Thousand-dollar tickets, fancy hotels, extravagant parties, crypto "celebrities" talking about the same thing they do in every other conference, crazy gimmicks, mascots, and dance numbers, and hundreds of projects paying tens of thousands of dollars for a booth with a table to pitch their stuff- yes, we seem to have reached peak crypto-conference in 2019.
I attended my first Bitcoin conference, Inside Bitcoins, sometime in 2014-2015. It was a few hundred people, and I met CEOs and founders from all over the world working on building on Bitcoin. You could get a speaking slot or be able to present your project without needing to pay anyone as long as you had a compelling project or story. It was a different time
Five years later and I have seen more than my fair share of events, networking parties and everything else that comes with the territory. Every year, it has gotten bigger and crazier. From several hundred people engaging in meaningful discussions to now thousands of people pitching or selling something "blockchain", paid speaking slots and very expensive admission, the whole endeavor has seemingly lost its way, becoming at times a huge circle-jerk for self-proclaimed crypto-economic philosopher-kings who, because they gained 100K twitter followers and made a couple of million bucks in crypto over the last few years, believe that they can command some kind of authority. Some conference have become a platform for scammers like the Fake Satoshis Jorg Molt or Craig Wright, lending them legitimacy by association, allowing their scams to proliferate. To an outside observer, the events seem to be no different from a shady MLM expo (no offense meant to legitimate MLMs), complete with song and dance programs and, in some blatant cases, misogynistic promotion of sexy "models" at the exhibits and after parties. We can do better.
It has become so bad that the hype has finally started to die down, and fewer people are now attending these massive conferences. Smaller, more focused ones are becoming more popular too, and for a good reason.
Some would argue that conferences are designed to have just one purpose - create connections and establish trust between industry players and participants through the tried and tested ways of P2P social interaction. So, the parties and gimmicks are justified. And you create bonds that otherwise would not have been possible without this kind of interaction.
OK sure, we can keep doing that too, but social events don't really scale well after a few hundred participants anyway. You can't possibly meet everyone, and because of the sheer number of people, you might miss out on some valuable connections too. That's why smaller, more focused events achieve this much better.
How can we improve it?
First thing to ask ourselves is "What do we want to accomplish with this conference?" All that brain power concentrated in one place HAS to have a better use than walking around an exhibit area collecting swag and getting drunk in a bar after listening to boring pitches?
It would be more productive to harness the collective energy and intellect of the participants into something collaborative, for example. What if conferences had a goal to achieve and every attendee works towards achieving that goal? What if we had more hackathons or used more interactive activities instead of just sitting and listening to someone read their slides? What if we made the much more affordable, maybe even free for students and other sectors that might benefit most from learning from the industry leaders? There are so many possibilities.
In the end, besides networking, conferences should be able to educate both those new to the industry and the more seasoned veterans as well. Keeping the conferences more affordable, smaller, more focused, and with a goal in mind should be a good step towards the right direction. There is always something new to learn in this nascent industry, and conferences are, when done right, a great way to get everyone under one roof and share ideas and create lasting business connections.