Gavin Elliott on web conferences

Gavin Elliott, who ran the DIBI web conference for Codeworks, talks to Oliver Lindberg about why he has given it up, what he's learned and what we can expect from his own project, next year's Industry Conference

.net: Why aren't you running DIBI any more?
Gavin Elliott: I was running DIBI as an employee of Codeworks, so it was never really 'mine' even though everyone thought it was. It certainly felt like something I'd grown while there and it took a big decision to leave Codeworks and hand DIBI back to the guys there. In essence I wanted to move away and have something I could call my own.

.net: What have you learned organising this conference?
GE: So, so much, I've spoken to many people who have said "I'm going to set up a conference/event." It's definitely not as easy as it seems and for the people with calendar events such as DIBI, Industry Conf, Build, NA Conf, dConstruct and so on, we know how much effort, and sometimes heartache, it takes to create an event.

Personal learnings for me, AV/Lighting/Tech and most of all filming and getting those things right. The more subtle things that most people don't notice but are done for a reason are break timings, food menus and other smaller pieces which is quite secretive as it adds a huge difference between the events which you go to.

.net: What's been your personal highlight?
GE: Stepping up on stage closing DIBI 2011 was probably my biggest highlight, it was at that time I'd started thinking about Industry Conf and what I wanted to do with it and potentially knew that I may not be at DIBI 2012. The content for DIBI 2011 was so right for the people who attended the conference and listening to the likes of Jared Spool and Jeremy Keith, among the other design track speakers, blew my mind, even me being the conference organiser.

.net: What is next year's Industry Conference, which you have founded, going to add to the expanding number of conferences taking place in the UK?
GE: I'll be making an effort to move it away from being a 'conference' if possible. I've kept the details very tight about Industry Conf apart from notifying everyone that I'm currently requesting speaker talk submissions, which in itself is something different from the other 'conferences' or 'events' in the UK at the moment. If I was going to do another DIBI then I may as well have stayed with Codeworks to carry on the great work which was being done. I want to create a place in the calendar where we can bring great minds together to share and inspire the future of the web, it's not about what has been done but what we can do and that is what I want to focus on with Industry Conf. Moving it on from your generic conference feel to something much more engrained in the need to progressively move our industry forwards.

.net: How's organising Industry Conference different to organising DIBI?
GE: After two years of doing DIBI which was a large event, doing something by myself is far less daunting. Overall I'd say the biggest difference is it being easier, you get to know the lay of the land with service providers and even how to get the word out. Other than that, just focusing on the right bits for The Industry rather than the far great less-important bits is the key difference to making sure everything is done right.

.net: As the "un-nerving lack of women in the web industry" is a subject close to your heart, how are you approaching the gender split when it comes to booking speakers?
GE: Enabling any minority to have a larger voice/recognition is close to my heart. I'm challenged by the lack of creativity in line-ups and sometimes the biggest names don't live up to your expectations but not only that, some of the people who you've never heard of are sometimes doing the greatest work. Some people just need the extra voice in the head to tell them to go for it, I chatted with a lot of people at the recent Build event in Belfast.

Whether people would like to disagree with me or not, there is an lack of women in our industry, there is also a lack of female speakers in conferences and I'd like to get them far more involved as with any minority such as people who have only been in the industry a short time. I know of one person who entered the industry at 15/16 and is yet to do any kind of speaking even though they're massively talented. These are the people I'd like to hear speak among the 'old guard' if you like.

I've no set rule for The Industry, I'm not doing a 50/50 split, it's all about the content if I have the option of better content from one person than another then I'll work with them, no matter who they are or where they're from.

.net: What kind of talk proposals are you looking for?
GE: Absolutely anyone who has a great story to tell. It can be about anything that they're doing at the moment have recently done or looking to push forwards to accomplish. Developers/Content Strategists/Designers, anyone in our industry who wants to make it a better place. I've been blown away by the amount of talk proposals I've received thus far and am looking to hopefully double the amount by the time I close the submissions process.

It doesn't matter where people are from or if they've spoken before as long as the content is a good fit I'll work with the people to make the most of it all.

.net: What are your hopes for web conferences in 2012?
GE: I've said this before and I'll say it again, we're in one of the most exciting times of our lives in our industry. Every day is a new exciting day and if we continually try and push forwards with what we do then we'll make the world a better place because of it. My hopes for conferences in 2012 are to remember why they're doing it, to get the content right and bring the community together as much as possible.

Just continue to inspire us, if I attend a conference or event I want to be inspired so much that I feel the need to run back to my desk!

.net: You've also gone back to the world of freelance web design. How's it going?
GE: Busy. As I said we're going through a super-exciting period and the likes of dribbble and zerply are helping getting the word out. I'm doing a lot more app work than web design at the moment which is great. Working on apps is definitely exciting and the demand is ever growing. Shortly before I left DIBI, I spoke at Interlink Conference in Vancouver, Canada which was great. It was my first large audience talk and I'd love to do it again the future.