For me, SLUSH lived up to the hype. It exceeded my expectations for a tech conference. Yes - it had all of the lights and effects and digital displays that were promised, but it also had seamless execution that totally surprised me. As a tech novice, here are a few things that stuck with me a week after the event:
- Human Connections: The Messukeskus event center is massive with 58,000 square meters of event space and yet somehow so intimate. It's a bit like Finland - 338 billion square meters but I somehow bump into people I know everywhere. That is to say, it was easy to establish one on one connections with real people without feeling lost in a forest of technology. The matchmaking tool was a brilliant way to learn about attendees in advance of the conference and schedule time to talk. The flow of the space made sense - from Startup Districts to stages and studious to meeting areas and cafes. The space was full of activity but never unbearable and always easy to navigate.
- Meeting Points: Ever try to find your friend in a crowd of 20k? The meeting point idea is awesome. Simple but effective. Hovering a dozen meters above our heads were large signs designating meeting points by a specific color: 'pink' or 'gold' and from those signs, and single light cast down to the floor in that same color. Unmistakable. Visible from across the hall. Could not have been easier to say - hey. meet me at the Pink Meeting Point at 12:00. Done!
- Framery: Crowd of 20K. You find your friend/ potential investor/ future employer but how can you have a productive conversation amidst all these visual and audio distractions? Book a time in a Framery booth. Genius. It is the perfect place for a private but transparent conversation about important matters. Rethink the idea of meeting behind closed doors.
- Gamification: Eh, I struggle with this one a bit, but it has certainly stuck with me. I have been following this concept for a few years, and recently noticed a lot of companies implementing it. Several partner vendors at SLUSH were offering an intro to their software through a game style learning tool. I sat down feeling entertained and amused, but I walked away feeling patronized and belittled. My kids would be laughing if they saw me helping this little woodland character advance through the forest to his reward of chestnuts and my reward of knowledge. It's childish. Am I really that dense? I have never been into building virtual farms or crushing pieces of candy, but this teaching method wasn't for me.
- Ethics: And one item that felt sorely left out of this conference was a conversation about ethical practices. I know was at an event for tech enthusiasts by tech enthusiasts, but I hoped that being in Finland would encourage more discussion on our problem of unintended consequences. The matter seemed to be a bit side stepped. Privacy violations, lawsuits, and data breaches were addressed in a few small stage presentations, but I didn't feel it resonating through the crowd. The bigger stages were reserved for Robert Moritz and Werner Vogels to discuss how massive their corporations have become.