MySQL at Collaborate: Bittersweet Success
As the MySQL track coordinator for Collaborate and having attended and spoken at the O'Reilly MySQL conference in previous years, I have my own feedback about this year's Collaborate. This post goes through why I planned the track the way I did, what really happened, and my recommendations for the future.
The summary comes down to this: The MySQL track was extremely successful, considering the goal was to educate people. The low audience turnout caused speakers to feel it was not cost-effective. My recommendation for the future is to continue to have MySQL content at Collaborate, but until signs point otherwise, make it more cost-effective for the speakers.
For those who want ALL the details, here goes!
Planning Collaborate 11 MySQL Content
In planning for MySQL at this year's Collaborate, we had little information. The attendance at the MySQL sessions at Collaborate in 2010 was high. There were very few sessions (I believe it was 4 or 5 sessions total throughout the week) and the ones that were in the program guide had very high attendance, about 75-100 people. As for other data points, Kaleidoscope 2010 had one room for the MySQL track, and had about 10-20 people in each session. Kaleidoscope is a smaller conference overall, though. The last piece of planning information I had was that IOUG did not dictate how many rooms the MySQL track could have.
So my expectations were based mostly on my assumption that there would be 100 or more folks in the existing Collaborate community who would attend MySQL sessions. Given that, I wanted to have a few choices each time, and as best as possible tried not to schedule similar talks at the same time -- for example, I tried not to schedule two talks on performance tuning at the same time.
We had a lot of excellent speakers, so I figured with 3 or 4 choices each time, there would be good attendance as well as happy attendees getting a good amount of information.
What Really Happened
At Collaborate this year, there were about 40 attendees overall who went to MySQL sessions. There were an additional 20 or so speakers. This means that that the largest possible audience was 60 people. Most of the presentations accepted were from rock-star speakers, so of course it was disheartening for those presenters (myself included) to speak to a room of 10 people.
There was no way to predict this, unfortunately. The good news is that the feedback from attendees is that the information was good. The bad news is that speakers (myself included) spent a lot of money and time away from our day jobs, only to teach 40 people.
The MySQL track was extremely successful, considering the goal was to educate people. The low audience turnout means that speakers are feeling it was not cost-effective (cost being time and money) for the number of people that were reached.
So what is the future of MySQL at Collaborate? I believe there's an audience for MySQL at Collaborate, and that through the years that audience will grow. For next year's Collaborate I would recommend making it more cost-effective to the speakers by having 2-3 choices per session, for 1 or 2 days of the conference instead of having all the MySQL content evenly spread over the 5 conference days.
Having the content as almost a "mini conference within a conference" means that speakers do not have to spend an entire week away from their day job, and they do not have to pay for an entire week at a hotel.
You may have noticed that I have not said that the O'Reilly MySQL Conference being the same week was a drawback. It surely was, for speakers who chose one or the other as well as for speakers who went to both. However, just on cost-effectiveness alone, even without another conference at the same time, Collaborate was not a success from a speaker's point of view.
Case in point: The cost for me to attend Collaborate totalled $2,150, which comes out to having spent over $50 for each attendee I reached, plus the 5 days away from my own clients. If Collaborate were held in October, the numbers are still not cost-effective. However, if I had only spent 2 nights, the cost would have been around $600, which is much more cost-effective ($15 per person that was reached, and only 2 days away from work).