John Siracusa recently wrote about Apple’s almost universally condemned strategy of distributing recorded conference materials after the show is over. He asks “Why does Apple jealously guard the content presented at WWDC?”
It’s a good question, and it probably has to do with compelling future attendance at conferences. After all, Apple is probably thinking, if you can get the milk for free, why … uhm, go to the cow? By “jealously guarding” the content that makes up the “intellectual reward” for conference attendees, they’re making it clear that the best way to stay on top of Mac OS X technical issues is by attending the conference.
This rationale makes sense on paper, but there are major problems with it.
Being In The Room
The first mistake is in assuming that reproduced content will approximate the value of “being in the room.” I’ve watched a fair number of the WWDC 2005 videos through the (painful) streaming ADC Select interface. Aside from the benefits of being able to pause, rewind, and skip the boring parts, let me tell you, it’s no conference. I am roughly able to absorb all the data that my peers who attended did, but they benefitted from a much richer experience.
Watching the WWDC sessions from home is like watching the New York New Years Eve party on television. You are a passive recipient of the information, but you don’t get to participate. You know when the new year arrives at very close to the same moment as all the thousands of people in the crowd, but you don’t get the satisfaction of washing the champagne stains out the next morning.
Even though the information (the passing of the year) from this great event is free and widely spread, the event is hugely successful. Why do those thousands of people travel to downtown NYC to participate in an event they could watch at home? It’s about being in the room.
The value of being in the room at WWDC is about 10 bajillion times greater than being in the room at new years. At WWDC, you can ask questions. If the line was too long and you missed your chance, you can recognize the speaker in the halls and track her down for clarification. At WWDC, you can participate in hands-on sessions, working through the new technology as you learn about it. At WWDC you can visit the labs and work in an environment where smart people are hovering about, waiting to answer your questions. Unless you’ve found a particularly well-stocked IRC room, these benefits are not available to you at home.
Being Outside The Room
The other major motivation for attending WWDC has nothing to do with the conference itself, but with the milieu surrounding it. There is quite simply no other time of year that such a concentration of like-minded Mac software developers exists in any one point on the globe. The closest thing you’ll find to this amazing congregation of Mac nerds, is the sizable number of them that reside permanently during working hours in Cupertino, California. The rest of us are lucky if we’ve found a half-dozen similarly inspired people within a 50 mile radius of where we live or work.
Apple takes this benefit to the ultimate level by opening its own doors for one evening during the conference, inviting attendees to relax, have a beer, and mingle with conference attendees and Apple employees on the Apple campus. This degree of access is totally incomparable to anything a developer can hope for via the web, email lists, chat rooms, or forums. The Apple campus on one summer Thursday becomes an absolutely sizzling hotbed of Mac nerdiness for 3 hours every year.
And Apple’s party is only the tip of the iceberg. Events like the Buzz Andersen’s annual party are gaining momentum with each passing year. The number of extra-cirricular activities is so great that groups of developers with niche interests find it difficult to find a spare lunch or evening in which to meet. In summary? WWDC produces a week of nearly non-stop hot developer-on-developer action. You can’t buy that at home (ahem – nor, with that particularly risque choice of words, would you want to!).
To top it all off, WWDC has for the past several years been held in San Francisco, one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world. The conference is epic, the scenery is epic, the attendees are epic. Attendance is an almost irresistible proposition for companies and developers alike. Apple has nothing to fear from making the information free.
Ask For What You Want
The value of WWDC is about 5% information and 95% being in the room and being with your peers. If New Years were celebrated like WWDC, only a few thousand people would be running around on January 1 knowing whether it had truly come to pass. I agree with John Siracusa – it’s time to free the WWDC content. We want high quality, downloadable archive versions of all WWDC sessions. These should be available to any ADC member at any level of membership under the terms of their NDA.
If you also agree, let’s stop talking about it and start telling about it. Telling Apple, that is. Use the ADC contact form to let Apple know how you feel. You want this information freed! This is not just for whiny non-attendees, either. Those of you who attend every year have also bemoaned the loss of DVD archives of the sessions, for instance. Take this opportunity to make yourself heard. We’re all in this together!
I encourage you to write whatever you feel in your feedback to Apple, but this is what I am writing and it might spark some motivation in you to “make the call”: