Lotusphere

Lotusphere is dead, long live Lotusphere!

Concluding my eleventh visit to Orlando in January, sitting at the airport, and time to temporarily blow the cobwebs off this old blog once more and share my thoughts.

It won’t have escaped your attention that 2016 represented a significant change from all previous years. So let’s have a little look at the changes, before stepping back and talking about the conference in general.

  • The venue. For the first time, we were not in the Dolphin/Swan hotels, but in the Hilton Orlando a few miles away. It’s a smaller venue, and more suitable for the size of conference that Lotusphere has become. It took a day or two to settle in – Friday evening was quite muted by comparison with previous years – but it feels like “home” now.
  • The name. Yes, I know it’s not called Lotusphere any more. But it Just Is, okay.
  • The product showcase. In 2013/14 the exhibitors were rattling around in the vast aircraft-hangar sized space in the Dolphin, and it felt empty and quite dispiriting. In 2015, when the conference was squeezed into the Swan only, it was quite the opposite: the showcase was crammed into an inadequate room, and some of the vendors were very difficult to get to (and had little footfall as a result). This year, the space for the showcase was exactly the right size. Big enough to feel big, but small enough to feel full and busy. Every vendor I spoke to said they’d had a really good week – so it won’t be hard to get that space filled again next year (more on that later).
  • Registration. Very much more efficient than previous years. The badge holders, while lacking the handy pockets of yesteryear, were professional and high quality. Again, an improvement on cost-cutting nasty things last year. The softer neck straps were an improvement too.
  • The conference bags. There weren’t any. Not actually a problem – the quality had been suffering in previous years of cost-cutting, anyway, such that a high proportion of them wastefully ended up in hotel and other bins soon after the conference. But it would have been helpful to have been warned – I happened to have a suitable bag (Lotusphere 2007 – one of the best, if somewhat large) with me, but not everybody did.
  • Cost-cutting. Notwithstanding the bag, the worst piece of cost-cutting was the lack of a printed conference agenda. The phone app was fairly good, but in practice nowhere near as useful as a comprehensive printed agenda. There was a “newspaper” format thing, which frankly was a waste of paper (other than being the only place I could find that listed meal and break times).
  • The OGS. I’ll talk more about that, but here confine my comments to the new format with an hour’s break in the middle. The cynical (far be it from me!) might suggest that the need for a break came from the aging bladders of the average Lotusphere attendee. But actually it worked pretty well, gave us a chance to grab a coffee and network a little in the product showcase, and also gave the event time to catch up if the first half overran (which it did, although not by too much).
  • The catering. It seemed like a step up from previous years. Not massively different, but all the food just seemed to be a notch better. To me, anyway.
  • Kimonos. The new venue meant finding new places to hang out. And I think we sorted that out between us fairly quickly. It worked.

Personally, my conference went like this.

  • Friday. A few drinks, and early(ish) to bed.
  • Saturday. Penumbra meeting in the morning. We (LDC Via) hosted “Mai Tai hour” cocktails in our suite in the afternoon. Then the Penumbra dinner in the evening. Always a long day with jet-lag. The dinner also had a new home this year: Seasons52 instead of Fultons. They did a good job, and it was a successful evening.
  • Sunday. A few meetings.
  • Monday. The Opening General Session (OGS). Then a few more meetings.
  • Tuesday. Some more meetings. Seeing a theme here?
  • Wednesday. This was the only day that felt like how I might have spent the equivalent day in previous years. Although starting it with an IHOP breakfast at 5:30am was a new one on me, and very entertaining. Gurupalooza was fun, Ask The Product Managers And Developers was, despite the lack of concrete project announcements, more upbeat than it has been for a few years. And the Closing General Session had some great content (more of that later). Wednesday ended with the “round the world” bar crawl at Epcot – enormous fun, and we ended in ‘England’ in plenty of time for the fireworks.

 

So, opinions. Let’s start with the OGS. The special guest speaker was fairly terrible, unfortunately. Spewing out clusters of impressive-sounding words at high volume and high speed, but really with nothing to say beyond “look at me, aren’t I clever”. Not my cup of tea at all. But over quickly enough. Then the demo of future software was slick – as it should be as it was all fake – but I found it very confusing. IBM seems to have 45 (I counted them, twice) products in the digital collaboration/content space, but there was no clarity as to where one stops and another takes over, nor what we were seeing in the demos. Clearly IBM has a vision, and an impressive new-found focus on beautiful design. But product naming and positioning still seems to be a challenge.

