September 13th, 2008
People have noticed, naturally, that we’ve gone over entirely to a multi-track format (except for keynotes and a couple of other special slots). And they’re surprised; we used to be one-track, and then last year we were multi-track but with a good dose of plenary sessions.
So I thought I’d say something about the multi-trackedness of RubyConf 2008, for anyone who’s interested.
The bottom line is that we’ve scheduled multiple tracks because we got so many really, really good proposals. Of course we can’t accept all of them; we can’t be that multi-track. There will always be a cutoff, and where the cutoff comes always involve a judgment call. This time around the judgment was that the number of talks we’d have to exclude, in order to dilute the multi-trackedness significantly, was too great.
In fact, we started drafting a schedule without explicitly discussing the multi-track issue; it mostly emerged from what we jotted down, and then it continued to make sense to us as we started analyzing the track issue more closely.
People have asked whether it’s about the size of the event. It is, in a couple of ways—subtle ways, perhaps, but important.
For one thing, we know that not every speaker is comfortable getting up in front of 500 people. Lots are, but it’s still a lot to ask. Breakout sessions make for situations in which more speakers are likely to be comfortable.
Of course, if there are only fifteen speakers, we could easily find people who don’t mind a big audience. But what about that “only fifteen speakers” thing?
In a conference with 400-500 people present, it’s definitely more fun if, say, twelve percent of the people prowling the halls and sitting next to you at lunch are speakers, instead of two or three percent. Having fifteen speakers at an event with over 400 people isn’t the same, for anyone, as having fifteen speakers at an event with sixty people. If the ratio is too lop-sided, it gets too much into the “us and them” thing. We’ve never been into that.
Another reason we’re OK with moving toward a multi-track format is the proliferation and success of the Ruby regional conferences, many of which are one-track. Everyone should attend, at some point, a one-track conference. It’s really cool the way everyone at such a conference shares the same experience. My first conference was a one-track academic film conference in 1985, and it was great. And the wonderful flowering of the Ruby regional conference culture means that, even if it isn’t at RubyConf, many Rubyists will get a chance to have that experience.
We started our regional conference grant program in 2006 in the hope that “regional” wasn’t going to mean “provincial”—that regional conferences could be top-notch events—and that hope has been fulfilled beyond what we could possibly have wished for. (And certainly way beyond what we can take credit for. The regional organizers have been amazing!) These high-quality small events can address many needs and desires, including the desire for the experience of a one-track format.
In sum, the RubyConf format for 2008 is a format for its time, its year, its configuration of the Ruby world. We’re nothing but excited about it and hope you’ll come and share the fun!