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Recap of Internet Summit 2009 in Raleigh

Yesterday was the second annual Internet Summit in Raleigh.  We were excited about the event, so we sent three NMC Team members, including myself.  The event boasted an impressive speaker list, including the founder of Technorati, president of Pandora, and the CEO of Lending Tree. 

With these big names on the roster and an imposing (maybe read: pretentious) event title like the Internet Summit, it was clear that the event was trying to reach national exposure and pull attendees from across the country.  I applaud the Triangle area for trying to cement our reputation as a hotbed of tech and startups by hosting the Summit.

The panel topics ranged from the very technical (Cloud computing) to entrpreneurial (Growth & Liquidity) to buzzwords du jour (Social Media and Real Time).  While I enjoyed all of the different options, and we often found ourselves splitting up to see different panels because there were a couple good ones in the same time slot, I think it may have been overly ambitious to cram the whole Internet into a single day. 

I would've preferred if they made one or two areas, say Search Marketing and Social media, the focus of the majority of panels and then sprinkled in other topics, rather than having such a broad focus and single panels covering entire industries.  The decision to stay broad caused for a lot of high level discussion didn'tplay well with the knowledgeable and inquisitive audience (at least the ones I spoke with) who would have preferred in depth case studies or a look into an industry's future, rather than hearing comments like "content is important in social media."

That's a general overview of the conference: some good discussion, but could have used some more specifics and even to be spread over two days.  Now let's get to some specifics.

The Highs

  • There were several panels that provided some really great discussion.  Through good moderation and interesting panelists, they managed to avoid the tendency to be broad and really focus on specifics.  The top few panels that I caught were Search Marketing, Online Advertising Strategies, and Email Marketing.  Email Marketing really stuck out as an awesome panel -- even though it's a common topic, the panel featured execs from industry leaders Bronto, iContact, and Emma.  The panelists were very open, interesting, and thoughful. 
  • The overall setup and running of the conference.  The conference was hosted at the Raleigh Convention Center, which provided a lot of space to walk around, post up with your lap top, make phone calls, and host side meetings.  Furthermore, the wireless was flawless, and the conference had side areas for bloggers to craft posts and for media to gather.  The Demo showcase was a nice touch to highlight local startups doing exciting and interesting things in the space.  The food was great, the after party beer was quenching, and the overall aesthetics were well thought out.  Thank you to the convention center for doing such a great job!
  • Final keynotes from Pandora president Joe Kennedy and Lending Tree CEO Doug Lebda.  Both of these guys gave really great speeches.  Kennedy spoke about the importance of "disruptive innovation" (I was a little worried at first) in entrepreneurship and drew a phenomenal extended metaphor to the birth of modern film with The Great Train Robbery.  Furthermore, he provided some really interesting facts about Pandora's business, including the stat they have 20,000 new iPhone app registrations every day!  Lebda was one of the most engaging speakers I've ever seen.  Period.  He did an unusual format for his keynote and structured it as a Q & A with the CEO of Peak10.  He was incredibly honest and interesting, and the majority of his answers were centered around his entrepreneurial journey, his failures, how his company has evolved, and what he's learned.  The committee hit it out of the park by choosing these two speakers.

As you can see there were several factors that made the conference a joy to attend.

The Lows

  • Keynote by Richard Jalichandra, president of Technoratti.  Everyone in the audience and in the tweetstream agreed that this speech was horrendous.  He was pretentious, unprepared, and boring.  Other people informed me that he was the same at past conferences, such as BlogWorld.  IS09 should've done some research and realized that he should not have been put on the list.
  • Many panels lacked specificity that was desired by a knowledgeable audience.  This point was mentioned in my overview, but is worth coming back to.  A panel of four people, none of them especially notable, were given 60 minutes to cover social media.  That strategy will almost never work, as there's just far too much to cover and discuss.  The conference would've been better served to bring in a renowned expert on a specific area of social media and have them go to town on that specific element, rather than trying to cover the whole space.  Again, this could also be fixed by having a multiple day format.

Since I enjoyed the experience overall, I don't want to be too negative and will just leave it with those two lows, as those were the two most glaring errors.

Bottom Line: Was it Worth the Price of a Ticket?

One of the best things about living, working, and playing in the triangle area is the low cost of living.  The conference maintained that theme by being a very cheap ticket, between $295 and $395 depending on day of registration, compared to other industry fairs like Web 2.0 that cost closer to $1,000.

So, if you're a local and didn't have to worry about flying or booking a hotel and losing a day or two of work, then yes, it was definitely worth the cost of admission. 