In years of yore, I would sit in the OGS writing down notes on product releases and features that were coming in the next year, and on products that I should go and see at the IBM labs/stands. Over the last few years it’s become harder and harder to do that, as detail and facts have been pushed out of the OGS agenda in favour of impressionistic demos. Perhaps that’s what IBM’s audience wants. Certainly it seems to be what IBM believes its audience wants. Possibly I’m not the target market for the OGS any more. But I do miss seeing real demos of real released or imminent software, and hearing about proper roadmap with dates and features. Old-fashioned, me, see.

Domino. Well, it was mentioned a handful of times in the OGS. Mostly three “announcements” that were actually re-announcements of things that had been promised in 2014 and 2015. It was then followed by a Lufthansa commercial which lasted 3 times as long. So although the “Domino” word is no longer banned from the mouths of IBMers, it still seems to be a product that’s getting very little attention in terms of features and futures. I don’t recall hearing “Notes” at all in the OGS, but I could be wrong (if it was said it was in passing). Notes – the big fat client everybody loves to hate – does seem to be, if not dead, then heading that way.

From a business perspective, this was the best Lotusphere I’ve ever had. Numerous meetings, almost of all of which were very positive in terms of LDC Via – either new customers, new product features, new market opportunities, or new/strengthened business partnerships. All that busy-ness did prevent me getting to too many sessions, unfortunately, beyond supporting my colleagues Mark Myers and Matt White at theirs.

So let’s wind quickly forward to the Closing General Session. As usual, there was a special guest speaker, Erik Wahl, mainly there to motivate and entertain. He seemed to be very well received, although less so by non-USians who found his presentation style rather hard work. There was definitely good content in there, though. Before that, we had two absolute corkers of treats. The first of these was when Gabriella Davis and Theo Heselmans were presented with Lifetime awards as IBM Champions. And very well deserved. Both are good friends to this community, and always generous with their own time and energy. The second treat was the announcement and introduction of the new General Manager of “IBM Collaboration Solutions”, Inhi Cho Suh. Her short “hello this is me” speech was the most confident, natural, and confidence-inspiring I’ve ever seen a GM do on the Lotusphere stage, and I believe she will Make Shit Happen for this part of the IBM world and the products we all care about. Definitely one to watch. She could just turn out to be the best thing to happen to ‘Lotus’ since Bob Picciano.

You will notice that the above is very positive (well, almost entirely). If you’d asked me about my expectations in the run-up to the event, frankly they were pretty low. But in the end they were exceeded massively. It was a very good conference, by anybody’s standards.

What does the future hold? Well, IBM hasn’t decided. But talking to them on Wednesday evening, I was expressing the same opinion as most people. After a few difficult years, IBM Connect has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of Lotusphere, and become a really good event. To then throw that good work away by merging Connect into a massive conference like InterConnect, where the Lotusphere-relevant content would get drowned and diluted, would be a mistake. But it seems it’s still a risk. Please, IBM, let’s return to the Hilton Orlando in mid/late January in 2017, and give this reinvigorated community the environment it needs in order to thrive. (It needs some actual product releases too, by the way: HOW LONG since Notes/Domino 9.0.1?!)

If you’ve made it this far, I sincerely hope to see you in Orlando in January 2017. And before that at Engage, MWLUG, ICON UK, SNoUG or SUTOL (I’ll get to most of those).

In the meantime, I’ll spend my last few minutes at the airport here reminiscing and being delighted at the number of people I *did* manage to see again this year. A very incomplete list of non-Brits would have to include Mat, Julian, Susan, Mary Beth, Amanda, Carl, Andrew, Libby, John, Graham, Kathy, Joe, and Bill. To name but a few. You know who you are. Love and hugs to all. Cheerio.

