Last week’s New Media Expo was, to a large degree, what I expected it to be. Frankly, I had hoped that my original expectations would be proven wrong, because I like attending this event, and I think its focus on the podcasting aspect of new media (despite the more inclusive name) is a valuable concentration for those who are more interested in making and producing audio and video than they are in finding new ways to market themselves in 140 characters.
Despite assurances to the contrary, it has seemed to me since the announcement that NME would move from the isolated Ontario California to the bright lights of Vegas, that the change would not produce the kind of cred the show needed in order to grow. I think I wrote at the time that a move was inevitable, and a good idea, but that I questioned Vegas as the next step in NME’s evolution. The basis for that conclusion, borne out by the 2008 show, was that a city like Vegas, with its myriad distractions, and a venue like the Las Vegas Convention Center/Hilton, with its cavernous spaces, could not hope to support the networking and community aspects of NME that most repeat attendees prize.
In my blog drafts folder is an unfinished post about the NME conference program. In it, I suggest that despite the innovation inherent in the Podcamp format, NME’s nuts and bolts attention to the tools and techniques of podcasting make the conference a better choice for serious (hobbyist or pro) podcasters than the most recent batch of unconferences. It’s fair to point out that many of NME’s speakers are repeat presenters, and that’s a bit disappointing, and frankly, indicative of the lack of growth in the podcasting world. But it’s also clear that at NME, marketing from the front of a seminar room is kept to a reasonable level, and that the focus is less on trendy “social media”, and more on making, distributing, and selling better content.
But a respectable group of speakers and an organizer who I sincerely believe wants to produce a conference that is good for podcasters (Tim Bourquin is a podcaster himself, after all) is not enough to leverage the successes of NME past. Like it or not, the community aspect of this event is integral to its success. It’s not merely a warm fuzzy for what Bourquin calls hobbyists. Podcasters have tended to create formal and informal alliances, reference one another in text and audio form, and evaluate the viability of attending a conference based on “who else is going”. Then too, a lot of podcasters think of themselves as “social media” creators, and that demands, well, some socializing.
Much of this community-centricness was baked in at the crowded Ontario Marriott bar, and on an exhibit floor that served as a daytime mingle spot for those who couldn’t afford the sessions. This year, the usual social networking tools made it possible for people to plan meetups, but the lack of natural gathering spots, and a dearth of sponsored evening parties made it hard to find the people I wanted to see or meet, beyond a group of friends who communicated via Twitter and text message, all pre-arranged. The tepid show floor experience ensured that visits there were shorter, depriving attendees of another chance to see and be seen.
How to fix? Linda Mills of Podcast User Magazine twittered about rumors that the next expo might take place in San Francisco. And at this writing, no dates for a 2009 show are posted on the NME site. Further, Tim Bourquin, in a very informative post on the difficulties of running trade shows on a small scale, suggests that he might be leaving the business.
I for one hope that NME can be revitalized. San Francisco is a great choice for next year’s event. I would also like to see a Midwest (Chicago) or East Coast (Boston) event. Podcamp attendance patterns could provide good gudeance about locations that could best support a podcasting conference. Finally, I would like to see Tim hire a community-builder for NME. This person’s job would be to develop events and venues that would be conducive to more social options. Two important parts of this job would be finding sponsors for open events, and seeking out affordable, public meeting places that would draw NME attendees willing to socialize on their own dime.