BlackHat 2008 has ended and DefCon 16 has begun. Logical (and happier) thoughts will appear in later posts, but I want to throw some ideas out while they are fresh in my mind.
I have come to the conclusion that big cons are a necessary evil- but they really shouldn't be this evil. Mistakes are always made, things always go wrong, but we know that before we start. (We work in IT and security, we have jobs because things go wrong). Apparently big conference organizers are not familiar with contingency planning. Nor do they consider how attendees actually use the con and feed that back into the following year's planning.
DefCon's badge disasters are legendary, this year's may be the worst yet. On my last trip through the lobby, there were untold hundreds (thousands?) of people in a line snaking throughout the entire conference center end of the Riviera- all of them already registered, but in line to trade in their temporary paper badges for the real badges. The real badges arrived late again this year, and so almost everyone effectively has to go through registration twice.
Neither con (nor their venues) seems to have given much thought to traffic flow. People have been wandering along in crowds for at least a few thousand years, we could try to learn from that. Blocking half of the hallway to give the vendors prime space at BlackHat was great for vendor exposure (vendors and "exposure" is another rant- can we please get beyond booth bimbos, please?) but no so good for getting thousands of people in and out of the conference rooms. For a "security" con, they largely forgot personal safety- there was no way to quickly evacuate BlackHat if it had been needed. (No way Jack, hypocrisy in our industry?)
Note: While BH/DC certainly have these issues, this is generally true of any large conference or convention.
Now, to quit whining and offer a suggestion beyond the overly obvious:
Every con is largely about the connections and side conversations, embrace this and support it. PodCamp Boston 3 did this perfectly, there was plenty of space with tables and chairs for side conversations- continuations/follow-ups of presentations, impromptu demonstrations, etc. This promotes conversations and helps keep side-conversations out of other presentations.
SOURCE, Shmoocon, Day-Con, ChicagoCon and many other smaller events look better all the time. And, if you have any interest in social media/new media, go to a PodCamp. I passed on The Last Hope so that I could attend PodCamp Boston 3, and it was great.