2011 NTEN NTC Kvetching

It’s taken me a whole week to pull together my thoughts about the 2011 NTC conference. Marc Baizman beat me to the punch on Idealware. He sums up a lot of how I feel, though my conference food expectations are so low that bad food doesn’t make my list. On the contrary, I’d argue that bad food is an essential, solid conversation starter when meeting new people at a conference.

I love this conference, and it recharges my batteries every year. This year was no exception. This was my eighth year going (I missed Seattle, so my seventh conference, if you count the first, which was a regional gathering in Boston). This was the largest NTC ever, and with that growth comes an increasing sense that the corporate presence is eclipsing the grassroots community vibes. With a bigger conference that’s been going on so long, there’s also a growing group of old-timers—people who’ve been attending three years or more. And what do old-timers do in any community? We complain.

This is not the first NTC that saw impromptu circles of old-timers sitting around, kvetching about how we only come to the conference to network anymore, how we can’t believe how big and corporate our little engine that could has gotten (remember when the science fair felt like it was full of people’s tech experiments instead of a corporate marketing showcase? that was so cute!), and how we wish that there were sessions that were a bit more advanced than “How to Engage Your Network on Facebook” and, if you’re a more technical techie, something higher level than the usual primers on virtualization and network security.

NTEN has a sizeable, dynamic, engaged core group of members. Awareness of the importance of technology in our sector has been growing in part due to zeitgeist, and in part due to the existence of NTEN and all of us. So of course as critical mass grows, bigger and bigger corporate attentions follow. No surprise there.

But I am not convinced that we old-timer, less-corporate nonprofit staff and consultants cannot find a way to keep the NTC relevant for us as it evolves. I could seek a smaller, more downtrodden conference (and I likely will; it’s unreasonable to expect one annual tech conference to fill all my tech-learning needs). But the most interesting thing that could happen with the NTC, to me, would be if we can all successfully continue getting value from attending the NTC, the corporate and the grassroots folks alike (since that’s a false dichotomy anyway!). I’m going to spend the next year before the 2012 NTC thinking about this. Many community discussions have already started about it, too. We’ll see what happens, but it's hard not to feel hopeful. But I am still on my NTC high.