Conferences are great. Not just because you can (hopefully) learn a lot by attending, but also because they give you the chance to meet great people who share your interests and work on the same issues you’re facing.
Obviously, most of those desirable effects happen during, or maybe after the conferences themselves. (But it applies to conventions, meetings and the like.) Is that really the only option?
Some context: this month I’m flying to Amsterdam to attend User Experience 2008. I was thinking that I might end up sitting on the plane next to someone who’s going at the same conference. And we might not discover it until the first day of the conference, since the organizers did not provide attendees with any means to interact with each other.
Building an event on Facebook, a network on Ning, a group on LinkedIn are just some examples of what the organizers of an event can do to promote communications between participants. (For the less web 2.0 oriented, probably a plain forum or a mailing list would work more or less the same. :P )
Think about the benefits of allowing participants to interact before getting to the event. One among all: making a community out of an audience.
Perhaps Seth Godin is right, after all, when he gives so much emphasis to Tribes, and to the importance of building a community of connected people.