 

My Lotuspherical journey

I first attended Lotusphere in 1999. I was an exhibitor (I hesitate to say “booth-babe” – my legs aren’t good enough), barely knew a soul, and was on the stand for long hours every day. It was the year of R5, 10,000 people, split Opening General Sessions, split dining, the zip wire, and Jeff Papows hindering the exit from SeaWorld by standing there shaking everybody’s hand like royalty (by the time I got to him I wanted to punch him rather than shake his hand – in retrospect probably I should have done). Of course, all of this didn’t stop me staying out late at parties, and not getting to bed until 7am on the final night. I have always been me.

Wind forwards to 2007, I’d been freelance as “Axiot” for a couple of years, and decided to make my way to Lotusphere as an attendee for the first time. I still only knew a tiny handful of people upon arrival, mainly Mike Smith, but looking like a lost little lamb at the airport I was quickly offered a taxi lift to the Dolphin by Jon, Justin and Catherine of Prominic: my first inkling of what a generous and warm community this ‘Lotus’ world really is. Once there I soon got to know many of my fellow Brits: Warren and Kitty Elsmore, Paul Mooney, Matt White, Bill Buchan, Gab & Tim Davis, all* of whom I respect and love as friends more than they probably know.

Of course, there aren’t just Brits at Lotusphere. And in that first year I met others who, despite only seeing them in the real world once a year (less, now, in some cases), I hold dear to my heart: John Roling, Devin Olson, Bruce ElgortTom Duff and Rob McDonagh, as well as Andrew Pollack, Jess Stratton, Mitch Cohen, and so many more.*
(I have to give special shout-out to John Roling: his analysis of our friendship is right on the button)

That Lotusphere I learned, laughed, and partied, more than I had in any single week before in my life. It was exhausting and exciting, inspiring and invigorating, and really, without descending too far into hyperbole, life-changing.

Each year since then I have made the pilgrimage to the Swolphin in January. And each year I have depleted my physical batteries enthusiastically, but recharged my professional and personal ones immeasurably.

It wasn’t long before Matt White, Mark Myers, Ben Poole and I had joined forces as London Developer Coop. We’ve had huge fun producing our giveaways: years of 6 or more different shirt designs per conference (“Back in Blue” being my personal favourite), and then the crowning glory of the infamous Conference Survival Kit – all credit to Mark for dreaming up that one. We dropped the lengthy name in favour of just “LDC”, and then in 2015 arrived as LDC Via with our new product and brand. Life and technology move on.

Eight years of my life have been waymarked by Lotuspheres. One year I came a few months after the birth of my twins, the next year shortly after my mother’s death, and a year later just days after my father’s death. Lotusphere and my friends there have been instrumental in getting me through those emotionally-crippling times. I’ve continued to make new friendships: Carl Tyler, Krupa Patel, Rob Novak, Julian Robichaux, Alan Lepofsky, Sandra Bühler, Jamie Magee, Darren and Lisa Duke, Susan Bulloch, Mat Newman, Tony Holder, Roy Holder, Abigail Roberts, HP Dalen, Theo Heselmans, Amanda Bauman, Ray Bilyk, and many others*. I miss you all.

I was going to include some thoughts on this year’s conference, and the future, but this post is long enough already, so I’ll do that in a second post. Suffice it to say, it was a Surprisingly Good Conference. And now, back to the nostalgia: some personal highlights down the years have included:

  • Gurupalooza
  • Kimonos, with shouts of “sake!”
  • Stealing umpteen raincoats from Animal Kingdom, then having no use for them
  • Neil Armstrong
  • Most of the closing session speakers (except the eating-live-creatures guy: that was odd)
  • UK Night(s)
  • Pretzel cookies
  • Creating the #pretzelcookiegate hashtag
  • Lots of learning, especially sessions by Andrew Pollack, Gab Davis, my colleagues Matt White and Mark Myers, and Rob Novak
  • Worst Practices
  • My year as Penumbra Group president
  • SpankyBeers
  • Mat Newman hugs
  • Skipping the park party for dinner with Eileen Fitzgerald, Matt White and others.
  • The Penumbra alcoholic milkshakes (the bacon and maple one – oh boy!)
  • Catherine Emert’s cookies and pastries
  • The Great Geek Challenge
  • Some of our LDC giveaways especially the survival tins
  • Compiling the 2015 crossword
  • Project Drunken Leprechaun
  • John Roling and Rob McDonagh (more recently Ray Bilyk) singing “If I had a million dollars”
  • Amanda Bauman singing “You shook me all night long”
  • Marmalade vodka
  • The traditional Dolphin Rotunda final-night die-hards drinking session
  • and – of course – my traditional post-conference pre-flight frozen margarita.

