I wanted to start this brief series of articles on the BigOmaha conference with kind of an overview of what went down, and my overall impressions.
BigO was started to “bring forward-thinking creatives, entrepreneurs, and innovators to Omaha.” That’s a pretty broad goal, and the dynamic at the conference reflected the breadth of purpose. Clarification wasn’t made about the conference centering around Web-related practices and approaches, so a wide variety of disciplines made a show. I spoke to several web and software developers, but also to a fair amount of graphic designers (working mostly in print), PR consultants, and even a few accountants. The age groups were just as random as the career base, and the visual demographic was a mixture of suits and sandals, cocktail dresses and jeans, punk hair and baldness.
The really huge range of attendee demographics could have been a big factor in the success of the conference, and I think that it was for quite a few people. However, I personally found it to be a difficult barrier to overcome because there was little common ground to be found in most places. I made a concentrated effort to introduce myself at the various parties and break periods, but wasn’t able to find much to discuss with those that I met. Jarad Johnson, one of the other three Springfieldians to make the journey north, related a similar story where he tried to get to know a fellow attendee. It went something like this:
- Jarad: “So, what do you do?”
- Attendee: “I’m a developer.”
- Jarad: “Oh, neat! So do you do mostly frontend or backend?”
- Attendee: (frowns) “Uhh… mostly commercial real estate?” (confused)
- Jarad: (blank stare)
The messages shared by the speakers were universally applicable to most businesses, so I don’t think that anyone would have been wasting their time attending the conference. But because all of the speakers and the information presented was geared toward a more South By Southwest style crowd, I would tend to think that a lot of what was discussed may have fallen on deaf ears. You could also make the argument that those industries that have traditionally been blind to the Web are the ones who probably needed to hear it the most.
As far as the actual organization of the conference, the amenities, the preparation, etc… I was impressed. The branding done for the conference was extremely consistent and had a lot of whimsy, which made it very memorable (bravo, Oxide Design). Other than the lanyards we had to wear being a bit finicky, all the materials we were given were put together nicely. The actual conference was held at the Kaneko library, which was one hell of a space. I wish we had a library half as nice as that one in Springfield – and it wasn’t even finished yet. Downtown Omaha is really very beautiful, and the conference held its opening and closing parties at some really nifty local venues.
The speakers were, on the whole, exhilarating. I’ll get to some of their ideas and topics in later posts, but there was a powerhouse lineup of Jason Fried, Jeffrey Kalmikoff, Micah Baldwin, and Gary Vaynerchuk that made for a lot of really interesting and (I hate using this word) inspirational talks and discussions. Some of the speakers were extremely disappointing, and I’ll get to that in a later post as well.
This was Year One for BigOmaha, and I think they did a really fantastic job overall with giving it a good jumpstart that may make it grow into something to rival SXSW, An Event Apart, or Web 2.0 down the road. Props to Silicon Prairie News for taking a shot in the dark. More to come once I get my notes organized. In closing, I’m attaching some scans on my notebook from BigO, with some random observations I felt compelled to write down: