall. :-(

Thanks for a great day!

Ian Lloyd said on September 16, 2006 12:10 PM

That seating was agony - I really feel for Chris Mills! ;-)

Best quote so far: “Mind you, if you loved me, you’d plan it around my missus’ visits to see her sister.” On top form as ever, Bruce!

Great conference, just a shame I couldn’t stay for the weekend (ironically, the further away, the easier it is to justify a stay-over).

Andy Field said on September 16, 2006 1:52 PM

Really enjoyed it. The seats were marginally better than last years though la-z-yboy style recliners would be great for next year. Just a shame that there was no time for Q and A sessions with the majority of speakers. All-in-all a great conference!

garrett said on September 17, 2006 11:21 PM

Dammit, I had the ticket (well paypal receipt) in my hand all ready to go, and then a last minute emergency at work stopped me from going.

Next year, come hell or high water, I’m going.

Steve E said on September 18, 2006 4:10 PM

By all accounts this was the event of the year so far. Gutted I couldn’t make it but will be booking early for next year. Congrats for putting on what seems to have been a really well organised event!

Ross Bruniges said on September 21, 2006 8:21 AM

Yep - it was certainly a kick ass conference and I think having it in Brighton is something that should not be compromised (a weekend in a hotel by the sea - who wouldn’t like that!)

Great job organising it too (just a shame that I sucked so much at crazy golf and couldn’t back up my claims that I would easily win….)

Matthias Willerich said on September 21, 2006 3:32 PM

Just how do the clear:left boys do it?
This article says exactly what I was thinking, possibly even a tad to critical. I really enjoyed dConstruct, same as last year it was a great atmosphere, and the speakers as well as the crowd were very good. Yes, the seats were too small, and yes, I can live with that.
The flippin Brighton hills told me much more about how I spend too much time sitting at a desk.
All in all, if I had a choice, I’d keep it exactly the way it was.
I’m not sure if you could make everybody happy with the drinks/food situation. Last year there was no sponsorship (or was I too slow?) and still everybody enjoyed themselves. It’s a good incentive to get everyone to go to the same place, and get the people talking. But honestly, I couldn’t care less if you just gave everyone a drink-token and let them pay for the rest.

Ross Bruniges said on September 22, 2006 11:52 AM

Yes - the drink drops idea may be one to go with (or if you want to use the word copy…)