Conference Angst

I've been to my share of InfoSec conferences, and there seems to be a universal undercurrent of dissatisfaction regardless of the conference. There are the complaints that the speakers are chosen poorly, or the content is inappropriate or unsatisfying, or the assertion that InfoSec conferences do nothing except perpetuate the echo chamber.  The disconnect, in my opinion, is that conferences are rarely solution based.

These all follow the same general format that has been followed for decades: multiple "tracks" with hour long slots (occasionally a lightning talk track that enables shorter presentations), separate training offerings (normally pre-conference, or sometimes during conference as a track), sometimes a vendor room, sometimes side-events or contests, and usually some form of after party during which vendors collect leads and partygoers make connections.

Attendees may leave a presentation better informed about a topic, but most presentations are unlikely to grant new skills to the audience. Training is, for the most part, a separate goal. Presentations are frequently one way communiques designed to generate thought or debate, or introduce a new tool or methodology. But, it's rare, even at B-sides events, for presentations alone to achieve the type of engagement that results in solutions and deep collaboration.

The excuse to bring people into narrow physical proximity generates some of this synergy in the form of "hallway con." And many argue this is the real value of conferences: a 'safe' forum in which like-minded people can have informal discussions off the books that result in ideas, agreements, or collaboration that more broadly influences or improves things.

In response to the solutions disconnect, some have proposed "hack-a-thons" in which talented individuals come together for a set period of time and a specific goal to program solutions. But, this approach is likely to alienate community members who don't code, and is more likely to hinder innovation across the lines between policy/process and tools manufacture/usage.

I would like to see "tracks" around workgroups and workshops instead of presentations. Topics that are designed to bring like-minded people together to discuss and even generate solutions, or share skills. Put the power-point in an isolated track of 15-30 minute presentations designed to quickly introduce questions or ideas designed to stir innovation. Does this exist? Is there any interest in making it exist?