Drupalcon growth: Ideas on how we go from 300 to 30,000 participants based on 5 Drupalcons
by Kieran Lal
I am a permanent member of the Drupal association, and the director of business development for the association. I do not speak officially for the association, nor do I speak on behalf of the Drupalcon organizing committees. But I do have a blog and I want to have a discussion with the community about smart growth at Drupalcon. (*I've also helped raise approximately a million dollars for the association so they at least listen to me)
The smartest thing I've heard about Drupal community growth over the last week was that Drupal should not grow beyond our ability to spread the Drupal culture. I've got some ideas about how to grow smart and what is appropriate growth for the Drupal community.
Ideas for how we can grow Drupalcons and not lose our soul
- Drupalcon with a companion virtual conference
Last year, a large technology company held a conference with 5000 attendees. What was interesting was that they recorded their conference sessions and displayed them in a virtual conference format. They made the conference sessions available for over a year, including regularly scheduled online follow up events, and 10 times as many unique attendees attended the virtual conference over a year as attended the physical conference.
- Satellite Drupalcons
People will not be able to travel to Drupalcons for a variety of reasons. Having satellite Drupalcons is a great way to share a world-wide Drupal moment, and respect the budget and accessibility of Drupalcons. We've already seen world wide movements in the Firefox and Drupal community to have meet-ups in parallel on the same day around the world. Last week we saw approximately 25 regional Drupalcon events to deal with the travel restrictions due to the Volcano in Iceland.
- Building the regional events around the Drupalcon city
For Drupalcon San Francisco I invested a lot of time in building the bay area grassroots. I researched Drupal projects in the Bay Area and recruited their leaders to present at the local San Francisco Drupal users group. I also held two Drupal camps:Drupal camp San Francisco, and Design4Drupal at Stanford. I also actively recruited local Drupal community members in Santa Cruz to start a local Drupal group. In order to grow Drupalcon, we need to create strong local groups that have their own social and support networks.
- Partnering with bigger industry events
Drupalcon has managed to line up beside two large industry events in the last two years. At Drupalcon Boston, the conference was co-located with AIIM. This year Drupalcon was across the street from Ad-tech, the event for digital marketing which I heard had 25,000 attendees. I was surprised at how many business executives I knew in the Drupal community only attended Drupalcon because it was across the street from Ad-tech.
- Better specialized social networking
- Multi-lingual Drupalcons
In Europe we are already running multi-lingual Drupalcons. We should create multi-lingual tracks, and translate the most popular sessions.
At various times during my participation in the Drupal project, I've wanted to pull my hair out because we as a community were unwilling to chase the latest trend. Then a few years later, that trend turned out to be just another passing trend and massive consolidation of these niche players in that trend led to it being just another feature.
Drupal has grown slower than many competing solutions, often to Drupal's ridicule, only to slowly catch up in relevance and significance. What has kept our growth on track is our focus on quality. This is probably one of the capacities that makes Dries's leadership so powerful. He understands quality and can be a very tough, but polite critic.
In order to grow Drupalcon, we need to focus on the quality of the main program. Drupal sessions are still wildly hit or miss, both in session quality and session attendance. As a community, we need to take a hard look in the mirror and raise consistency and quality of every Drupalcon session. With over 400 sessions submitted we need to be better at selecting quality sessions, and setting higher standards in presentation preparation and delivery that will attract attendees not just because the conference is about Drupal, but because the sessions are worthy of attending on their own. Future Drupalcon organizers should spare no expense, but no more than necessary, especially if it means increased ticket prices to raise the quality and value of the Drupalcon program.
I can't think of two people in the Drupal community better able to raise Drupalcon session quality than George DeMet and Tiffany Farriss, the Drupalcon Chicago 2011 organizers. I believe George and Tiffany have the communication skills necessary to gracefully make this transition to more consistent high quality presentations. But in case they manage to upset some vaporware session submitters or Drupal gurus who know their stuff but didn't prepare a quality session, be on notice the Drupalcon quality bar is being raised.
Drupalcon can't become a sea of anonymous faces. With almost 3,000 attendees it was hard at times to find a face I recognized, and my Drupal rolodex has 13,000 contacts in it.
We need industry social events early in the program to help create social networks that will persist past Drupalcon and evolve into industry partnerships.
We also need better integration of social networking tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Dopplr, Twitter, Four Square, and new social applications on Drupal.org. The integration of these applications will help bring us together in person and make those important collaborative connections that sustain us over IRC and bike shedding in issue queues.
At Drupalcon San Francisco platinum and gold sponsors hosted a special networking event with key representatives from interesting Drupal projects. The event had 88 attendees half of which were sponsors, and no more than two representatives were invited from any Drupal projects. The event was facilitated and introductions were made amongst the attendees through out the evening.
At Drupalcon Szeged a special old timers dinner was held for core contributors who were active in the project prior to 2003. We need to brainstorm more about how to create welcoming and intimate personalized events at Drupalcon.
Talk is silver
None of these ideas about how to grow Drupalcon are promises. They are just ideas. In Drupal parlance, they are core feature requests without a patch.
Code is gold
Cary Gordon is the Drupal association events manager. He is the Drupalcon coder extraordinaire who sees the entire picture, and the architecture necessary to see these events succeed. While he might be criticized for reigning in the wild inconsistencies in our architecture, at the end of the day he is ensuring that Drupalcons are sustainable, and do not rely on 6 figure volunteer donations from the conference organizers employers. We need to listen to "The Architect".
Some of these ideas will be ignored, some will be adopted by Drupalcon organizers, some will be adopted by local Drupal user groups and Drupal camp organizers, and others will be adopted by private companies for their own Drupal events. We need lots of experiments in how to grow Drupal events. The Drupal community should fail quickly, cheaply, and share those lessons learned with the whole community. Some of these ideas, and others should be so successful that they are just expected. When they don't just appear magically, the community should leap into action to implement them.
We need smart growth, that preserves what is special about Drupal and the amazing community that powers it.