Location, Location, Location

A few days ago I posted an article here entitled “Waxing Nostalgic” in which I reminisced about the original three Podcast & New Media Expos held at Ontario, California and how special they were.

Upon further examination, it’s suddenly become obvious to me what set these three conferences apart and what made them such a success from a social standpoint.

The thing that made the three Ontario podcast conferences unique was the fact that perfect strangers felt very comfortable striking up spontaneous conversations with each other. As a result of this comfort level, something rather remarkable happened. People talked a lot (these were podcasters, remember) and in many instances formed lasting friendships.

When the podcast conference was moved to Las Vegas, an entirely different mindset took over. In Las Vegas, strangers simply don’t feel comfortable approaching each other and striking up spontaneous conversations, even if they see that the other person is wearing a conference badge. The open, spontaneous conversation mindset generated at the Ontario Convention Center was perceived as perfectly normal in Ontario. However, being open and starting spontaneous conversations in Las Vegas would be perceived as weird and so therefore isn’t done.

This is a simple principle, yet it can have a profound effect on whether or not a given conference will be perceived as successful. I could see how conference planners could get caught up with other ideas surrounding where to hold a conference, but forget that the mindset generated in particular places is going to potentially produce very different behavior from the same people, which may or may not be detrimental. If the wrong behavior is produced by an incompatible mindset, it can spell disaster.

I believe the mindset generated by location also extends to and in part explains the old business axiom, “location, location, location” as being important to the success of a business.

Generate the right mindset in part with geography and surroundings to get people in a buying mood for particular types of products and services, and your business has a chance at being successful. Ignore this all-important mindset generation aspect of specific locations at your business’ peril.

Waxing Nostalgic

The year was 2005. The month was November. The setting was the Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, California. The event was the first podcast media expo. The phenomenon of podcasting, brought to life by Adam Curry and Dave Winer, was a bit over a year old. At least a couple of thousand podcasters as well as many podcast listeners showed up from around the world to meet each other face to face for the fist time.

Looking back in my own mind and the minds of many others who attended, it was as if there was a special magic that happened at Ontario. This first event brought a bunch of strangers together, yet it had the happy feel of a family reunion. Soon enough it would be over and time for us all to go our separate ways.

The Ontario Convention Center turned out to work especially well for in-person social networking for people who were heavily involved in this brand new form of social media. It was very easy to identify other attendees because of the convention badges. Most people were staying in the nearby hotels, particularly at the Marriot across the street from the Ontario Convention Center. People ended up milling back and forth between the convention center and the Marriot. Many people ended up meeting each other and striking up conversations at random as they accidentally met each other while walking around or just hanging out.

I was always up front about the reason I attended these podcast expos. I was there to meet people and hang out with podcaster friends. I did not sign up for or pay money to attend any of the expo’s sessions. I was there to socialize. I don’t believe I was the only podcaster who thought this way. From a social standpoint, the podcast expos held in Ontario were a tremendous success. Sadly, from an expo-promoting business standpoint, perhaps they weren’t so successful.

There would be a total of three of these expos held at the Ontario Convention Center before the gathering was moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada starting in 2008. The 2008 expo ended up being sort of lost in the middle of a mega-building probably most well known for housing the annual (and gargantuan) Consumer Electronics Show every January.

With literally thousands of Las Vegas tourists, combined with other conventions going on at the same time, meeting and socializing with the reduced number of podcasters that did make the effort to show up in Las Vegas in 2008 and later in 2009 became difficult. Gone were the happy accidental meetings. Pretty much gone was the accidental social networking aspect that had happened every year at the convention center in Ontario.

Those three magical expos at the Ontario Convention Center will never be repeated. Many of those early podcasters have moved on to other interests, as well as many of the early podcast listeners that also made a point of showing up. The social aspect of podcasting has seemed to wane a bit as larger commercial and educational organizations expanded into the space.

Podcasting is alive and well in 2010, and is taking its place in this new and continually evolving world of Internet-distributed digital media production and distribution. There are more podcasts available for download than ever before. Priorities change, and people move on.

Those first three podcast expos at Ontario, California were exceptional social networking events where many exceptional friendships were formed.