Dreamforce 2008 post-mortem – back to the cheap seats

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I had never been to a large, high-priced business conference like Dreamforce before, much less spoken at one.

Oh, the details! From the sturdy high-quality conference bag, to the folks standing outside the Moscone Center dressed in white carrying cloud balloons, to the video walls and careful lighting…and the Foo Fighters! No expense was spared, and lots of open bars. Frankly, it was almost ostentatious in this economy.

Or maybe I’m just used to the low-key efficiency of the oncology conferences C3 tends to go to.

I enjoyed most of the opening keynote, but a too-long segment around Neil Young’s souped-up energy efficient car (shown below right) dragged on and on. Force.com Sites was the big announcement and it will be interesting to see where that goes.

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I wanted to get excited about the Force.com platform on Facebook, but I just couldn’t. It seemed that they were trying way too hard to make it make sense for right now. Like a solution in search of a problem. I do get the sense that the move is more of a proof-of-concept of the strength of the platform than something I see a company taking seriously right now. From the reaction of the folks sitting around me, they weren’t all that excited either. “Facebook? Wha…?” The integration with Amazon web services went over better, and seemed more immediately appropriate for the big business crowd in the cloud. Om Malik has a bigger picture view of the new announcements here.

Tuesday morning’s keynote focused on applications. After some presentations that I can’t even remember right now, Michael Dell took the stage and gave us all a lengthy Dell advertisement. I kid you not. I guess he missed the part about it being the Salesforce conference? I don’t know. Isn’t the point that we don’t need to worry about hardware? I left the room somewhere in the middle of a detailed description of a Dell server. I wasn’t the only one. I’ve never seen such a big crowd thin out so quickly.

The afternoon keynote focused on philanthropy and bigger thinking than the latest Dell laptop, featuring Google’s Larry Brilliant and author Malcolm Gladwell. Extremely interesting. Made me think about how much of what defines success is based on external influencers, maybe even silly ones, versus what the individual actually controls.

I enjoyed most of the sessions I attended. A few were a little more basic than I expected. By Tuesday morning I was intentionally seeking out sessions that I thought were over my head, only to find that I really could keep up. I loved one on advanced uses of formula fields.

The best part of Dreamforce was the time I spent with Nonprofit peeps. There were over 500 of us at the conference, out of the nearly 5,000 nonprofits that I’m told are now using Salesforce (C3 was number 400something). I finally got to meet folks from the Nonprofit Salesforce NPSF Google group that I had gotten to know online, reconnected with friends from the Philadelphia and New York user group communities and with people I met at NTEN’s NTC last year. Even though I didn’t travel with any colleagues, I always felt part of a connected group. I always had someone to talk to and socialize with. I can’t thank the Salesforce Foundation enough for making us feel so welcome.

Tuesday night, the Foundation hosted a nonprofit networking event at the Starlight Room. Incredible views of the city, but most of us only cared about what was happening on the little TV in the corner showing election returns. We watched and cheered at the top of our lungs as Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. If there was anyone in that room who was disappointed in the result, they never let on. It was a very special night.

dreamforcespeaker.pngThe session I participated in on Wednesday morning, “So Many Apps, So Little Time,” went well. It was a medium sized session room. 200 people maybe? Folks were standing in the back of the room and sitting on the floor in the aisles. When my turn came, I was nervous at first, but once I start talking I looked out and saw so many friendly faces I recognized it was easy to feel comfortable and get in a groove. Great Q&A, lots of folks taking notes. Very positive feedback afterwards.

I hope I can go again next year.

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