However, if you traveled a good distance and had to tack on a flight, hotel room for a night, and missed work time for travel, then you probably didn't get your money's worth.

With that being said, it's really important to remember that this was only the second year of the conference.  For a second year event, it was very polished, and it wouldn't surprise me if it is worth traveling to next year or the year after.  So, definitely keep your eye on this one, as it might be a deal in the coming years.

Did you attend the conference?  What were your thoughts? 

Thanks again for all of the panelists, speakers (except Jalichandra), volunteers, staff, and to the city of Raleigh!  Also, if the conference folks need any talented panelists next year, our Nov 2010 looks pretty open right now ;).

Comments

Jonathan's avatar
Jonathan NMC team member

Well said, Clay – I agree across the board. I think the conference will continue to improve and I hope others post their feedback online so that a conversation can help to shape the structure and content of the event for future years.

As a sponsor of the event, I would add that it was a valuable investment for us. The increased networking opportunities led to some great conversations and ample time to meet with some great local entrepreneurs and fellow service providers.

As an aside, it was great to meet you and some of the other members of your team. Glad you came out and looking forward to following your work & this blog.

Dan London's avatar
Dan London

Good recap.

I was at the event with my company, <a href="http://www.sharefile.com/filetransfer/virtual-data-room.aspx">Virtual Data Room</a> provider ShareFile.com, and found myself going to more sessions that where outside of my area of expertise. I went to the gaming session at the end of the day and enjoyed that one the most. The panel knew what they were talking about and were pretty candid about what had worked and hadn't for them. A number of the things they said easily translated to what I do. They spoke about how creating games for the "uber-Fan" eventually hurts a product and how micro transactions are used in gaming.

I really hope the comScore/Digg presentation data is posted online. The Twitter stream for the event went crazy with the #s that they were providing.

The email marketing session was interesting. Though the stat of a return of $48/per $1 spent is somewhat misleading since it is a permission based marketing.

It was a good location, though the round tables in the main areas made it kind of odd to sit and get a good view of the panel. I found myself going to more sessions in the small room (though it was standing room only) because it was easier to see who was speaking.

Jason Peck's avatar
Jason Peck

I really enjoyed the people at the event and the setup. However, I thought many of the panelists appeared to be unprepared. It felt like they had only spent about 5 minutes thinking about what they were going to say. Not something I expected at an event with 1000+ people. I didn't really leave with many key takeaways, and the people I talked to seemed to feel the same way.

I agree with you that the setup was awesome.It was worth it just to meet and talk with some really smart people. While I did enjoy the Twitter/Real-time panel, overall I thought they could have been better.

Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member

Great points by everyone and good to know that we are all pretty much in agreement. Definitely a great start to a conference that hopefully is around for years to come!

@Jonathan Really enjoyed meeting you as well! We need to be sure to get together sometime in the coming months.

Clay

Jason Long's avatar
Jason Long

Clay,

Thanks for commenting on my blog entry about IS09 (http://bit.ly/5DZFv) I cut out early and I'm sorry I missed the final keynotes...but for that I blame Richard Jalichandra. It was a canned speech filled with sweeping generalizations (i.e. "Blogs are media" with no qualification for all of the crap out there) that I said "well, if the second keynotes are anything like his, I'm out of here."

I think the conference was a great start (even though it's the 2nd year), and I look forward to improvements next year.

Jason Long
@longjasonm

Bob Butler's avatar
Bob Butler

Good summary. Re your comments on the the Social Media panel, it was attempting something a little different than what has been done in the past. It didn't want a marquee names musing about how their vision became the foundation social media, but people who were really using social media to launch their sites and grow their business. This by nature will be less known people. Nevertheless, I thought Alex Whiters stories about how social media was used in the re-launch of USOPEN.com and Matt Van Horn's perspective as an insider at Digg.com were quite good, and Jen Sargent was very articulate and has done an amazing job leveraging social media in launching HitFix.com

Tyler Haney's avatar
Tyler Haney

I agree with just about all of the comments above. The event was rather "busy" with all the concurrent sessions. I left feeling it could have been a 1.5 to 2-day event. Like others, I did not come home with many takeaways, however I took this to mean that, while social media is exploding in usage, we are beginning to figure it out... at least a little.

I actually enjoyed some of the statistics Jalichandra rattled off, but the delivery was lacking. I was somewhat disappointed with the design panel, because that is not my area of expertise but I still don't think I really learned anything from the session. I enjoyed both ending keynotes (wish they were the beginning keynotes) and I was pleasantly surprised by Matt Van Horn's presentation.

I look forward to watching some of the panels I missed. Are the videos available yet online?

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