That's right. Another tech blog.

Are Vendor Conferences Dead?

With EMC World a month ago, HP Discover last week, and Cisco Live this week, I’ve been thinking about the long term viability of big vendor conferences/trade shows. Even smaller vendors have been adding their own conferences as almost a rite of passage.

Getting straight to the point- I think these trade shows are a dying breed.

Why Did They Start

For years in the technology industry, these trade shows served as an efficient way to gather customers, vendors, and entire ecosystems together. By getting everyone together, it served a couple important purposes:

  • A platform for vendors to make announcements and launch new products
  • A place for customers and vendors to share information
  • A social gathering for networking

Social Media Arrives

With the near ubiquity of the internet and the proliferation of social media, the ability to gather likeminded people together is there every day. Online forums, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other technologies have allowed an unprecedented level of collaboration, no matter your physical location. The technology industry unsurprisingly jumped on this capability quickly for networking, information sharing, and even product launches and announcements.

The Decline Begins

Now that the need that drove the creation of the big vendor trade shows are being met much better and more quickly online, their relevance has begun to wane. I started to notice it a year or two ago when discussing what big announcements were expected from an upcoming VMworld and there was a general malaise expressed as nothing big was expected. I also noticed a similar disinterest when asking someone what their favorite session they attended from a recent conference. One colleague boiled it down to “Well if it wasn’t for the social aspect of meeting up with people you only get to see a few times a year, I wouldn’t even go anymore.”

What About All These New Conferences?

At the same time there seems to be a declining interest in big vendor trade shows, there is a dramatic increase in smaller conferences that are mainly community or ecosystem focused. There are so many ‘Cons’ popping up that it seems like almost every programming language and software has its own two day mini-conference. Why is this new approach gaining popularity? I think the main reasons are:

  • Many are community conferences which mean a much more democratic and open setup; not hyper-controlled by a single vendor
  • Most are much shorter and therefore more focused
  • Organizers and attendees assume if someone is willing to attend in person they must already participate online so rehashing already available content is minimized

What Happens Next?

I think vendors are starting to see this and cut back their budgets attending and promoting other vendor trade shows. The next step will be cutting back their investments in their own trade shows- some will be made smaller and other will be cancelled entirely.