In my blog post last night on Days 1 and 2 of the PASS Summit, I included the following comment:
(Along with that, I think having "hybrid" events like our current Summit dilutes the impact of the in-person event, although that is a conversation for another place, and as always is my $.02)
As I expected, someone asked me about it - in this case one of the SQLPeople I greatly respect Mala Mahadevan (@sqlmal):
I want to start by saying I am not picking a fight - this is my opinion and I respect anyone who disagrees.
Like anything else, the concept of a Hybrid event is both positive in some ways and negative in others.
The biggest positive, especially in the current pandemic world but also even before that, is that there are people who can't travel - they have health reasons, they can't get time off work, they can't afford to travel, and so many more. These people get the benefit of viewing the sessions remotely and in some cases asking questions of the presenter where otherwise they would not have been able to benefit at all.
I have no disagreement with that and I am glad that so many people like Mala are being able to benefit from that.
The main negatives I see are twofold - one for the attendees themselves and one for the overall event.
These negatives both make the same assumption - that the existence of the hybrid event "enables" people who would have attended the event in-person to not come - people who would be in Seattle but are not simply because they have an option. I personally know of multiple people in this situation - they were waffling about whether to come or not simply to save money (not for health reasons, etc.) and ultimately decided to stay remote.
This does not judge the choice of those people - it is just what I feel is the impact of it.
The biggest direct impact I see to the attendees is the absence of those persons from the in-person experience - it is one thing to virtually raise your hand when the speaker is buzzing along or even when there is a session of questions, but it isn't possible to interact the same way as when you are in the room. In both of the pre-cons I attended as well as in past hybrid meetings - where there are a group of people in a conference room and one or more people remotely - the remote people can't interject quickly enough compared to the people in the room.
The other problem rising from the absence of person is the conversations that *don't* happen because the person isn't there; both days I have sat in a room full of people with people on all sides of me. In both presentations there were side conversations that happened during the talk - conversations that raised questions that wouldn't have been asked if the two people were on their laptops at home and unaware of each other, as well as answers that were amplified because someone in the room was able to share a relevant experience that the speaker didn't have ("we ran into this problem in my shop and this is what happened to us.")
Both days I had interesting people sitting around me, and we talked about many interesting personal and professional things that weren't directly related to the session content, and those conversations wouldn't have happened if we were at home in front of our laptops.
This is true at events outside the sessions as well - how many conversations and connections *didn't* happen at the Welcome Reception last night because the remote persons were...remote.
Full disclosure - if you don't already know, I am a 100% remote employee working on a team of DBA"s who are all 100% remote for over nine years now. At the beginning I saw some of these same issues there and wondered about it - how does it work when you don't eat lunch together or stand around in the breakroom together? We have forged a culture and process where everyone sits in online TEAMS rooms all day every day and we randomly discuss what is going on in our lives or in the outside world live in chat; many meetings with people outside our immediate group start or end with 5-10 minutes of discussing what's going on this weekend or where someone went on vacation (just like in an in-person office). Even with all of this some people over the years simply can't handle being remote and choose to leave because of it. The biggest difference, and the reason it can work, is that we are a relatively small group - 8-10 people on a team or in a meeting rather than 60 people in a session - and we are all remote - there are no people "in the room" to miss interacting with.
The impact to the event itself is a longer term issue and can to a degree be prevented *if* the in-person event continues to be more and more amazing (although there is some upper bound to how amazing something can be).
As we saw with "classic PASS" it is difficult to fund an organization on the reduced funds that virtual registration fees bring - it eventually causes issues to the program. (Maybe Redgate has made some internal decision that "we don't care if it makes money" but I don't know.)
This year someone commented that there are around 1,800 in-person registrations (not a confirmed number) and an unknown number of remote registrations. The Welcome Reception last night looked like a good crowd, and it will be interesting to see how full the Microsoft Keynote room is this morning compared to my memories of Summits past.
All in all this year seems positive - there are enough people here to make things work, even with hybrid available.
The gotcha is what comes in future years, and I know my wife is seeing this at some event she attends; right now to us in-person is again "new" and everybody is excited to be here if they possibly can - but will that continue in a year or two when it is no longer unique to be in-person again?
Let's make up some numbers for an example - we will say that the 1,800 number is correct, and that there are hypothetically 1,000 remote registrations - no problem.
Next year, some of those 1,800 people decide that they would rather save the travel expenses, or not take time off work (not judging those decisions), and there are now 1,500 in-person registrations and 1,300 reduced fee virtual registrations.
The following year, partially because the previous year's Summit was down to 1.500 people so not as impressive, another 200 people "stay home" and now you have 1,300 people on-site and 1,500 reduced fee registrations.
At some point you don't have enough people in the room anymore, and the event folds for everyone (again).
As mentioned above, the event organizers can help prevent this - the in-person experience needs to continue to be so great that people *don't* choose to stay home unless they absolutely have to - that people come to Seattle if at possible.
...and I hope that's what happens - keep it up Redgate, Microsoft, and everyone else.
That's my $.02 - thanks for reading!