When I arrived to Orlando for the 18th time to attend Lotusphere (now renamed IBM ConnectED), it was with mixed feelings. The conference was much smaller than before, and everyone expected this to be the last conference in the Lotusphere format in Orlando. IBM had a contract with Disney that expired after the 2015 conference and we all knew it. So most attendees did see this as a last hurrah or a kind of farewell to Lotusphere.
But during the conference the feeling was something different. There was an energy there, and people were excited, not saying farewell. Many new announcements were made that energized the attendees. In particular the new web based mail client IBM Verse generated a lot of buzz. The news that IBM Verse will integrate with Watson logic and capabilities and the promise of an on-premises version later this year were especially positive and energizing.
The sessions I attended were great. The opening session had a new format, with the guest speaker at the end instead of at the beginning, and this actually worked really well. There were a lot of demos, most of them said to be live, and no panels on stage. There were three customer stories/presentations (from Blue Cross of California, Bureau Veritas and LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton) and they were refreshingly more relevant than the “commercial breaks” of the last several years. The guest speeker was French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, famous for walking on a line between the two World Trade Center towers in 1974. This event is the subject of an upcoming movie called The Walk, with former Lotusphere guest speaker Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Petit. I enjoyed his talk, it was one of the better ones. I still think he is crazy for what he does, though. :-)
There were several session who were filled to capacity and had to turn away people, just like in the good old days of 10,000+ attendees back in 1998-2000. Yes, the sessions who were full were scheduled for fairly small rooms, but they were also extremely technical in nature. To me this indicates that this is just what the audience wants. More hard core technical sessions and less marketing and customer stories. IBM marketed ConnectED as more technical than in the past, and to a large extent they delivered. But there were still a number of sessions with less technical/product subjects.
The main focus of ConnectED was in two areas: IBM Connections and IBM Verse. The unexpected announcement that IBM Verse will be offered as a freemium product and positioned to compete with giants like Google Mail in itself generated a lot of interest. Attendees were also guaranteed early access to the new IBM Verse mail client.
Personally I really like the integration of IBM Watson in Verse, and the way email is sorted/categorized based on importance. I am looking forward to testing this for myself. I hope there will be a way to import existing email from Gmail or even on-premises Notes mail into IBM Verse.
There were, as always, some complaints among the attendees and many had to do with changes to procedures from previous years. During registration, each person was give four (4) drink tickets for the Monday and Tuesday parties. Previously the drinks were free at these events. Since the generic paper tickets given out at registration came from the office supplies chain Staples, some attendees considered just driving to a local store to buy some more. In the end IBM did not enforce the drink ticket policy. They rescinded this in steps, first not requiring them at the Monday evening event where the 25th birthday of Lotus Notes was celebrated, and then again at the Tuesday party.
The traditional Wednesday party in a local theme park was moved to Tuesday last year, as the Kennexa part of the conference ended one day before IBM Connect (as the conference was called in 2013 and 2014). This year the party was held in the Dolphin hemisphere ballroom, with a band playing and serving some food and drinks. The party was two hours long, shorter than the theme park parties in the past. The loud music made it hard to talk, so I actually did not mind the shorter party. But I have to say that it did not feel anything like the events in the past.
It is obvious that IBM is in cost savings mode. The badge holders were regular clear plastic holders, not the much more elaborate and useful holders of the past with the conference name printed on it, integrated pen holders, pockets useful to hold and collect business cards as well as space for the convenient pocket guide with all sessions. But what irked the attendees the most was that the traditional pretzel cookie in the boxed lunch distributed on the last day of the conference had disappeared. In its place was a generic cookie that was not well received by attendees. The Twitterverse lit up as disgruntled attendees expressed their strong displeasure using the hashtag #pretzelcookiegate. IBMs Jeff Schick even mentioned this during the closing session.
The exhibitors at the showcase were located in a new area called TechnOasis, two meeting rooms in the Swan conference section across the hallway from where most of the sessions took place. Personally I liked the location, it made it much easier to drop by the different pedestals between session than in the past. The area was much smaller than in the past and a little bit harder to navigate. I am not sure if the size was due to fewer companies exhibiting this year or because the available space was limited. As opposed to previous years I was able to meet up with pretty much every exhibitor, and I found some very useful products.
One of those product was Domino4Wine, which lets you run Domino Designer and Administrator natively in OSX and Linux. Prominic.Net worked with (and paid) CodeWeavers, the company behind CrossOver, to get the IBM products working in Linux and on OSX. Teamstudio also announced that their products work in this environment, and other toolmakers like Ytria (creator of scanEZ and several other Domino toiols) and MartinScott Consulting (developer of NoteMan) also plan to make sure their products work in this environment.
This is a very interesting development, and it shows that the business partners community see such a strong value in Notes and Domino that they are willing to pay for development that IBM really should have done, and which the community have been requesting for years.
The closing session featured Dr Arthur Benjamin, a professor in mathematics. He is what he calls a mathemagician, and on stage he squared two-digit, three-digit and four-digit numbers faster than the assistants from the audience could do it with their calculators. He even squared a five-digit number, but that took a little bit longer, about 45 seconds. He also explained the method he uses to perform these calculations. The closing sessions are always great, and this was one of the best ones I attended, in my personal opinion.
After the closing session there were a number of traditional events loosely organized by members of the community. Linuxfest was held poolside. This year it was more a review of Linux related news and a Q&A session for running Notes and Domino on Linux. Later that evening another tradition continued with the closing of Kimonos at 2am, followed by a gathering of about two dozen community members and IBMers in the Dolphin rotunda. Beverages were consumed and Mat Newman had his badge removed around 3.45am, marking the unofficial official ending of Lotusphere (or ConnectED if you are IBM).
People said farewell, with the usual “see you next year” and “see you next time” even though we were all acutely aware of the lack of future plans for the conference. Some people hope that the success of ConnectED 2015 (rumors talk about over 3000 paying customers, as opposed to the planned 1500) will pave the way for a Lotusphere 2016.
In my opinion the most likely resolution is that IBM will fold the conference into one of their mega-conferences in Las Vegas. The important thing then is that the ICS (Collaboration) products like Notes, Domino, Verse and Connections must have their own section and not be so mixed in and diluted with all other products. That would make it very hard to find our specific sessions and also be a huge disadvantage for the active and engaged Notes community itself. There is a need to have a place to congregate as specialists in this field so that we can meet, congregate, learn from each other, re-invigorate and motivate ourselves and enjoy each others company.
At the closing session, Liz Urheim from IBM said that the plans were still being discussed, but that there would be a ConnectED/Lotusphere in one form or another. She promised some news in the next few months. Soon we shall see.
On a personal note, I am happy I got to see so many of my friends, and as always I made some new ones. Some of my long-time friends were missing and their absence was noted. What is clear is that they are still part of the community even if they do not attend anymore or have moved on to work with other products or platforms. Once in, never out.
With this I am saying goodbye Orlando and goodbye Lotusphere. See you all next year, wherever and under what name it may be. To me it will always be Lotusphere.