WWDC For All

July 27th, 2006

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”:

Dear ADC:

Regarding the video and slide content of WWDC sessions, I am writing to encourage the adoption of a more liberal policy for publicizing this information starting in 2006 and moving forward.

In the past, content has been available only by DVD distribution for conference attendees, or streaming video for ADC members of a certain paying level. This information is begging to be free, as it will improve the developer community and ultimately benefit Apple through the production of higher quality software for our (and your) customers. Developers are placed in an uncomfortable position of having access to the information that their peers do not. For most of us, this is in conflict with the sharing spirit of software development.

For more of my opinions on why sharing this information liberally would not be detrimental to the business side of WWDC, please see my article on the subject at the following URL:

http://www.red-sweater.com/blog/166/wwdc-for-all

Thank you for considering my opinion in the development of an improved strategy,

Daniel Jalkut

10 Responses to “WWDC For All”

  1. Fraser Speirs Says:

    I think there’s a good case for making them available on iTMS. Maybe not for *free*, but certainly for some sane amount of money that covers the bandwidth and some? Maybe $2.50/session?

  2. Rob Keniger Says:

    Hear, hear. For those like me that live outside the US (I’m in Australia), getting to WWDC is a costly exercise in both time and money, especially if you give yourself a decent amount of time for the jet lag to wear off before the conference. I’d estimate it probably costs me at least double what it costs a US resident to participate. Much as I’d like to go every year it’s simply not feasible. It would be fantastic for all the content to be available online, in a downloadable form since I agree that the current streaming system is teh suX0r. For free is even better, the more people that see this stuff the better the apps will be.

  3. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    The iTunes thing sounds good to me, with perhaps free versions going to ADC members at various paid levels.

    If they went the paid iTunes route, then I would hope that the slides from each session might be freely downloadable, as a preview of what you might expect to get in the full video.

  4. Dale Says:

    I disagree with the comment “The value of WWDC is about 5% information”. It’s certainly greater than that to me. Though I’m not discounting the significant benefit of being at WWDC and mixing with like minded developers and personal legends. But as Rob notes (I’m in Australia too), it’s just too expensive for many of us not in the US to buy a ticket to fly round the world and pay the WWDC admission regularly.

    Fraser’s suggestion for selling WWDC sessions on iTunes sounds good, though I’d hate to see this restricted to the US or UK like most video content is. I’d imagine Apple would also want to delay release to make WWDC more attractive, and at the same time limit sales to ADC members. This might make the exercise quite difficult, depending on the lead time for Leopard and how the iTunes customer database has been implemented.

    If only the video sessions are available, then I’d hope Apple wouldn’t put too high of a price on them. Without the new tools, API documentation, etc none of the information can be put to use. But it’s still great knowing what’s coming and getting your mind around it, so you can ‘hit the ground running’ when Leopard is released.

    It’d also be great if Apple could bundle the video, documentation and maybe an updated Xcode and sell it on a DVD for a reasonable price. I can’t imagine Leopard would be on the DVD though, as the risk of pirating would be too much of a risk for Apple.

  5. Jonathan Wight Says:

    The problem with ITMS is that some countries still dont have a ITMS.

    It would also involve the cooperation of at least two distinct groups at Apple (ADC and iTunes). I wouldn’t hold my breathe.

    I don’t see why Apple can’t just upload the darn .mov files to connect.apple.com and be done with it. Failing that I’ll (grudgingly) buy the DVDs for a reasonable cost.

  6. Alexander Dimitriyadi Says:

    Well I took your suggestion Daniel and I got an email response today from ADC telling me that they forwarded my email to the correct people for consideration. I know it wasn’t some sort of generic email, because he specifically addressed concerns and mentioned what the topic was about. So heres hoping we get enough emails going in and they consider our reasons for freeing up this valuable media.

  7. Romain Says:

    If you really want to make things change, I think you should reach a stage. Take your 2005 WWDC DVDs and make them available for everybody (means not so rich developpers). For exemple by posting a torrent on a dedicated website !
    It’s your choice.

  8. WWDC for free Says:

    [...] There’s a bit of buzz going on at infinite loop and the red sweater blog about what Apple would gain by making WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference) free. To be honest I absolutely agree. With some commentators predicting that Apple is on the verge of a market share explosion, it would make sense for Apple to open the conference up a bit. [...]

  9. Andrew Says:

    @Romain

    That would break the NDA under the rules right now… Dan could lose his subscription that way…

  10. Mike Zornek Says:

    I’ve been screaming for the return of the DVDs for a long while. It just doesn’t feel like Apple is listening at all. They don’t even offer an argument as to why this decision had to have been made. And then they take out the ADC Feedback Forum at WWDC where you can complain about it face-to-face. UGH!!

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