Online conferences

Intriguing concept: the JavaScript Summit 2012 (Nov 13-15) is an online conference.

How it works

Here is how the JavaScript Summit works (quoting the website):
[...] sign in and enter the [Flash-based] virtual meeting space. Once you are signed in, you'll be able to see and hear the presentations as they happen, ask questions as needed and chat with the other attendees if you like!
Additionally, tickets include acess to slides and video recordings of the talks.


Benefits compared to offline conferences. The main benefit of an online conference is that one doesn’t have to travel to attend. In fact, one doesn’t even have to leave one’s home. The audience benefits twice: First, it’s more pleasant for them. Second, the chance of good speakers attending increases, as they don’t have to travel, either. Another benefit of online conferences is that their locations are virtual – large audiences can be accommodated cheaply. That’s good for organizers (more money), but also for attendees (easier to get tickets).

Benefits compared to watching videos. One question is important: Why wouldn’t you simply watch free videos and save your money? There are two aspects of an online conference that elevate it above watching videos on your own:

  • You can interact with the speakers.
  • You can interact with other members of the audience. I’m not sure how useful that is and how well it scales up to large audiences, but it might contribute to the conference feeling like an event.

Federated conferences

Social interaction has become the most important part of offline conferences for me. That part does not translate well to online conferences.

However, one could have local sub-conferences – a federated conference, if you will. That is, people meet locally to watch talks together. For keynotes, this is already a reality: during the past year, I’ve attended local screenings of the Google I/O keynotes and the Microsoft BUILD keynote, in Munich. The nice thing is that one still doesn’t have to travel, but gets some of the social benefits of an offline conference. The JavaScript Summit supports the idea of federation via “Meeting Room Tickets”: An “Individual Ticket” only allows one person to attend virtually, the Meeting Room Ticket is for an arbitrary amount of people, in a single room. It is sold as “ideal for projecting the summit in an auditorium or meeting room”. The price for a Meeting Room Ticket is roughly three times the price of an Individual Ticket.


Prices for the JavaScript Summit are cheaper than for most conferences: $179 per day. But there are conferences that are even cheaper: the single-day JavaScript conference dotJS in Paris costs between €50 (super-early bird) and €200 (super-late bird); the single-day agile and programming conference Mix-IT in Lyon cost €30. Unconferences such as BarCamps are often free or cheap, too. It’s possible that the most important customers for the JavaScript Summit are businesses, for whom the Meeting Room Ticket is a good deal.