While I posted a lot before the XML 2007 conference, I didn’t really have time to post anything during it. This is the third time I’ve chaired a medium-sized tech conference, and while it’s busy all year, it’s insane while the actual conference is in progress — any free time is for rest or nourishment, not blogging. The conference ended yesterday, and I haven’t really had time to reflect on and digest the experience, but here are some things that stick out right now from the memories swirling in my head.
It was cold this time, colder than XML 2006 last December in Boston. I brought suitable clothing with me, so I was still able to get outside for some long walks around the city, but with wind chills dropping well below -10degC, a lot of visitors probably weren’t equipped and had to spend most of the conference indoors. That’s not as bad as it sounds, since the hotel is connected to, literally, kilometers of indoor shopping, with pedestrian bridges across major streets. Unfortunately, they probably didn’t make it the 2.5 blocks outside to have banana or cranberry pancakes for breakfast at Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe.
We also had snow — only a dusting of about three inches in Boston the night before the conference started, but since Boston’s not a snow city like Buffalo, Syracuse, Ottawa, Montreal, etc., I wasn’t sure if they’d have the roads clear and people would make it to the opening plenary. Fortunately, while many schools closed outside of Boston, the downtown kept moving as usual. We had over 200 people in a packed ballroom, and there was good audience participation.
We had excellent 45- and 90-minute presentations during the day, of course, but some of the conference’s greatest energy was generated in the informal evening sessions. John Boyer‘s XForms evening on Monday, and Ken Holman‘s Standards and Specs Lightning Rounds on Tuesday both played to packed rooms with noisy audiences.
Both featured rapid-fire sequences of short presentations (15 minutes each for Monday, six minutes and twenty seconds each on Tuesday) giving the people there a chance to hear lots of different speakers and ideas in a short period of time. If you weren’t there on Tuesday night, you’ll find it hard to believe that an evening of standards talks could be exciting, but it was.
XML is no longer mainly about a circle of people who know each-other and meet at conferences and committee meetings a few times a year. With so many new people, the change sometimes comes out as a lack of consideration — for example, speakers who wouldn’t bother showing up to hear the other presentation in their sessions (also leaving the session chair wondering if there would be a second speaker) — but overall, I think that people were back to being a bit more considerate than I’ve seen in the recent past. I saw fewer session chairs and speakers sitting in front of the room checking their e-mail while someone else was giving a presentation, had less trouble with people talking loudly in the hall outside while presentations were in session, and audiences tended to be friendly and supportive. Almost every presentation had a decent-sized audience ready to ask questions, and with all the work the speakers put in, they deserved at least that.
I experienced an example of consideration above and beyond any call of duty, when one person took time out from a serious family crisis to track me down, call me in my hotel room, and let me know about a change affecting the conference. You know who you are — thanks, and our thoughts are with you.
I love Boston. It’s a lot like Toronto, where I lived for six happy years and first learned how to love big cities properly (from near but not right in downtown, moving around on foot or public transit, and dealing with small stores and local merchants who get to know your name), but with its own special treats, like the antiquated trains (?) on the Green Line, a decent subway system that actually goes to the airport, truly fanatical baseball fans, and the Charles River. I’ve made a good number of visits to Boston over the past two years getting these conferences together, and I’ve come to feel very comfortable in the city.
Next year, I leave the conference to new people, and the conference leaves Boston for Arlington, VA. I hope that my life brings me back in contact with both the conference and Boston in the future, and I wish the best of luck (and stamina) to next year’s organizers.