* With apologies to anybody I’ve missed: I’m writing this while watching the Australian Open so my attention is not undivided.

Dear IBM, it’s not a zero-sum game (my Connect conference round-up)

On my way to Orlando, I drafted a blog post about what my expectations were for the conference. And then never posted it. So here, instead, is my post-conference round-up in all its glory.

The Good

      The Opening General Session was the slickest I have ever known. Having it hosted by Jay Baer gave it a flow that it had been lacking for a good few years, and he was a massive improvement over the disembodied voice of god we’ve previously had linking the different segments of the sessions. The guest speaker, despite being not known outside the US, was very good.
      Personally, this event was more serious and business-like than the last few. Less late-night revelling than previous years, and more conversations and meetings. Which is good in pretty much every way.
      Seeing friends. More than anything else, even more than the business side, this conference for me is about reconnecting with friends, and making new ones. You know who you are, but shouts out to a few people without whom IBM Connect wouldn’t be Lotusphere: Gab and Tim Davis, Devin Olson, John Roling, Mat Newman, Colleen Burns, Julian Robichaux, Jon and Justin and Catherine from Prominic, Carl Tyler, Andrew Pollack, Sandra Bühler and many, many more.
      I didn’t go to as many sessions as I sometimes have in previous years. But what I did go to was excellent: Mark Roden on ExtJS, Paul Mooney on Ethical Hacking, and Mark Myers and Julian Robichaux on Practical Java being three that especially stood out for me.
      SpankyBeers. One of the funniest evenings I’ve had for a very long time. Devin you are a legend.
      The surprise appearance of Warren Elsmore and Kitty in their capacity as Lego wizards.
      The Penumbra Group activities. Not least the Ice Cream social, where the Mexican Ambassador was to be found, although on the night the best milkshake of all was the one based on JD and coke. Just wow. But beyond that, the Penumbra Dinner on the Saturday was great, and Niklas Heidloff was a truly deserving winner of the Prism Award. And seeing and talking with my colleagues in the group is always more valuable to me than I can describe: they are outstanding people.
      Craig Hayman did a great job in his first public appearance as new “Lotus” head honcho. He has yellow credentials, and his choice of yellow shoes in the OGS was a miniature master stroke.

The Bad

      The OGS content. I realise they’re preaching to the pointy-haired bosses and the press, but IBM need also to take note of the fact that half of the audience (probably a lot more than half) are detail-orientated, and without at least some details the OGS comes across as being content-free.
      Notes/Domino content in the OGS: there really wasn’t any. Or, rather, what there was is mainly either a long way off or they forgot to mention the technology.
      Some of my friends who were missing: Bruce and Gayle, Tom Duff, and Rob McDonagh, and others. And of course fellow London Developer Co-op colleague Ben Poole.
      The session scheduling was dreadful. Far too many clashing sessions splitting the audience. They would be better to outsource this to people in the community who actually have a feel for – and care for – the content. As a result of this poor planning a lot of sessions were more sparsely attended than they could/should have been.

In

      They left the Dolphin rotunda piano unlocked for the first time ever. Somewhere on YouTube the is evidence, captured by Volker, of my late night musical improvised wibblings. For me it’s basically therapy, but nobody slammed the lid on my fingers so I guess I did okay. And thanks to Rob Novak for repeatedly intervening at the bottom end of the keyboard and dragging me back into G when I was trying to escape into another key. That’s probably a metaphor for something: you decide. ;-)
      Sleep: I had some.
      Staying off site for the first time since 1999. This may have influenced the sleep thing.

Out

      Kimonos: it wasn’t the hub of all social activity the way it has been the previous few years. Things change.
      I finished my term as president of the Penumbra Group. Lisa, Theo and Nigel will, I am sure, do a great job.
      Late night spirits-consumption in the Dolphin Rotunda. Not even once, this year. That’s probably for the best. Very few good things start with “which neat room-temperature drink would you like: vodka or bourbon?”

