The recent LIFT conference in Geneva, Switzerland clearly has it down to a science: logistics were so well taken care of that you hardly noticed them (the tech worked, the WiFi was always on, the food and drinks were there on time, the signage was effective, and the timing was generally respected), and the organisers had a relaxed and very open style about them, which pleasantly affected both speakers and audience.
It created a general feeling of informality, a strong focus on the content of the presentations, and an eagerness to share, all to such a degree one rarely experiences at conferences.
Also superb was the fact that videos of the workshops and the talks were available less than a day after they took place.
What remains a challenge for LIFT and other conferences, is how to get people to meet. Most people don’t know most other people. LIFT tried to facilitate meetings through its first-day workshops (which worked), and also to some extent with the Poken social networking gadget (which unfortunately was just an active RFID, without any visual feedback, and therefore worked less). It is a challenge not fully resolved yet.
In the end it was content that mattered most. Although not all speakers were equally strong, there were enough excellent ones to make it a worthwhile event. I can’t wait for the Marseilles edition (June 2009).