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Gluecon 2012 and the Conference Non-Con Postulation : how to measure the ROI of a conference

I’ve never been a big fan of meetings, so naturally conferences were on my no-fly list for a long time: a big building with a big meeting in the early AM, followed by a mitosis into smaller meetings, followed by more and more meetings, all gradually shrinking throughout the day, finally to be absorbed by the nearest bar once some sort of conferential Hayflick limit is reached.
I’m happy to say that I was wrong about them; over the last few years I’ve attended some fantastic, rewarding conferences.   I’ve also attended some anti-awesome ones.  Being keen on agile retrospectives and data-driven decision-making, I’ll posit the following as a formula for measuring the efficacy and ROI of any given conference, spec-style.  You may be privy to my Ruger Fault Equivalency, this is my Conference Non-Con Postulation:
  1. notes : total line count of notes taken during a conference.  A good conference causes me to write furiously; even though there may be slides or notes offered online afterwards, this is the best way for me to internalize, to any degree.
  2. refactor index : number of minutes I spend cleaning up my notes, so that I can share them.  A good conference will cause me to review my notes, clean and boil some of the salient moments up into a handful of takeaways.
  3. note virality : number of people I share my notes with afterward.  A good conference will inspire me to inflict my notes on my team at work, at which point they will be thankful for a high note refactor index.
  4. players : people I had the pleasure of spending time with, who also impressed, inspired, or gave me a laugh at the conference.  Expressed as a quality score, 1 to 3.  A good conference will even have a few folks that exhibit all of these traits (e.g. Keith Smith, Brad FeldRyan McIntyre), that would incur a score of 3.
  5. injuries : number of bodily injuries incurred at said conference, not caused by dude-hold-my-beer moments or other virtuous activity.   Good to have a low count of these.
  6. bullshit : number of times I look at the ceiling, for reasons other than math or loudspeaker brand detection.
Given those input definitions, the Conference Non-Con Postulation is as follows:
A few things to note:
  1. The number of seconds spent refactoring my notes provides diminishing returns.  Also, it’s no coincidence that the refactor index summation will result in a harmonic number.
  2. Note that virality has an exponential effect.
  3. Player count wraps everything with an even greater exponential effect, and it only takes one great player to make a huge difference.
  4. While bullshit and injuries ultimately decrease overall ROI, they will only have material effect when other inputs (e.g. notes, virality) are low.
If I apply this to GlueCon 2012, I get the following:
  1. notes : 310
  2. refactor index : ~3.318 (15m)
  3. virality : 20 (prior to this post)
  4. players : 3
  5. injuries : 0
  6. bullshit : 1
Which results in a CNCP score of 5.4236E+180, which I believe is an impossibly gigantic number.
That maps perfectly to my previous anecdotal, non-scientific assessment that Gluecon is one of the world’s best conferences.
Hopefully at this point you’re laughing, but buying that last claim.
Here are my net-notes, 2012 best-of list, let me know if you want to see the more detailed ones:
  1. Best technology I’ve never heard of but would love to explore (Dan Lynn from FullContact): storm
  2. Best new-to-me buzz phrase (James Governor from RedMonk): “quantified self”
  3. Best well-worn technologist strategy (Mike Miller from Cloudant)  : “so what’s next? let’s see what Google’s up to, reading their latest white-papers”
  4. Best game-related quote  (James Governor from RedMonk) : “I’d rather give my son Angry Birds than Ritalin”
  5. Best presenter that I wish we could hire as a DBA but who already works for one of our awesome partners : Laurie Voss from awe.sm
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