Originally written for the excellent folks over at Business Zone.Here's a question. Are you planning to attend any conferences this year, maybe one, two or none?Times are hard, and if you hadn't noticed, budgets are being cut. So if the answer to the above question is 'none' then don’t worry, you’re not alone. Lots of companies will be looking at their 2009 budgets, and making tough decisions on cuts. In this context, conference attendance is an easy target.But here's the concern. The annual back slapping, free beer drinking conference season, especially in the tech world, is seen as The Holy Grail. It's an invaluable chance to network with like-minded peers and bask in the glow of those who have got to the top of the tree. Ok, I am downplaying it a bit, but in the harsh glare of a recession the conference may have to be the sacrificial cow.Even the multinationals are pulling out of major conferences. Apple attended its last ever Mac World in December and the Computer Electronics Show (CES) attendance for both participants and visitors was down by almost a third.So is 2009 the year the conference died? Well I wouldn't bet on it. I think that 2009 will be the year of the micro conference!A micro conference does exactly what it says on the tin. Thanks to the rise of social networking, it's a booming business. What's more these events can usually be found locally and are either free or very low cost.The Tweetup (Twitter + Meet up) is when online becomes face-to-face and the 140 characters squeezed into a Twitter message finally becomes a meaningful conversation. So a Tweetup is a meeting arranged and advertised on the micro blogging service, Twitter.The brilliance of the format is its simplicity and open nature. By choosing to follow and attend a meeting with like-minded individuals, you are tailoring a service to your exact interests and needs. The 'open social' nature of Twitter also gives you a major head start. Cocktail party questioning goes out the window, as you already know the attendees. It should be straight down to business.BarCamp a.k.a 'The Unconference'Barcamp is an international organisation dedicated to the 'unconference'. Formed in 2005, it's volunteer-led. The first BarCamp was held in Palo Alto, California and it's already exploded into more than 55 countries worldwide.The BarCamp format is completely based on participation and has developed a reputation for being highly inclusive, local and low cost.So, if your conference budget has been cut, don't worry, there are alternatives. The Unconference is a popular model, and it's spawned a huge number of spin offs like OpenSoho, OpenWeb and WordCamp.Take a look at Meetup.com or Upcoming.yahoo.com to see for at first hand. If you don't find anything interesting, why not try hosting one yourself? The techies may dominate, but maybe that means it's time for mainstream business to take over.
last night was the inaugural Southampton Open Web event held at the Harbor Lights Picture House in Ocean Village, Southampton.With a full to bursting conference room, three speakers and a chance to meet with some of the web glitterati of the south coast it was an opportunity many couldn't miss, even if it was on the same night as Twestival.Organized by Dan and Rob from Southamptons newest digital creative agency Slipstream Studio the evening was a highly refreshing change to the London based unconferences and a great indicator for future events.As with all unconferences the evening was very relaxed, this was especially helped by the brilliant Campaign Monitor agreeing to pick up the tab via their 'Give Back Scheme', so props to those guys, we were all raising a glass to you!I was very privileged to be asked to speak at the event, and to be honest this was quite a challenge due to the mixed nature of the audience. Coming from Actinic I am constantly in touch with a number of businesses, developers and designers predominately in the E-Commerce space, so I was keen to keep it relevant for the OpenWeb crowd, you can watch a podcast of my presentation if you feel so inclined (gave me a good excuse to try Screentoaster.com).Lance Wicks gave a great overview of the distributed social networking tool NoseRub, I would describe it as a network aggregator, although I did have my wrists slapped for that. I suggest you head over to Lance's blog for an overview.The third keynote was from Ross Woodham, a solicitor from Shoosmiths specializing in Terms and Conditions for businesses operating online. Ross gave a great overview of some of the risk and mitigating steps you can take to protect you and your brand. I know a lot of Actinic powered businesses read this blog so just get in contact if you want to talk to him.To summarise, it was a fantastic event, I am already looking forward to the next one!PS: Congrats to @Mallmus for making me hold a Foxy Cart T-shirt!Flicker Stream : Twitter Buzz