Monday, April 21, 2008

Part 20: Future Growth (PyCon 2008 Chairman's Report)

PyCon has shown impressive growth. As PyCon continues to grow, we'll continue to outgrow venues. At some point growth will plateau, and eventually we may even see declines, but for the near future growth seems to be on the menu. (I'm not expecting PyCon 2009 to grow another 77%; but who knows?) Keeping the community/volunteer nature of PyCon as it grows will be a challenge.

We have to decide which direction to take. I see several options:

  • Cap attendance. We had about 1040 people at PyCon 2008, and the venue has a hard limit of about 1200 people.

    Hopefully we won't need to take this drastic a measure. We'll do everything we can to avoid it.

  • Raise rates to limit attendance. This would mostly affect the attendance of hobbyists, independent consultants, developers at startups & small businesses, and students. One way to counter that would be to offer discounts or financial aid, but that entails a lot of additional work (I know, having handled financial aid last year, and advised Ted Pollari this year), and many would be reluctant to apply for aid.

    -1 from me. Raising the rates would prevent many students and hobbyists from attending, which would turn PyCon into a corporate-only conference and remove all community spirit.

  • Continue to expand. This implies larger venues, which are often more expensive. Hotels only get so big, after which conference/convention centers come into play. We may have to charge more in order to make use of larger venues. Sponsorship may cover it, but we don't know yet.

    In order to keep the conference affordable, we'll probably have to continue expanding sponsorship. As we saw this year, we have to be careful to keep the community spirit with expanded sponsorship. I think it's possible, and I think sponsors will be fine with the compromises they may have to make compared to larger corporate conferences. One advantage that an affordable community conference like PyCon has over corporate conferences is the investment that attendees make (self-funding, taking time off work, wanting to attend). That's very valuable to sponsors.

  • Split PyCon by sector, e.g.:

    • "PyCon: Developers" for core developers, contributors, and advanced users.
    • "PyCon: Learners" for new and inexperienced users.
    • "EduPyCon" for the education sector; etc.
    • Project-specific conferences.

    SciPy (2008) already exists for scientific users; the PSF should support that more.

  • Split PyCon by region: into two or more smaller annual regional conferences.

    I don't like either of the splitting options. Forcing a split would segregate the community, preventing cross-pollination. Key attendees, like Guido, would not be able to attend all of the smaller conferences. And smaller conferences may not be able to attract the quality of speakers and sponsors that a single conference does.

    I think regional and sector-specific conferences are inevitable, and good for the community. But these should begin at the local/group/project level. The PSF shouldn't start up such conferences, but we should definitely play a supporting role.

    Helping user groups seems like a good route to encourage larger local events.

  • Help existing conferences to feature Python tracks. OSCON already has a Python track, but the PSF isn't directly involved with it (although individual PSF members are); we could participate more in the planning. Conferences such as LinuxWorld or Usenix could add such tracks; perhaps we could encourage them to do so.

    We could bridge between the Python community and regional conferences such as Penguicon, offering help finding speakers, maybe funding travel, and sponsoring the conference.

    The big advantages to this approach are that we'd only be concerned about content, and we'd be free to leave the logistics of food, venue selection, etc. up to someone else. The disadvantages are that we'd now be vulnerable to bad decisions by the conference's management (but the expenditure per conference would be much lower for us), and the PSF also wouldn't be getting a cut of any profits.

The current status of the PSF precludes much of the kind of support described above, as we're all volunteers with day jobs. I hope this status changes before long.

One area that was lacking this year, and that we really need to work on as we grow, was navigation. We had maps in the program guide, but not nearly enough signs in the venue itself. As PyCon grows it will be more and more spread out, so we need signage both to help people find where they want to go, and to remind people what is available (specifically: open space, expo hall, lounge, & registration/information).

Ideas and opinions would be welcome!

This article incorporates text and ideas from Andrew Kuchling. Thanks Andrew!

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