This year's RealtimeConf was the most complex and ambitious thing I've ever been part of. At final count, we had 400 people involved in the making of the event. (What's quite humorous is we had 200 attendees, and 100 of those included among the contributors.)
Taking into account our staff expenses, we "only" lost $230,000 putting on RealtimeConf. We had several members of our team focused mostly full-time on the event for over six months. If our team worked for free, we would have still lost around $50,000. (Incidentally, we are very grateful to our very generous "tip jar" contributors.)
The assumption most people have made (and most certainly will make based on the above) is that we've decided not to reprise the conference because we overextended ourselves and lost too much money.
Yes, it was a ton of work—but the large ensemble involved truly loved doing it and I believe the vast majority would gladly do it again. Now, it was a bit of an intense time for me because I'd also committed to speaking at JSConf EU and LxJS in the month prior to the conference. But the amazing work of Mel, Amy, Mike, Jenn, Kathryn, Ben, and the rest of our team made that possible.
And we knew we had made investments that weren't possibly sustainable by ticket sales or sponsorship and we pushed ahead regardless because we knew we could. (Let me be really clear: we are painfully lucky to be able to absorb this kind of loss and we know it. There have been times—even in our recent past—that wouldn't have been a possibility.)
So, no—it wasn't the massive amount of energy and money we poured into the event which informed the decision to not do another RealtimeConf.
To understand why we wouldn't reprise the event, let's talk about why we put on the conference.
In 2011 we had two original purposes in mind in creating the conference:
WebSocket was just coming on the scene and we wanted to get together people who were building and experimenting with things on top of this new transport.
More importantly, we wanted to help bring together our friends in the XMPP and web dev communities and positively influence the direction of each with that exposure.
As far as the first is concerned, we attended a lot of conferences in 2013 and all of the web development events had WebSocket-focused content. Realtime apps are still a newer area of web app development, but they're no longer a green field.
And regarding the second: in the first two years of the conference we felt those connections and discussions happening, but with little fruit. This past year, that's finally happened in dramatic fashion, thanks largely to WebRTC. The XMPP community is more focused on the web than perhaps at any point in the technology's history, and the tooling for web is dramatically better as a result.
Thus, as far as &yet is concerned, we have served our purpose, and we're ready to move on to different challenges.
In hindsight, this is a pattern we've followed for years: We've gained some experience and even recognition in an area, and rather than capitalizing on that for maximum financial gain or because it would be easier, we've used it to empower the next step we could take to best leverage our position for greater gain.
We feel compelled to use our position to be beneficial to the web and our local communities, but to do so patiently, without overextending our reach in the process.
There's no investor hammering on us to make ridiculous profits—having "enough" is good enough for us. Most months, &yet breaks even and we're happy with that.
And so, sometimes, we decide to move on to taking the next small step.
We are fond of vague ideas—things that have just gut feelings for a compass. It feels right now like the future path is clear for the RealtimeConf community and we'd like to move on to blurrier ground.
One notion that's bound up in this decision as well—and one strongly alluded to throughout the conference narrative—is that we believe there's something greater than software, engineering, design, the web, etc.
RealtimeConf is a pretty hardcore technology-focused conference. We have always had a thread of "let's look at the big picture" throughout the conference (especially the last two years) but nevertheless, it's a tech-minded event for tech-minded people.
As we've said in the past, we believe the web is not for web developers. It's for everyone.
We've identified three areas of focus that we want to strongly push towards in the wake and spirit of what we've been able to do with RealtimeConf.
We want to continue to create and improve tools, open source software, and experiences that empower the average person to be part of the indie web movement, to own their own data, and to enjoy unsiloed communication. We are really just getting started with this, as far as we're concerned.
At this point, as far as indie web, indie data, and indie com are concerned, RealtimeConf was quite effectively preaching to the choir. In the spirit of our belief that the web is not for web developers, we'd like to take that message and experience to a broader audience—but we believe in taking incremental steps rather than trying to eat the whole world in one bite.
We aren't revealing anything just yet, but expect a future event aimed at a broader audience—something greater than RealtimeConf. ;)
We appreciate your help spreading the word. We'd love to hear your own thoughts via a good old-fashioned blog post!