Drupalcon is dead. Long live Drupalcon?
With Drupalcon Copenhagen now behind us and Drupalcon Chicago approaching, I've found myself thinking about what Drupalcon is and how it's changing.
My first Drupalcon was in Barcelona, I was lucky enough to get to tag along with the guys from Bryght. I had an absolutely amazing time and met dozens of people, many of whom are now quite close friends. To top it off I also met my now fiancee and a future boss (no longer my boss, but still a good friend).
Since then, the twice yearly Drupalcons have consistently been highlights in my year. It's often the only time I get to see many of my friends in person.
Drupalcon is not a conference. At least not in the traditional sense. It's a time where some of the smartest people in the community get together, work on code, figure out problems, and teach each other what they know. It differs from a traditional conference in that there are no paid speakers and it doesn't come with a $2000+ price tag. In addition almost everyone attending is also a participant, whether they're there to hack code, present, contribute to BoF's, etc., everyone at Drupalcon makes it what it is.
Or I should say Drupalcon was that.
Since the first Drupalcon in Antwerp (correct me if I'm wrong), the number of people in attendance has almost consistently doubled every time. With 3000+ people at DCSF and a planned 4000+ attending Drupalcon Chicago, maintaining the personal feel that Drupalcons have traditionally had is simply no longer sustainable and I don't believe possible.
A few of the signs that lead me to believe this are:
* One of the stated goals of DC Chicago in the opening keynote at Copenhagen was to make it the "biggest" Drupalcon ever. I recall in Barcelona the goal was "Best Drupalcon Ever!". Biggest is still a great goal, but it doesn't say anything of the quality of the con, nor if people will enjoy it or not.
* At the end of each conference, traditionally the final keynote includes a slideshow of flickr photos from the conference. This to me is a reminder that the conference was about the attendees. It's an important reminder that the conference isn't so much about the sessions and learning, as it is about the experience of having everyone there in one place at one time. This was absent from this years closing keynote. In fact, this years closing keynote seemed more like the season finale of a reality TV show, than the closing keynote of a Drupalcon.
* DC Chicago will select a set of more "well known" speakers prior to opening up the session proposals and voting to the public. While this is actually quite beneficial to people who need to convince their companies to let them attend it is a big change (possibly the biggest in my eyes) to the way Drupalcons are traditionally a bit more open for anyone in the community to present their ideas. I see this ultimately heading down the road of having the conference organizers select all the speakers, and possibly even moving to the paid speaker and expensive conference price tag model. When the vast majority of the attendees shifts from Drupal contributors to people trying to learn what Drupal is and how it can fit into their company, this is really only natural.
* Lastly, Drupalcons are now being planned multiple years in advance. This is quite different from the planning that normally occurs one Drupalcon in advance.
None of these changes are necessarily bad things, they're just a sign that times are changing.
For me personally, I think Drupalcon will soon no longer be something I look forward to and anticipate, but instead something I go to out of obligation for the work I do.
This doesn't mean I'm not still super excited about the community and new things that are happening in Drupal, but instead that it's time to redirect my energy elsewhere. I think the stuff I'm really gonna be excited about in the future will be the local Drupal camps, and things like the upcoming PNW Drupal Summit (which unfortunately I'll be missing :( ). Also, I think there will be some very cool community stuff happening in new areas with Drupalcon like conferences happening in Asia, South America, and Africa.
The most important aspect of Drupal is the community. It's sad to think that Drupalcons are leaving that behind a bit, but I also don't think there's any other way it can go.
With that said, I had an amazing time in Copenhagen. There were a few issues (as there always are) but overall the conference organizers did a great job putting it together and I thought the sessions had a very good balance from intro to advanced. And I'm definitely looking forward to seeing everyone in Chicago :).