French Big Data Deserved Better

March 23, 2012 --

This week, the first French Big Data Mess took place at the Cité Universitaire in Paris. While I applaud the (oh so original) idea to run a big data conference in Paris, the result turned out to be very disappointing. And frankly, the organizers are guilty.

Probably trying to make a quick euro, Corp Events (virtually unknown in our space) decided to jump on the big data bandwagon. After all, big data is kind of a hot topic today, isn’t it? And it’s not hard to do a conference, right?  Sell sponsorships to vendors, find a suitable venue, sell sponsorships to vendors, round up some experts, sell more sponsorships to vendors, fill the rest of the agenda with sponsor panels, sell more sponsorships to vendors – done.

What worked? The selling of sponsorships to vendors did. Pretty much all companies that deal with data (big or small), and have a French office, paid their due to Corp Events (Talend included). Of course, no vendor can conceive a big data event where they would not be visible!  Problem is that, a big data conference without Cloudera, Hortonworks, MapR... it’s kind of Database World in the 90’s without Oracle, Sybase, Ingres and Informix!  Sure, they don’t have French offices, and it would probably have been more difficult to convince them to come. But did Corp Events even try?

The filling of (the rest of) the agenda with sponsor panels also worked. It was funny how vendors were trying very hard to be polite to their colleagues, while scornfully dismissing each other performance claims.

The rest was a miserable failure.

Most non-vendor speakers were utterly irrelevant, or just ignorant. Tell me why the “sociological impact of big data” matters to IT professionals.  Vendors landscapes “updated every other week” could maybe include relevant vendors (heard of Google search?). Examples of open data such as (real-time) train station locations or Orange selling traffic conditions (that’s open, right?) are simply missing the point. I could go on (take a look at my tweets if you are curious, but be warned, they are not very kind).

Logistic was a disaster. Paris is not known for its congress infrastructure, but I can think of a dozen other locations better suited for a conference this size than the Cité Universitaire. Expo space was neither attractive nor inductive to visitor traffic (see for example: peak hour at Big Data Paris). Coffee and food would run out fast. The free Wifi network crashed, probably after the tenth attendee tried to get on it. And there wasn’t even an official #hashtag for Tweets!

I have been to many conferences (probably too many!) in my professional life. Not all were stellar. But even many of the ones put together by volunteers or non-pros were a lot better than this one.

The problem is that such an event will leave a bittersweet taste for attendees and sponsors. Next time a real event company tries to run a big data conference, it will be an uphill battle for them to fight. The big data community deserved better.