Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Euruko 2011 Thoughts

Back from the European Ruby Conference. Great people, good talks overall. Here are my quick thoughts on what was good, and what could be improved.

(But first, a message to the people who praised my speech: I'd have to spam Twitter to thank each one of you, so please accept one big collective "thank you". I was stoked by your feedback.)

Why Euruko Was Brilliant

Flawless organization. I don't mean to reinforce cultural stereotypes ("The Germans are well-organized"), but this was one of the smoothest conference experiences I've ever been through. The volunteer organizers did a better job than most people who do this for a living. I heard there were a few people lost in the bushes or eaten by wild animals while hunting for the Saturday night party, but you can argue that was part of the fun. ;)

In particular, the location was great. Berlin is already one of my favourite cities, but this topped my best expectations: Karl-Marx Allee, near Alexanderplatz, one of the most reachable landmarks in town. That, and the most impressive conference screen I've seen so far.

Internet connection is usually a sore spot at conferences, but these guys astounded everyone by installing a parabolic dish on a nearby building just to provide us with perfect wireless connections. There were a few minor hiccups on the fist day, but they were quickly fixed. I was as impressed as everyone else. Standing ovation!

Oh, and most conferences should get a clue from these people when it comes to classy, non-dorky-looking t-shirts.

Why Euruko Should Get Bigger

I've read comments that the conference was too big, and previous Eurukos felt cozier. I do agree that small conferences make it easier to socialize. Nonetheless, I think that Euruko should be bigger, not smaller.

Matter of fact, only a selected lucky few made it to the conference. I'm talking out of experience here: if I hadn't been a speaker, I would also have been left out. Getting a ticket proved impossible. Like so many other people, I was hitting "Refresh" constantly, and tickets went straight from "Not yet available" to "Sold out" in the space of one HTTP call. Some of the people who were left out organized their own parallel conference. Most likely, hundreds more people just gave up and stayed home.

The organizers told me that they were taken by storm by the number of requests, and I understand that. Still, it's frustrating to think that next year I might have to either submit a speech or snipe the tickets if I hope to enter the conference (especially since next year's Euruko will be in Amsterdam, my other favourite northern city).

Apparently, only a small fraction of the submitted speeches made the cut. I gather that the organizers intentionally kept the conference single-track, to keep people closer together - but I think the idea backfired. I'm more likely to socialize if I have multiple tracks, smaller rooms, and plenty of corridors to hang around. Many talks received lukewarm feedback, and I think that was because most talks were very specific, so they couldn't possibly appeal to everyone. I'd rather let people select the talks that they find interesting across multiple separate tracks, than have the organizers do the selection for them.

One of the organizers told me that he thinks the European conference should strive to stay small and single-track. Apparently there is this meme that small conferences are more about people, and big conferences are more about money and business. I guess this fits with Berlin's young-and-smart, community-oriented, mildly anarchist mindset. Again, I sympathize with those feelings, but I disagree with the conclusions. Small conferences may be more about the people, but matter of fact, most of that people are being left out in the cold now. If it's small conferences we want, we already get plenty. Ruby is growing big in Europe, and the main European conference should be as big as the number of attendees - not the other way round.

So, to the folks organizing next year's Euruko: maybe it's time to go bigger?


  1. Speaking as one of the next year's organizers, I too would like to make it bigger. People not being able to go to a conference they really love is terrible. On the other hand, it motivated me to join the effort to host one :)

    The single/multiple track dilemma is an interesting one!

  2. What makes a HUGE difference is single track vs. multi track.

    You lose a lot of cozyness, relaxedness and sociality by going multi track. It's just a matter of fact, that you feel more close to even hundreds of people just by experiencing the same thing at the same time.

    What we need is some kind of single track Woodstock with many many people :)

  3. Totally agree about the single track thing - I too prefer multiple tracks where I'm able to cherry pick the topics I'm most interested in.

  4. Hey,

    I'm one of the 2011 organizers and I think that conferences don't have to scale. You can't make it right even if you get bigger. At that price range you will still make people unhappy even if you scale up to 3000 attendees.

    When the conference gets bigger you lose the single track mode as its impossible, or at least really hard to find big rooms that are comfortable as this years cinema. Single track is the most compelling feature of euruko for me. You don't have to run around, always picking the wrong talk at the wrong time and then you can't switch talks because the one you're in the talk which is quite empty but the other talks are too crowded to get it. Too many people roaming the floors, etc.

    Eurukos single track mode is so relaxed. You can go outside if you don't like a talk and can get back in later, being sure to get a seat for the next talk.

    I wouldn't mind if somebody would do a European Ruby Convention with like 3500 attendees and 3-4 tracks but it wouldn't be for me.

    Every year the CCC organizes europes largest hacker conference with >3000 attendees. It started the same way as Euruko. Now its 4 track. Over the years it lost so many charming attributes because of increasing the size. And still not everybody is getting a ticket. We could sell 5000-6000 tickets easily. The last conference sold out like this years Euruko.
    We reduced things that were nice and cozy and for the community to get more room for more people. Its still a nice conference I guess but it got so much more stressful for everybody - the attendees and the organizers - its no fun anymore.

    Therefor I claim that Euruko does not have to and should not scale too much - maybe 500 attendees but that should be it. If it scales more than this I would make another conference that stays small and is a special thing to attend.

    The size and format of Euruko also allows us to give unkown speakers a chance. The size also allows that the conference is being held in another city every year by another team which represents the regional ruby community and is a part of it. Unexperienced people have a chance to learn what its like to organize a real conference. Even if they screw up something its not such a big deal and trust me, we've seen a lot of conferences but when you do it on your own for the first time its crazy how many things you have to think and care about.

    For a bigger multitrack conference you need a team that is building up experience which is reinvested it the same conference from year to year.

    Euruko really is a community and learning experience for both sides - organizers and attendees and _that_ is what makes it so nice and cozy.

    There are a ton of more points to be made but we will release a series of blog posts on our own on the topic so I guess thats it for now ;)

    ~ John

  5. And man, your blog is a major pain to comment in. I had to try 3 times with different profiles and luckily I had the comment in the clipboard or I would have lost it in the process

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hey, hukl. Thanks for weighing in.

    I get your point. Just like you do, I tend to like small conferences more. I also know what it means to organize conferences for hundreds of people, so I'm not assuming it's by any means easy.

    All that being said, I think that an event should match the size of its community. I reckon that most of the Ruby community is cut out from attending Euruko. I find it hard to justify that most people are left out just to provide a cozier experience to the few who get in.

    Just my 2 cents.

    [Sorry for the trouble commenting. I'm starting to get why people don't use Blogspot much these days. If I get more negative feedback on that, I'll eventually move the blog somewhere else].

  8. Yeah again - I would not oppose a larger community event - I just don't want Euruko to fulfill this.

  9. I'd like to underline what Paul Campell mentioned in his talk at the EuRuKo.

    It was something about Rails Underground, and he was sad that there aren't more events like this.
    And I totally agree, there should be more community driven events.

    Increase the amount of conferences not the size.

  10. I don't think Euruko should get bigger, but I think we should try to get as much people to Amsterdam during it as possible. I wrote a more detailed article on my own blog: :)

  11. @lukasrieder If you want community events, have a look at held in madrid the next 14/15 july.

    It will be in the largest park in the center of madrid.

    People organizing these year conference was in euruko.