So, back from Webmasterworld Pubcon Las Vegas 2006, and my introduction to a very strange little world. A great conference, and almost certainly worth the time and expense flying across the Atlantic (and then some), if only for Guy Kawasaki‘s amusing and inspiring presentation.
But a lot of people in this world of webmastering need to get out more. The cliques which exist, and the attempts to build a cult of personality, are risible. Brett Tabke, the organiser, introduced one of the keynote speakers, Danny Sullivan, in quite cringeworthy fashion: like Brett, Danny runs a search engine related online forum and offline conference series, although Danny recently sold his operation, and subsequently announced he would be leaving. In his preamble, Brett told us about the day he heard Danny was resigning. It was made out to be something like a JFK or death-of-Diana moment, and clearly he knows exactly what he was doing when he heard the news. But it didn’t seem to me like anyone else in the audience could remember being particularly interested in the “bloke gives up editorship of newsletter to spend more time with his money” story. And even after listening to Danny, who seems like an interesting guy, I don’t suppose anyone really cared that much about what he’s going to be doing for a living this time next year.
Then there was the socialising. Whilst there were events to which everyone was invited, such as Ask.com’s and Google’s, there were (apparently) others to which Joe Public was not welcome, and Brett kept reminding everyone about this, suggesting that you could get a ticket if you were anyone important and if you knew who to ask, but he wasn’t going to tell you how. Most people’s response was along the lines that they wouldn’t want to join a club which would have them as a member anyway. The “would-be reporter” type of bloggers breathlessly let everyone know the next day that although they themselves “couldn’t make it” to Yahoo (or whoever)’s party, they heard that it was a cool event, and eagerly listed all the superstars of the webmaster world who were there. Like me, the bloggers probably had a more important appointment being assimilated by the Borg at the Star Trek experience.
Matt Cutts of Google was probably the only person at the event who genuinely is important outside this little world, if only because he can make or break so many businesses at a stroke. I met more than one delegate who’d found their web sites mysteriously removed from the Google index this summer through no obvious fault of their own, in one case resulting in multiple layoffs. I’m sure Matt is quite aware of the power he has to destroy livelihoods, but he does seem very laid back about it all. I had a brief chat with him, and listened to him addressing the conference, and his approachability is impressive. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
Who did I enjoy listening to at the conference? Guy Kawasaki was the undoubted star for everyone. But Wednesday’s keynote speaker John Battelle, who managed to be inspirational whilst still plugging his business venture, was excellent value too. I got a lot of what they call “takeaways” from listening to Roger Montii (“martinibuster”), Ted Ulle (“tedster”) of The MEWS Group, and the fantastic Jeff Libert.
In fact, some of the lowest-key sessions, like the ones on CSS and one-page sites, were the most useful of all. Conversely, only the Google party which followed the huge so-called “Super Session” on research stopped everyone from making their excuses and leaving the conference early that day. The meaningless business jargon which overwhelmed this session only served to highlight how practical most of the other sessions were.