The Future

      IBM announced that the conference will be same time, same place, next year. The question on everybody’s mind, at least everybody coming from the Lotus products background, is how much the content of the conference will change. Will I be there? If it’s recognisably “Lotusphere” then yes. We will see.
      Connections. The future is IBM Connections.
      2014, and IBM Connect 2015, should be more interesting for us die-hard Notes&Domino lovers than this year was. Project Hawthorne and Mail Next will be a lot closer to reality by then. Even if the OGS skimps on them, expect a lot of news and far more product feature/release/beta announcements than we got this year. Also by then the Softlayer hosting stuff should be out the and real. The clincher for IBM is going to be what they can achieve with licensing to better support a payforwhatyouuse model e.g. per-user-per-month costs. In the meantime, if that’s your need you should speak to Prominic who already have a good story to tell in this area.

So, all in all, a good Lotusphere. For too long IBM has been ignoring Notes&Domino in favour of inserthotnewtechnologyhere. I rather hope that with Craig Hayman‘s arrival we might see more focus on the core products, and an awareness that this is not a zero-sum game. Watch this space.

That C.U.L(DC).T. shirt

So, I have now run out of my sort of #ls12 C.U.L.T. shirts. They’re all gone. You missed your chance. Lotusphere was a complete waste of time for you, because you didn’t manage to get hold of one of these. Seriously, they’re a rare as rocking horse shit, and as precious as a unicorn’s foreskin. Chinese “doctors” would grind them up and use them for medicine if they could get hold of them. You get the picture.

Whatever.

So, here’s the image. That’s right: it’s a truly terrible pun. What did you expect?!

C.U.L(DC).T. shirt for Lotusphere 2012

C.U.L(DC).T. shirt for Lotusphere 2012

(Click for a larger version)

If you don’t get the pun … (a) what is Spock? (b) what are we about to do to him? (c) reverse those two words. Still not? Ask an LDCer.

Anyway … Matt White, Mark Myers and I still have some of the ‘official’ LDC shirts to give away, so hunt us down and demand one. Of course, we may demand in return that you actually wear it for at least half a day while you’re at Lotusphere, but that’s fair enough isn’t it?

iPad travel tip

Yesterday, I purchased a ‘Camera Connector Kit’ for the iPad, so that while at Lotusphere 2012 I can pull photos off the camera and immediately work with them on the iPad. All good fun.

One of the two connection options one gets with the CCK is a USB port, designed to allow the camera to be plugged in directly with needing to remove the SD card. So I thought to myself … what happens if I plug the USB half of my Plantronics wireless headset into that? Lo and behold, there was rejoicing in heaven and on earth: it works! So now I have a nice way of making comfortable and private Skype calls from the iPad.

All good, given that I shall be laptop-less at #ls12 this year for the first time. I still have to suffer the indignity of using LogMeIn (or similar) to remote onto a real computer in order to be able to use a Notes client. But there are very few (albeit some) reasons why I would need to do that. And my hand luggage will be a LOT lighter than usual :-)

Lotusphere 2012 C.U.L.T. shirt. Sort of.

As you are doubtless aware, if you are a Yellow Bubble type reader, there is no C.U.L.T. shirt for #ls12. (If you’re not a Yellow Bubble type reader, you may as well give up now because the rest of this will rightly be meaningless to you.)

For those less into the in-jokes, C.U.L.T. stands (stood) for “Certified Unofficial Lotusphere T-shirt”. They were great fun over the last 10+ years, and Rocky Oliver, Henry Newberry and Andrew Pollack are all owed a debt of gratitude by us members of “the Lotus community” for the volume of effort they put in to make these happen year after year.

Now, it so happens that, late in 2011, after the LDC shirts for Lotusphere 2012 had been selected, I thought of another shirt idea. And, having thought of it, I simply had to have it made, because I (and I may be alone in this of course) happen to find it very amusing. In a gentle nod to the absent C.U.L.T. shirt, this one is the “Certified Unofficial LDC T-shirt”.

There’s no sponsorship – I’ve paid for these myself – which means there really is only a tiny number of them, and they will inevitably therefore be immensely valued as family heirlooms and great cultural treasures by future generations. Possibly.

Stop me at Lotusphere and demand one. Or, of course, demand one of the many other ‘official’ LDC designs that we of LDC will also be carting around with us. They’re all available in sizes up to XXXL (the shirts, not the LDCers).