From the Editor: Privacy and Conferences

A 434Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

We can add SPAR 2014 to the list of successfully completed conferences in 2014. There were 17 new vendors at this year’s event which is encouraging, but the attendance has held around 850 for the past few years. This is similar to ILMF and ASPRS. With the exploding interest in laser scanning and LiDAR, not to mention the 3D revolution that is taking place all around us it seems to me there should be more growth, perhaps significantly more in events like this.

I am going to discuss this in more detail below, but first I wanted to call your attention to the issue of privacy. There are two articles, one by Mike Tully that is in this magazine and the other by Tom Kurke that can be found here in a recent LiDAR News eNewsletter. Mike’s article concerns the issue of privacy as it relates to the use of UASs. This is a very important topic that in the long run will have a significant impact on the FAA as they draft their regulations. When it comes to privacy the public does not always act rationally. It’s not going to be that easy to convince them of our industry’s good intentions given the impression that people have of drones.

Tom’s article brings up the issue of privacy as it applies to laser scanning in public and in some case what you might think are private places. This is not something that many people are thinking about or even aware of. As with so many of these issues there are many grey areas, but I strongly urge you to have a look at this article before you scan your next public building or sculpture.

Back to the topic of conferences, or should it be industry trade shows, or as they prefer in Germany–trade fairs. Is there a difference? Does it matter what it is called? Unfortunately these questions, along with many others will not be definitively answered in this editorial. Rather, I hope to stimulate creative thinking, reflection and perhaps to stimulate open discussion on this topic. Above all it is not in any way to criticize those companies and organizations that are currently in the conference and/or trade show/fair business.

My gold standard for AEC industry trade shows goes back to the early 1990’s with what was called "AEC Systems" This event used to . draw 20,000 attendees. People would line up at the opening of the show floor and push in like it was Black Friday at Walmart. At the booth people would be 10 deep pushing to get to the front just to get the product literature. Those were the good old days, or were they?

First of all it’s nearly impossible to compare and second of all what’s the point, we are not going back to those days where the PC revolution was just starting and the Internet did not exist. At the same time there are many examples of highly successful trade shows today, if your metric is attendance. In our technical space there are InterGEO and the Esri User Conference, both of which draw in the neighborhood of 15,000 attendees a year although they have also plateaued over the past few years. If you go into the consumer market the sky is the limit with the Consumer Electronics Show or even more interesting Comic Con, the trade show devoted to comic books and now 3D video that draws over 100,000 in New York City each year.

So if you were asked to develop the concept for an AEC conference and trade show that would attract 10,000 visitors (is attendance the correct goal or metric?) what would it look like? What would be the primary focus–the show floor or the presentations? What would be the primary value that you would attempt to create for the attendees? What about for the vendors?

Who would be your primary customer? What would be the business model? Could the organizer afford to let the registration fee be minimal, say $99 just to cover the administration of registering and publishing the promotional conference materials?

Maybe we should start with a different question, perhaps a much more important question–Why. Recalling a video that Ken Smerz directed me to Simon Sinek stressed the importance of first asking "why". Why do we need a significant AEC conference in this day and age when we can find out all we need to know about a product or a subject from the Internet, or can we?

Are there other, perhaps more important benefits of attending a major conference, whether it be in person or virtually, than simply finding out about a product or a workflow? Is the human exchange, conversation and networking that takes place at conferences the real value of attending? Would that be lost in a virtual conference setting?

What about the role of organizations like ASPRS, MAPPS, NSPS and others? There has been some thoughts about combining existing conferences to achieve economies of scale. What about the increasing number of user conferences? Vendors of course prefer a captive audience, but are they missing the opportunity to attract new customers?

It seems to me one of the major issues is the cost of travel. It’s almost impossible for even senior managers that work for the government to travel and what about the environmental impact of all the travel? The "Greening" of conferences is barely being considered in our industry although in other venues this is becoming a critical issue.

I am biased. I attend too many conferences and even then it is only a small percentage of what I could and maybe should attend, but I can tell you in general I do not find all that much value in attending the conferences on an educational level. I think it is getting harder to offer a program that meets the needs of the wide range of expertise and experience that you find in a typical cross section of attendees. Of course it’s enjoyable to see a number of my friends, but my situation as a magazine editor is much different than someone who is running a consulting firm.

What’s the bottom line? I certainly think a conference that is free, or almost free to attend is an idea worth pursuing since it eliminates one of major hurdles for potential attendees. On the issue of whether the conference should be analogue or digital, I would like to see it be both. The virtual attendees could pay the same $99 fee to attend or maybe even more to defray the costs of streaming the event. If there are educational sessions these should be targeted at groups with specific skill sets and the material being presented would have to be tightly reviewed.

By the way I did not receive a single response or comment on the subject of standards from anyone at SPAR, via email or the web. I am not 100% sure, but I think it says that in general people do not see a problem with the lack of standards. Or maybe no one is reading my editorials. I hope it’s the first.

Gene Roe, PS, PE, PhD Managing Editor & Co-Founder LiDAR News Magazine

A 434Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE